Tag Archives: A to B 48

A to B 48 Cover

A to B 48 – Safer Public Transport!

A to B 48 CoverRiding a bicycle is getting easier and more reliable.With puncture-resistant tyres (page 24), drum brakes (page 22), a cargo trailer (page 32), and power-assist (page 27), almost anyone could transfer their family shopping from car to bike.Yet the number doing it in the UK can be counted in thousands (maybe hundreds) rather than millions. Why? We’re partly to blame, because we’re obviously failing to get the message across to ordinary people. But if you were to demonstrate this sort of technology outside your local supermarket, people would wave their hands at the sea of cars and blame ‘road safety’.They’d be right, of course. Bicycles may be easier to use and more reliable than ever before, but the perception is that roads have become dangerous places.Will this trend be reversed? Absolutely no idea, but we’re trying to plant the seeds of a revolution, and once a revolution begins, it’s often unstoppable. If a single TV chef can change attitudes to the way children eat, surely the same can be done for the way we get our food home, or the kids to school?

A to B 48 Contents

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Schwalbe Marathon Plus TyresPuncture proof? Well, not exactly. As Schwalbe carefully points out, ‘…like everything in the world – this tyre isn’t indestructible. But against the typical tyre killers that everyday cyclists encounter, like pieces of broken glass, flints and small thorns, it’s the best protection we could devise…’

The secret is in the ‘SmartGuard’ layer under the tread. Unlike kevlar and other high-tech reinforcement bands that resist tyre penetration, SmartGuard is a thick layer of soft rubber that lets them in, then smothers ‘em. Some nasties just bounce straight out, while others begin to penetrate, but are defeated by the sheer depth of rubber. To reach the inner tube, a sharp pointy thing needs to be rigid and 6 – 8mm long, which is enough to see off all but the most humungous thorns, nails and glass shards.

…the Marathon Plus feels like an ordinary, if slightly frumpy tyre…

The downside is a tyre weighing 740g on our 406mm samples (more than a kilogram for some bigger tyres).That’s about 350g heavier than a typical 406mm tyre, and a massive 500g heavier than the lightweight Primos we were replacing. In other words, you could be looking at a weight penalty of up to a kilogram for the pair. With a thick layer of rubber around the tyre, you might expect rolling resistance to be high too, but it’s actually remarkably good. We’ve tried all kinds of ‘puncture-proof’ technology over the years, and most added enough rolling resistance to feel lethargic and slow on the road. But the Marathon Plus feels like an ordinary, if slightly frumpy tyre, and the figures confirm this. Roll-down speed on our test hill was between 14mph and 15mph, which is broadly typical for a 20-inch tyre. In fact, our best figures were right up with the narrow, high-pressure tread- free jobs. Having said that, the Marathon Plus seems to be affected by temperature more than most, and the figures vary a great deal. Most of our tests were carried out at 15C but at 10C, the tyres are 1mph slower, which suggests there could be a real penalty to Grey pay on frosty mornings. blobs are actual We’ll have to wait a few results at around 15C. The months to find out, but in black blobs are at lower temperatures most circumstances, most people would be unaware of the difference.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus TyresPuncture-proof?

When we first saw the technology on display at a bike show, Schwalbe was encouraging punters to stick pins in the tyres. So in an A to B first, we put down a row of five drawing pins, accelerated towards them, and ran straight over the lot. All the pins stuck in the front tyre and stayed there, but when we prised them out, the air stayed put. It’s difficult to be scientific with tyres, which are notoriously fickle in the way they fail, but for the time being, we’re thoroughly convinced – no ordinary tyre could have done that.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres

Grey blobs are actual results at around 15C. The black blobs are at lower temperatures.


…Have we accidentally created the most reliable bicycle in the world?

We’ll keep using the Marathon Plus to see how things progress, but on a short acquaintance, we’re impressed. A near one kilogram weight penalty would not suit a bike that gets carried regularly, but if punctures are your biggest fear, these tyres Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyreswill give some peace of mind, although at £23.99 each, they’re quite a pricey option.The Marathon Plus is available in all the common sizes, down to 47-406mm (20-inch). Schwalbe is planning to release a 349mm (16-inch) version soon, bringing this sort of puncture technology to compact folding bikes too. Performance gets a bit trickier to predict in the small sizes, but if the 20-inch tyre is anything to go by, performance should not be greatly affected.

Incidentally, we tested the tyres on our ancient Heinzmann- assisted Cresswell (now Pashley) Fold-It, currently giving granny-with-train (don’t ask) some gentle assistance to the shops. Have we accidentally created the most reliable bicycle in the world? Simple rugged steel frame, drum brakes (rear only on our example), puncture-resistant tyres and a bullet-proof SRAM 7-speed hub. The only weak points we can see are the cranks and chain, and if they break, the bike still has a front-mounted Heinzmann motor to get you home… If all else fails, it will fold small enough for the train.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus £23.99 each from good cycle shops. Manufacturer Ralf Bohle GmbH web www.schwalbe.comUK distributor Bohle UK tel 01743 874496 mail info@bohle.co.uk

A to B 48 – June 2005

A to B 48 Blog, June 2005 – Central Trains, Brompton

2005 Brompton Launch, Central Trains, Brigitte Bardot & Solex

Catching a train in older, simpler days, one generally purchased – then referred to – a ‘timetable’, before travelling to the station and waiting for something to happen. With today’s technology, the process is altogether easier!

