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Monday, 31 January 2011


Saturday was the long-awaited Wheeler’s Brunch. It was great to put so many faces to so many familiar blogs. It was also a good chance to bring up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (whose inaugural meeting was running at the same time) with a group of like-minded people.

One topic I remember being discussed was what to wear when cycling in the cold. The nature of the meeting meant that there was a general preference for “normal” clothing over specialised cycling gear. The material which many people are re-discovering at the moment is wool. This seems particularly poetic seeing as wool is a fabric which we, as a species, have had for a long time, it works well but for a while we forgot about it. Instead we started to use newer fabrics which it turned out came with certain drawbacks.

I am currently re-discovering wool (and I am not alone). During the big freeze around Xmas, I started to wear wool socks to stop my toes icing over. They were notably better than the synthetic fibre socks I had been using prior to that point; great insulating properties, resistant to absorbing odours and able to absorb a reasonable amount of moisture without feeling particularly damp. They also have a certain pleasing “Cozy” quality which is difficult to articulate. Rather than buying wool socks from a bike shop, I decided to go to Marks and Spencer, where the price of such socks is lower (reflecting the fact that they are not regarded as “gear” in M&S).

I have since (after a bit of a struggle) managed to find some high percentage wool gloves:


I intend to pair these gloves with some unlined leather gloves, for use during particularly windy or rainy conditions. Even on their own they are noticeably better than the Altura gloves I used to use.

Of course, the whole point of cycling in normal clothes is that you can just hop on the bike without having to give it much thought, whilst cycling was a consideration whilst buying these items, my main aim was just staying warm. Thankfully the socks and gloves are just as good off the bike as they are on it.

My rediscovery of wool is not limited to being outdoors, as I write this I am sat in my flat, the temperature is about 14°C but I am comfortably warm thanks to my tartan wool blanket.

Muted Blue Stewart

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Small Wheels Good

Amongst the more performance-oriented parts of the cycling community, there is something of an aversion to small wheels. Large wheels have certain benefits, they deal with uneven surfaces better than small wheels and the wheel does fewer revolutions for a given distance, leading to longer tyre life.
There is a common misconception that larger wheels are faster. At very high speeds, there are benefits to larger wheels due to the gyroscopic effect, but these only come into effect at speeds seldom sustained for long by even professional cyclists. At low speeds, the reduced weight and air resistance of a smaller wheel makes them faster than their larger counterparts, making them ideal for transportation use in start-stop traffic.


An original Moulton bicycle from the 1960s, spotted in Chorlton.

The 200 m flying start world speed record for a bike using the conventional riding position was set on a modern Moulton in 1985.
Another advantage of a smaller wheel is strength. Shorter spokes make for a stronger wheel, just look at the amount of punishment the 20 inch wheels used by BMXers are put through. The strength of smaller wheels is also put to clever use in the Madsen bicycle and the Bakfiets (images taken from respective sites):


Madsen bucket bike


Workcycles bakfiets

Smaller wheels make hub-based brakes more effective. Drums, rollers and discs all work better on smaller sized wheels due to their central location. I use a drum brake on my Raleigh Twenty and it is more powerful than the same unit on my DL-1.
As has been discussed over at Lovely Bicycle! smaller wheels increase the range of rider sizes which can be accommodated. Sadly, the desire on the manufacturers’ part to only use one wheel size for a given model means that proportionally smaller wheels are seldom used for smaller sized frames (such as 650Bs on a smaller touring bike rather than 700Cs). Added to this is the common misconception that smaller wheels are slower, meaning that small wheeled bikes for touring are still a niche market (The Moulton being the only small-wheeled dedicated touring bike which springs to mind).


The Raleigh Twenty was Raleigh’s more-affordable answer to the original Moulton. Raleigh eventually owned Moulton for a time.

Small wheels are also more manoeuvrable, which is a desirable trait when riding in traffic, as many Bromptonauts will agree. Finally, small wheels are easier to store. This is not just useful for folding bikes like the aforementioned Brompton, but also for rigid bikes such as the Moulton and the Twenty. The Twenty doesn’t get the same special treatment on the train as a folder, but it is much easier to take in and out of a train, or to squeeze into a gap somewhere during busy periods. It is also easy to take into a house rather than lock up outside, and the small wheels make the whole package easy to carry up a flight of stairs.


Type M Brompton. Brompton, like Pashley and Moulton are one of the few companies to still make their bikes in the UK

Small and large wheels each have their own advantages, when choosing a bike, don’t count small wheels out too quickly.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Vaude Cycle 25

I bought this pannier over a year ago but I neglected to write about it at the time. It has quietly served its purpose every day since then. You might expect that a pannier which changes into a backpack is an obvious idea serving an obvious need, but this is the only bag on the market I have found which does this at an acceptable price.