The Mole provides as an example a recent harrowing journey from Bilbrook station on the Central Trains network. Like all wise travellers, the Mole checks on the internet 24 hours in advance, gaining an essential picture of the latest running information. Check One proceeds smoothly enough, revealing that – barring staff defects, locomotive on strike, or the wrong kind of snow – a train is booked to arrive at 10.23am on the appointed day. Journeying to the station in good time, one makes the second essential check, confirming on the old-fashioned paper timetable that Check One had yielded reliable information. All goes well; the 10.23 does exist.

Check Three causes some disquiet amongst regular travellers: the automated voice on the push-button machine-thing claims that the next train will arrive at 11.23, but we have yet to see the 10.23. Check Four involves hasty use of a mobile phone, and a call to the central rail enquiry number. These days, one’s call is generally routed to a pleasant young lady in foreign parts, who is generally obliged to communicate back to the UK to find where the train has gone, and indeed, what country it is in. But on this occasion the apparatus responds with a friendly West Midlands accent. ‘Is the 10.23 running today?’ ‘It’s on its way sir, and running on time!’ Fantastic news; the automated thing must be malfunctioning.

At 10.22, the 10.23 appears from Codsall, causing much relieved shuffling on the platform… then proceeds to run straight through the station.

After enduring 40 sweaty minutes on an overcrowded bus, followed by two missed connections and a late arrival at Bogworthy Junction, one eventually gleans the truth from the Central Trains press office. It seems Central has recently inherited some trains that are too long for certain platforms. Unable to say in advance when or where these trains might be rostered – and banned from stopping them at short platforms by the Health & Safety Executive – the drivers are instructed to run through without stopping. Railway companies are allowed to follow the logical course and welcome customers through the guard’s door, but only if arrangements have been made in advance with the Health & Safety Executive, signed in triplicate, and so on and so forth.

Thus, where we might have trooped past the guard in perfect safety, a dozen of us are obliged to run up the road, leap on a bus and run into another station at the other end. Even ignoring the possibility of some poor old soul suffering a heart attack, or being murdered by an angry spouse, this must surely be a more dangerous scenario? One suspects this is all part of the modern trend towards what is colloquially known as ‘arse covering’, rather as small boys once padded their trousers before visiting the headmaster. On railway property, one’s every move is scrutinised for risk, and the best way to reduce that risk is to keep passengers well away from trains. How one deals with risk outside the station is one’s own affair. Speaking of risk, bicycle launches are a bit thin on the ground these days, primarily because we don’t have an industry any more, so the Mole was greatly thrilled to make the trip from Bogworthy to Paddington for the 2005 Brompton launch at the London Transport Museum.


Brompton’s Will Butler-Adams getting very excited about something, or perhaps recounting a fishing trip


Alexander & Jane Henshaw discuss shoulder bags with Caroline Moore


Mike Burrows (L) and Richard Ballantine (R): ‘Nasty stuff to machine, titanium’.

The venue proved to be an extremely jolly choice, as the exhibits – mostly large and red – made an entertaining backdrop, although one wonders how they get the red wine stains out of Routemaster buses. Brompton has revamped its model range with a positive cornucopia of options (up to 70 billion permutations according to some wag at the launch) where previously five were considered more than adequate. For the innocent punter looking for something economical to ride to work, the main change is that red or green paint, previously thrown in gratis, now costs an extra sixty quid. For eighty quid you can have a bicycle without any paint at all, which doesn’t sound like progress, but will no doubt attract eager buyers.

The real thrust, of course, isn’t in humble green bicycles for bird- watching types, but a brash new range, rebranded with sharp logos and the sort of pastel shades normally reserved for night clubs and similar establishments.The new bikes – be-jewelled with titanium thrunk- washers and other priceless technology – will be aimed at young people, which in bicycling terms means one’s children or even grandchildren – a brave move indeed.

This sort of thing is essential to prevent bicycling from dying out altogether. As Darwin might have observed, if folding bicycles are purchased only by those beyond child-bearing age, the folding bike gene is as doomed as – for example – the MG/Rover gene.

The Brompton launch was characterised more by the people who were not there, than by those who were. The general election hadn’t helped: diminutive transport minister Charlotte Atkins MP had been booked to deliver a few carefully chosen pro-bicycle words, but pulled out, presumably warned off by the spin-meisters that the Government had pulled the financial plug on Britain’s last volume car-maker.

Another no-show was keen Brompton rider and chairman of Shell, Lord Oxburgh. One assumes the top man at one of the world’s biggest oil companies thought better of endorsing a folding bicycle as it was announced that most of the world’s oil reserves had been turned into CO2.

So for a number of political and economic reasons, the launch was populated by the usual suspects.The entire A to B team made an appearance, with Jane Henshaw sporting an off-the shoulder Brompton tyre bag, and young Alexander spending eight hours hopping on and off the exhibits, before being retrieved with minutes to spare for the last train home. Peter Eland of Velovision was very much in evidence too, but the rest of the cycling media seems to have stayed away – odd, given that this was a major launch by a British company building bicycles in the UK. Whether or not Brompton is now the largest British cycle manufacturer (as opposed to distributor) is a matter for debate.


Andrew Ritchie addressing the man (and woman) on the Chingford omnibus

Andrew Ritchie of Brompton announced that his company certainly was the biggest, if one excluded the concern ‘that builds a few specialist machines’, thus neatly writing off Pashley Cycles in a few well-chosen words.

Pashley had failed to attend the festivities, as indeed had Doctor Moulton, who might at least have sent his nephew Shaun, generally kept in reserve for less prestigious events. Indeed, amongst Brompton’s folding bike competitors, only Mark Bickerton of Dahon and Grahame Herbert, designer of the Airframe, made an appearance. Engineers were well represented, with the legendary Mike Burrows taking a keen interest in the new titanium frame parts. ‘Why haven’t they made it entirely of titanium?’ asks Mike in a rhetorical sort of way. ‘Because they haven’t found a way to engineer the hinge in titanium, that’s why!’ ‘Nasty stuff to machine, titanium.’ Well, there’s a challenge. A week or so later, Giant launched its 2005 bikes at a hotel complex just off the M6 toll motorway which sounded less convenient for those arriving by bicycle.

Building on the success of the elegant Lafree, Giant has expanded its electric range.The Lafree sees all sorts of changes for 2005, principally that it will be called something different, which sounds an odd way to build on marketing success. Confident at last that electric bikes have become respectable, Giant has dropped the Lafree ‘brand’, rebadging the electric machines as Giants. A seemingly insignificant piece of badge-engineering, but indicative of a tidal shift in attitudes.


Brigitte Bardot and Solex


Speaking of badges, it seems the Solex cyclemotor has made another comeback, this time in it’s homeland of France, after abortive manufacture in all sorts of places.These friction-drive devices enabled the impecunious to create a motorcycle out of a bicycle, before the likes of the Lafree and budget Chinese scooters made such things redundant.

For legal reasons, the new machines are called ‘Black ‘n Roll’, and in an odd reversal, 65% of the content is shipped from China, where such machines are now banned (hence the glut of electric bicycles), and despite the limited local content, the new Solex is officially Fabrique en France. Diligent research has unearthed photographs of Solex er, models, young and old.Whether today’s model has been instructed to strike a similar pose to Ms Bardot is unclear, but an entire thesis could be written on the subtle differences between the two images. Sadly, one has neither the time nor the inclination, other than to add that the 2005 model has been upgraded to full Euro- standards with electronic ignition, a catalytic converter and whisper-quiet exhaust. The engine, on the other hand, looks much the same.

Ezee Sprint 7-Speed

Ezee Sprint 7-Speed Electric Bike

Superficially similar to early bikes, the 7- speed has lower, flatter handlebars, more rugged electronics, improved lights and stand, and a rack bungee

Back in June 2003 we tried – and were quite impressed by – an electric bike from China, called the Ezee Forza.The prototype was a bit rough round the edges, but it was reasonably light, smooth, quiet, long-legged and fast. It wasn’t very pretty, and a few things fell off, but we loved it.The Ezee magic was a combination of a lightish and rideable bicycle providing assistance up to 18 or even 19mph – fast enough to overhaul the more sedate kind of moped. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a completely new sensation for those used to bicycles, or indeed mopeds. On the Ezee you rode fast, and you put in plenty of effort, because pedalling + assistance gave stomping performance.

Unfortunately, 19mph is illegal in Europe, and as most of the sales have been in Europe, the production bike (known as the Sprint) has been detuned. Or at least, we’re told it has, but if our test bike is representative, it remains a speedy beast. Put it this way, it won’t quite see off a moped, but at 15mph there’s a bit in reserve, if you get our drift squire? We’ll say no more.

Whatever the top speed might be, the basic 3-speed Sprint has been joined by a top- end model incorporating a few detail design changes: principally a Nexus 7-speed hub. Has this mature version lost the Ezee magic?

Sprint 7

…power is on the left handlebar and the gear changer on the right… Dead easy…

Apart from the new hub gears, the changes are minor, but useful nonetheless.The centre stand is smaller and lighter, and plastic mudguards save a bit more weight and clear up a few rattles. In both our previous tests we criticised the dynamo lights, but the new machine has a better front lamp and a Sanyo bottle dynamo, which seem to do the business. Elsewhere, the bike has mudflaps front and rear and a better Cateye speedometer (without average speed, unfortunately, and more difficult to see on the new swept-back handlebars).We’re not sure about the revised Kenda tyres, which are knobbly all over, where the old kind were smooth in the middle – essential for low rolling resistance. Like its predecessor, the new Ezee comes with a cheap but effective track pump, plus a range of fittings (including the kind that pumps up footballs, but no Presta adaptor) and a substantial cable lock – nice touches.

Ezee Sprint Electric Bike Nexus 7-speed hub

The Nexus 7-speed hub is reliable and easy to use. Note the roller brake on the left side

Ezee Sprint 7-speed electric bike headlight

The latest headlight really works, thanks partly to the Sanyo dynamo. Suspension forks, V-brakes and slightly knobbly tyres make up the package

The key changes (for the UK, at least) are removal of the pedal- movement sensor, making the Sprint a nice simple twistgrip- controlled E-bike, which it should have been all along.The power control is on the left handlebar and the 3- or 7-speed changer on the right, according to model. Dead easy.The new bikes also have a more sensitive battery meter, which flicks back and forth rather worryingly as you ride. In practice, the gauge can reveal quite a bit about the battery condition, but it takes some getting used to. In broad terms, you’ll be in the yellow zone after 15 miles, and the red zone after 20. It’s also a useful economy aid, flashing from green to yellow, or yellow to red when the battery is under strain. Backing off the throttle can make quite a difference to range, without seriously affecting overall speed.

Until now, the Sprint came with three gears of 46″, 62″ and 85″, ratios that would be a bit high on a non-assisted bike, but are more or less ideal on a powered one.The new gears span the range 39″ to 96″ in much closer steps.We’ve usually got some sort of grumble with gear ratios, but in this case, they’re absolutely spot on. Hill climbing depends on your weight and how much energy you put in, but we found that 1st gear helped the bike vault up hills of around 17% (1:6), 4th saw it safely up gradients of 12% (1:8), and 7th topped out at 20-something miles per hour, enabling you to spin down the other side too. This sort of bicycle will never stomp up hills like the crank-driven Giant Lafree, but the 7- speed Sprint easily restarts on a 12.5% (1:8) gradient, which should be plenty for most people. If you tow a trailer and/or live in Cornwall or bits of Cumbria, you might benefit from a larger rear sprocket and lower gears, but for everyone else, it’s perfect.

At 15.9mph on our hilly test route, average speed is a shade lower than the 16.1mph we recorded with the 3-speed, but in challenging country it still counts amongst the most blistering performances we’ve seen. Range is 27 miles – more or less identical to the figure we achieved in August 2004, allowing for some gusty headwinds.That’s not quite in the Powabyke class, but the Sprint weighs only 29.4kg, making it altogether more manageable and rideable. Charging is quick and efficient; the little fan-cooled charger achieving a 90% charge in 31/2 hours, although you’d be wise to allow a bit more in practice.

…in challenging country it’s still one of the most blistering performances we’ve seen…

Incidentally, several people (including the importer) have had problems getting the same range as us. Stop-start city traffic will have a deleterious effect, as will heavy- handed use of the throttle, but pedal effort is important too.These bikes do not work well if treated like motorcycles – for best results think of the motor as an aid to pedalling, not a replacement.


It just so happens that Alexander’s headmaster Mr Thomas accepted a challenge to cycle to work while we were testing the Sprint. His daily 23-mile round trip is normally a car journey, and although it’s quite do-able by conventional bike, we suggested going electric for the week, which Mr Thomas was keen to try... As we might have guessed, the dinner-plate saddle did not meet with head- masterly approval, and we replaced it with a standard bike saddle. Even then, the stem was at the top of its range (Mr Thomas is six foot plus - all headmasters are tall, it’s in the genes). Otherwise, the week went without incident, the journey taking 43 to 45 minutes, against 55 minutes on a conventional racing bike. The Sprint battery successfully tackled the daily mileage, charging each night. Would our local headmaster buy one? Well, probably not, but Mrs Thomas thought an electric bike might get her back on two wheels, and the vicar was quite interested...

Our only real criticism of the 2005 Sprint is that awful dinner- plate saddle, which does nothing to enhance pedalling efficiency. Somebody, somewhere must love it, but for anyone used to a conventional bicycle saddle, it’s truly horrid.We should also point out that front tyre removal is tricky, because part of the wiring loom has to come off too.The Kenda tyres are tough and relatively puncture-free, but if you’re nervous about this, a Schwalbe Marathon Plus would make a good investment! We’ve only had to mend two punctures in two years on our own Sprint, and neither required tyre removal.Thank goodness.


We are always disappointed to hear comments of the, ‘that’ll suit me in twenty years’, or ‘isn’t it cheating?’ variety.We’re not quite ready for pensions, and we’re not unfit, but living without a car, in a very car-biased world, we find plenty of uses for our Ezee Sprint. A powerful, long-range electric-assist bike makes light work of towing a trailer full of shopping, or venturing out on the cross-country haul to granny’s house. For this sort of work, the 7-speed Sprint is one of the best options around – a fantastic hill-leveller and practical child carrier.

The 7-speed costs £895.There’s a surprising amount of rubbish around at this price, of which the less said the better.The only real competition comes from the Giant Lafree, which is a little more expensive (£1,099 in 4- speed, suspension trim), but with a definite edge in terms of weight, quality and reliability.

We’re impressed that Ezee appears to have taken on board most of our original criticisms and refined the bike with some care, whilst keeping enough oomph for those who want it.The Sprint is still quite heavy against the class-leading Lafree, but a lighter, longer-range Li-ion battery pack is on its way, and this should be retrofitable to existing bikes. As for reliability, these are early days, but the Sprint looks to us like a de-bugged machine.


Ezee Sprint £895. Weight Bicycle 23.8kg Battery 5.6kg Total 29.4kg (65lb) . Gears Nexus 7-spd hub . Ratios 39″ – 96″ . Batteries NiMH . Capacity 324Wh . Max range 27 milesFull charge 31/2 hours . Fuel consumption battery only 12Wh/mile battery & charger 17Wh/mile Running costs 6.7p/mile . Manufacturer Shanghai Ezee Kinetic web www.ezeebike.com UK distributor 50Cycles web www.50cycles.com tel 01223 844 166 mail tim@50cycles.com

Greenspeed Brompton Hub Brake

Brompton Hub Brake

Greenspeed Brompton Hub BrakeThese days (touch wood) the best folding bikes are pretty reliable, clocking up a similar mileage between failures to a conventional bicycle, but wheel rims and spokes can still cause problems on hard-used small-wheelers.We’re not sure why the spokes suffer, but most of the problems with rims are caused by the brakes. A 16-inch rim has little more than half the braking area of a big wheel, so it can overheat on long descents, and will wear out at least twice as fast.Worn rims can be dangerous, but even if they don’t disintegrate, rebuilding a wheel can be a time-consuming and/or expensive process.

Internal drum brakes are an obvious solution, and they’re fairly easy to fit to most folders if you have the time and the inclination. But you won’t get one on the Brompton, which has a slender 72mm front ‘drop-out’ width.Various attempts have been made to slice drum brakes down to size over the years, but there were always technical problems.The answer came – as it so often does – with a bit of lateral thinking.The Australian-made Greenspeed recumbent trike uses Sturmey Archer drums, and Greenspeed remanufactures the hubs to reduce the 100mm width.When the company took on the sideline of distributing the Brompton last year, it occurred to proprietor Ian Sims that with a little more machining, the Sturmey brake might be squeezed onto the Brompton.

Bred on the antipodean HPV racing circuits, the Greenspeed/Sturmey hub is substantially stronger than a normal Brompton wheel, with oversize 12mm ball-bearings (normal Sturmey bearings are 10mm) and 36 instead of 28 spokes.The result is a rigid, maintenance-free front wheel and consistent braking in all weather conditions.

Fitting & Removal

Very easy.The hub brake comes with a long torque reaction arm that slots into a clamp placed around the fork. It’s then just a case of refitting the cable. Brompton cable runs are precisely measured and the cables can get in a tangle if misrouted or misaligned. It’s essential that the front brake cable runs in front of the other two and down through the cable gatherer brazed to the right side of the frame. If it doesn’t, something will get trapped when the bike is folded. By pure chance, the standard outer cable is about the right length for the Sturmey hub, but a longer inner cable will be needed.

Drum brakes are generally a heavy option, but this narrow hub isn’t too bad, giving a total wheel weight of 1,120g. Subtract the weight of the old wheel and caliper brake, and the net gain is only 385g, or just under a pound, which is quite acceptable for a stronger and more reliable wheel.

Greenspeed Brompton Hub Brake

With the flange removed, the off-side spokes anchor directly into the drum

Removing the wheel is particularly easy – the axle nuts come off as usual, the cable slips off and the torque arm slides out.The operation is cleaner too, because the rim isn’t caked in the usual slippery mixture of oil and aluminium powder, and there’s no caliper to trap mud and debris. Another advantage of doing away with the caliper is that the tyre can be inflated before you refit it – useful if you’re struggling to repair a puncture.

On the road, the first impression is of near silence compared to a caliper or V-brake. The drum is powerful, but progressive. A gentle squeeze on the lever gives a strong stop of 0.3G – 0.4G, but grab the lever in panic and brake force rarely exceeds 0.56G. In practice, this means that a drum brake is less likely to send you flying over the handlebars than a fiercer and less forgiving V-brake.The drum will also be unaffected by water, oil or mud. In extreme conditions it gets warm, but there’s no risk to the tyre, and it soon cools down. The rear caliper brake is still grinding away at the rim, of course, but we found we tended to make more use of the front drum, so rear brake life should be slightly extended too. When you come to fold the bike, the cleaner front wheel is very welcome.

Two small provisos: if you ride through a deep flood, the drum brake could be out of action for some time, and ours had a slight judder, possibly a side-effect of the adaptation.


The Greenspeed hub seems good value for money, and in terms of servicing, it should prove to be fit-and-forget technology. If your Brompton has a tendency to eat rims, spokes or bearings, a drum brake upgrade will pay for itself fairly quickly, even ignoring the hassle of breakdowns and the danger of exploding rims. It also looks jolly nice, should aesthetics influence you in any way.

Brompton front drum conversion

Price £80 (hub only), or £120 (entire kit), plus £10 to £15 postage outside Australia. Greenspeed Recumbent Trikes tel +61 3 9758 5088 mail ian@greenspeed.com.au

UK Distributor: Westcountry Recumbents

A to B 48 – June 2005



CommutingAfter buying two Bromptons I found myself with rather a lot of bikes, and was able to compare their performance on my regular commute on the Atlantic coast of France. I live in Hennebont and commute through the town of Lorient to my office on an industrial estate ten kilometres to the west. My conclusions aren’t rigorously scientific, but I have corrected for differences in cycle computers and only included simple rides on the same route, without detours for shopping etc. I have also excluded exceptional weather conditions (strong winds, ice, etc) and night rides (some bikes have dynamos and some battery lights).

Most of my data comes from this daily commuting round trip of 42.6km (27 miles), mainly on rural roads. Because Lorient is on a river estuary and there are not many bridges over the river Scorff, there are few routes to choose from.The total climb for the round trip is about 500 metres (1,600 feet) with one steep hill, so single-speed bikes are not a good option. After 3,391 kilometres, I can report that the speed variation between the fastest and slowest bikes is only 3.7mph.

On this commute, I usually cycle both ways during the summer, but I tend to use the Brompton plus the train in winter to avoid a long ride in the dark.When cycling, I allow about an hour each way. By comparison, the train plus Brompton takes five minutes to the station, five minutes waiting, 17 minutes on the train and ten minutes riding to work, making 37 minutes in total. As the evening train doesn’t stop at Gestel, my nearest station, I have to ride to Lorient, increasing the journey to about 47 minutes. It is possible to get to work by bus, but that takes 90 minutes each way.When I get a lift by car, the trip takes about 30 minutes on back roads – the quickest car route is on the motorway, but this is risky because there are frequent jams.The best ‘commute’ of all is working from home using my ADSL router to transmit documents over the net!


Commuting by Bicycle

Martin's experience will be familiar to commuters worldwide. The motorway is fast, but can be unreliable, train/bike comes second, but needs careful planning, bike is slower but more predictable, the bus is slowest of all.

From my research, the four factors that most affect bike speed are riding position, gear type (hub or derailleur), wheel size and tyre type. Apart from the huge difference between road-going Martin’s experience will be familiar to commuters worldwide.The motorway is fast, but can be unreliable, train/bike comes second, but needs careful slicks and off-road planning, bike is slower but more predictable, the bus is slowest of all knobblies (bikes 3 and 10 are the same!) I have not investigated the difference between different brands of tyre, but this is probably significant.Wind resistance is important too.The two fastest bikes had aerodynamic drop handlebars, and one of these was the Moulton, which proved 2.5km/hr slower with ordinary straight bars. Wheel size is less important, but small wheels would seem to be slightly less efficient. Comparing bikes in positions 1 and 2, the Moulton is a little slower, but it is also heavier, has fewer gears and a smaller top gear sprocket (11-tooth). Another interesting pair are the Roadster in position 4 and the SP Brompton in position 8. Both share the same hub gear, but the Brompton is noticeably slower. Hub gears seem to be slightly less efficient, although bikes ranked 3 and 4 achieved very similar results, with few differences, except for the gears. On the other hand, the two Moultons (one with 7-speed derailleur and the other with 7-speed Nexus hub) performed very differently.The Nexus was very inefficient when new, so after a few hundred kilometres I took it apart and greased it, but it’s still noticeably less efficient than the oil-lubricated Sturmey S5-2.

Commuting by Bicycle

…I use one of the Bromptons when there’s a likelihood of other transport being involved…

Best Commuter?

Which bike gets the most use? Neither of the fastest two.Though the derailleur- geared Moulton is fast and comfortable, it is only suitable for good roads and fine weather, or the derailleur will pick up muck too quickly. I tend to choose one of the Bromptons when there is a likelihood of other transport being involved, and the roadster gets a lot of use because it can carry a lot of shopping and the wide tyres enable me to explore paths and tracks. But the bike I used most in 2004 was the Moulton with the Nexus 7-speed hub – it also has a rear roller brake and hub dynamo that work in all weathers, and I appreciate the comfort from the suspension.

Editor’s Note: If, like Martin, you are expecting to commute daily, don’t be scared off by small wheels. They really do make very little difference, and a smaller, lighter folding bike can be a more flexible solution. Even on this long ride, the Moulton is only three minutes slower than the conventional lightweight racing bike. On a shorter more urban commute, the tables could be reversed.Tyre type and quality are more influential than tyre diameter. So don’t choose an MTB! The gear system is important too, and Martin’s figures seem to confirm that the Nexus 7-speed hub is relatively inefficient, the Sturmey Archer 5-speed less so, and the Brompton/SRAM 3

A to B 48 – June 2005

Ergon MR-1 Race Grips

Ergon MR-1 Race Grips

Fitted to a Brompton. Note the scuffing on the top edge of this (left) grip - it can touch the ground when the bike is folded

The problem with adapting bicycles is that almost everything you do adds weight. A few seemingly practical extras can make a folding bike almost unliftable, so it pays to be a bit selective. Replace your old handlebar grips with Ergo Race grips, and the penalty will be in the region of 200g. Not much? Not on its own perhaps, but this is a slippery slope. Are they worth the weight and expense?

The grips incorporate flat plates that spread the load over the meatier parts of the palm.The grips come in ladies and gents sizes, and two styles, with or without miniature bar-ends.The basic palm-support jobs (FP-1 or MP-1) cost £20, but with the bar-ends (FR-1 or MR-1), you’re looking at a slightly scarier £28.95, plus the 200g weight penalty.

Fitting should be straightforward enough on a conventional bike, but the importers have had enquiries from Brompton owners, so we chose this more difficult option and converted a Brompton.This means quite a lot of cutting and shaping to the plastic and foam of the grips, the final position being quite critical to prevent the left-hand grip hitting the ground when the bike is folded.There are two adjustments – the angle of the palm support and the angle of the bar-ends, which come with a sort of micrometer scale for the really nerdy.

Once fitted and adjusted, the grips seem to work well, spreading the load in a more comfortable way, and giving a number of alternative riding positions. For touring, the comfort level was universally praised – even after some hours in the saddle.The manufacturers claim the improved riding position will alleviate all manner of ailments, which is possible, but we’ll stick with comfortable hands and wrists for now. If handlebar grips give you odd aches and pains, this may well be a solution. If you can live without bar- ends, the cheaper, lighter FP-1 or MP-1 should work just as well.

Ergon MR-1 Grips

Price £28.95 . Weight 130g each . Distributor Fine-adc mail: info@fine-adc.com

A to B 48 – June 2005

Raleigh Mule Trailer

Raleigh Mule Trailer

Raleigh Mule TrailerWeekly shopping usually consists of small mixed items, and if you travel by bike these can usually be packed into a rucksack or panniers. Larger items can be more awkward to transport – I think the largest item I have carried strapped to the top of my pannier carrier was a king-size duvet. It was big, but light, so it didn’t effect the handling too much. Heavier items like bags of compost, cement, plaster, barrels of beer (needed after all that digging and cementing), televisions, beehives, and broken microwaves can’t be safely strapped to the rack… Or at least, not all at once.

Recently, I needed to transport a 25kg bag of plaster and strapped it to the front carrier of my Brompton, and although it affected the handling, I got home safely by putting my weight well back. It showed the amazing versatility of the Brompton, but this method wasn’t ideal.

When I saw the Raleigh Mule trailer in an Argos catalogue, the load-carrying bug bit me. I could see myself cruising down the road with my fully-laden rig, swapping ‘smokey bear’ tales on the CB radio. I couldn’t wait, and at only £89.99 I thought I’d give it a try. I might never need to ask a car-owning friend for a lift again!

A local bike shop kindly agreed to sell the trailer for £85.When it arrived, I was surprised how quickly it went together and I was soon off down the road to pick up a load from the local supermarket.The Mule has a 40kg weight limit, but with no means of weighing your shopping it’s easy to inadvertently exceed the limit.When I got home, I found I had been hauling 45kg, but the trailer suffered no ill-effects, proving that limit can be exceeded for short periods.The trailer itself weighs 11kg, but it’s very cheap. Lighter trailers (some weigh less than 6kg) can cost between £100 and £400.

Problems soon became evident when I tried carrying smaller loads.The Argos catalogue describes it as a ‘hard case’, but that should really read ‘hard base’.The base is plywood, but the sides are made of a thin fabric.With no means of securing the load, it can slide around and push the fabric into the wheels.This is not good.

…I solved the problem with some scraps of reflective material…


Raleigh Mule Trailer Hitch

The tow-hitch is a crude but effective clamp. Power-assistance is not essential, but it helps!

I made some small slots in the base of the trailer for straps, which help to secure larger loads. For loose small items, I simply add a box.To keep the fabric away form the wheels, I added some thin plywood side panels, velcro’d to the steel frame for quick removal, but plastic mesh bases from baker’s trays might do for this – there are all sorts of options.

Raleigh Mule Trailer Folded

The Mule makes quite a compact package.

The hitch is a simple but effective clamp, which secures to the nearside chainstay on the bicycle. It’s plastic-covered and doesn’t seem to harm the paintwork.The trailer is mostly black, with a bright yellow cover. I was concerned about how well it would show up after dark, and solved the problem with some scraps of reflective material from my sewing box. With LED light attachments sewn into the cover, side reflectors from an old Sam Brown belt and Nimrod reflective mudflaps sewn onto the rear, it looked more finished, and I would be happy to tow it after dark.While I was at it, I sewed a large pocket on the inside to hold a spare 16-inch inner tube. I have seen cyclists without lights pulling unlit trailers, so clearly everyone is not as law-abiding as myself.Years of cycle commuting have made me cautious.

Stopping and restarting on hills can be awkward with a loaded trailer, so you need to make sure you are ready in the lowest gear.There is no parking brake, so the trailer can run away down a steep slope and drag the bicycle with it. Most trailers have this drawback, but you can always park against a lamp-post or choose somewhere flat. For someone prepared to undertake a bit of customising, the Raleigh Mule is a good buy. It’s strong, rolls well, and it folds away for storage when out of use. Not a bad buy for £85.

Raleigh Mule cargo trailer £89.99 . Distributor Raleigh Parts & Accessories tel 01623 688383 web www.raleighbikes.com

A to B 48 – June 2005

Letter from America

Letter from America.

Getting from A to B is a serious business for Americans. Look at the success of Driving Miss Daisy. To be a True American, there are certain beliefs that one must accept. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Four wheels are always superior to two
  • Gas power is always superior to any other power source
  • Not pedalling is always superior to pedalling
  • all two-wheeled vehicles, except powerful motorcycles, are toys and should never be considered as anything else

Fortunately, not all Americans accept all of these beliefs. Anthony Panzica doesn’t, and thousands of Americans are better off because of it.

Mr. Panzica, 39, lives in Long Beach California, about ten miles south of Los Angeles. For three years now he has been driving impaired drivers (mostly drunks) home in order to keep them from harming people on the roads of Southern California. He and his cell phone prowl the bar areas of the Beach Communities, and when he finds or is referred to a problem driver, he goes into action.

…Some 16,000 Americans are killed in drunk-driving crashes each year…

The Panzica attitude is simple and direct.When somebody can’t stand or walk, they can hardly drive a vehicle. Now they’re putting me and my friends and family at risk, and I’m not gonna have that’. Some of his ‘clients’ are worried bar patrons, and some are bartenders worried about legal liability from bar patrons. All who come to his attention are offered a free chauffeur to get them home safely, and if they refuse, they are threatened with police intervention.Very few refuse.

This effort started as a personal crusade, but now Mr. Panzica has recruited volunteers and has formed a Scooter Patrol. He says, ‘We tried to come up with a solution to how you get the guy’s car home with him.We talked about a tow truck or a skateboard or maybe folding bicycles. And we finally hit on scooters that fold up.’ The Scooter Patrol’s vehicle of choice is the Go-ped ESR750 electric fold-up scooter. The scooters carry the volunteers around the bar areas, and then return them to the front line after the drunk driver has been safely delivered home.

The Scooter Patrol and its Go-peds are serious matters along the Southern California Beach areas. For example, Seal Beach has 21 drinking establishments within one mile and is the Times Square of local alcohol consumption. Since 2003, volunteers have delivered more than 2,500 impaired drivers home safely.

They know how small their efforts really are, however. Some 16,000 Americans are killed in drunk-driving crashes each year, and the number of wounded is easily five times greater. Folding electric scooters will never solve America’s drunk-driving problems, but they are better than nothing and they at least take a few dangerous drivers off the roads for one night.

Mr. Panzica and his volunteers do not charge for their services, but they accept tips, which help defray the cost of the Go-peds. Local police and businesses encourage these patrols. Drunk drivers are bad for business, especially alcohol-related business.

The Scooter Patrol volunteers with their Go-peds and distinctive uniforms are highly respected in the Beach Communities, but some see the Patrols as shielding drunk drivers from California’s ‘Driving Under the Influence’ laws. Anthony Panzica himself admits to being a reformed drunk driver, and his change of behaviour came after he ran into the full fury of California’s DUI laws. It has been calculated that a first-time conviction without any injuries or property damages will cost the driver at least $12,000, when fines, attorney fees, court costs and insurance adjustments are added up. If there are injuries or property damages, the costs can go much higher.

For this situation, drivers can bless – or curse – groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving which constantly agitate for ever-greater penalties. MADD and its millions of allies are not much impressed with anything that offers protection to drunk drivers. According to some, it would be better for volunteers to act as scouts for the police and to direct them to likely candidates for DUI arrests. Attorneys who specialise in these cases report that 96% of all drivers who get a first-time conviction never get another. The courts deliver a much stronger message than any Scooter Patrol ever will.

Scooter Patrol members prefer to build trust with local drinkers.They post adverts in the bars and ensure that local bartenders have the phone numbers to summon volunteers when they are needed.The volunteers prefer the non-threatening approach, although they will call in the cops as a last resort. No doubt the local police forces have their own watchers, and they quietly use the DUI laws in their own way. It all helps with a problem that really has no complete solution.

Author’s Note: Readers might wish to visit Ken Kifer’s website, one of the most interesting and unusual bicycling sites in the USA. Recently, Ken Kifer was killed… by a drunk driver.

A to B 48 – June 2005