The styling of the bag suggests it is aimed at the sporting end of the market. This worried me, as leisure cyclists are not likely to clip and unclip the bag from the rack several times each day. Luckily, other than a few scuffs and bruises, the bag seems to have held up reasonably well to daily use.


The Good:

  • Fairly quick conversion between backpack and pannier
  • Comfortable enough when used as backpack
  • Includes rain-cover
  • Includes clip-on helmet holder (which can also be used for more useful things)
  • Side pockets
  • Laptop compartment
  • Includes two sets of clips to cover a range of rack tube diameters up to 20 mm (as on the V1 Yuba Mundo and the Kona Africa Bike)
  • Clips adjustable to ensure a snug fit

The Bad:

  • Main clips are not directly replaceable
  • Lower clip is of minimal benefit, fiddly to use and prone to getting caught in spokes and snapping (mine is somewhere in the canal between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden)


Here is the back of mine after over a year of daily use.


The bag straps unzip from behind the pannier clips.


Laptop compartment (laptop not included).

Overall, I’d still recommend this bag, despite the loss of the lower clip. The upper clips are not directly replaceable, but like many things you could come up with your own solution if necessary. Wearing a backpack whilst cycling is uncomfortable, and carrying a pannier whilst walking is uncomfortable. The Cycle 25 is one of the only bags out there to solve this problem, at a reasonable price and with reasonable durability when used every day.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Spotted in Manchester #2

Another round up of some of the more interesting bikes I have spotted recently around Manchester


A lovely old step-through bike. The manufacturer appears to be “Torino,” but the lettering has faded with age.



3-speed hub gears made by Sachs, which was bought out by SRAM quite a while back.


A bottle dynamo and Union lamp to round it off. There is a tail-light on the rear mudguard too. It looks like this bike has been in service for a long time. Thanks to the component choices, it appears it has a good few years left in it too.



A Thorn tourer, especially notable for its Rohloff Speedhub, an impressive piece of engineering containing 14 evenly spaced gears. It is not everyday I park next to a bike with a rear hub which is worth more than any of the bikes I own.


I saw this Brompton parked up one lunchtime, completely unsecured. This seemed off for a bike designed to be folded so it can be taken inside easily. My faith in humanity was boosted when I came back a fair few hours later to see it was still there.


I saw this fully loaded randonneur bike outside EBC, complete with a Brooks saddle and the seldom-seen (in the wild) Euro-style trekking bars.


@wordsnfixtures bike which I believe I have seen a few times around Manchester.


A basic but practical unknown transportation bike, lacking a front brake but otherwise conforming to many of the things I feel a good transport bike should have.


LC’s Pashley Princess Sovereign, Vita.


A roadster with a personalised coat-guard.


A rather beat-up but lovely Crescent roadster-like bicycle, with brown tyres and an elaborate chain-guard design.

As always I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any other nice and interesting bikes around town.

Friday, 14 January 2011

B&M D-Toplight Plus Review

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post, I have replaced the battery-powered rear light on the DL-1 with a dynamo powered one from Busch & Muller. As seems to be the running theme for good from B&M and dynamo equipment in general, I had to buy it to get any solid information about it. The light is the same one that Ian from Lazy Bicycle Blog ordered for his wimmins’ bike, featuring a stand-light which stays on for several minutes after the bike stops moving.
The light can be connected to the dynamo or a front lamp using either a single or dual cable approach (depending on the type of dynamo used), terminated with screw(s) or spade connections. If used in conjunction with a B&M front lamp with a light sensor, the rear light will also be controlled by the light sensor/switch at the front. This useful feature is not mentioned in any of the B&M literature I was able to find. I believe that a wire ending in spade connectors can be purchased elsewhere, I was expecting one to be included. When it was not, I decided to destroy an old RCA audio cable and use the screw terminals in the rear light and heat shrink to secure the cable into the front lamp’s terminals instead.
The view from underneath the rack.
I ran the wire down the inside of the rack frame and along the chain-stay using cable ties.
The connectors on the front lamp have small holes in them through which I threaded the wire. I used heat-shrink to secure them in place.
Despite the lack of information B&M provide, the light functions very well. It is sufficiently bright and the stand-light lasts at least 5 minutes, which is all you really need. The ability to use the light sensor of the front lamp is an added bonus which B&M should really make more widely known. I never have to worry about batteries on the DL-1 ever again, and the ability to turn the front and rear lights on or off whilst riding (by overriding the light-sensor) is a small feature which I really appreciate.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Thoughtless Obstruction

A Sainsbury's delivery driver decided to park his van here, at the entrance to Whitworth Lane on Moseley Road. Whitworth Lane is closed to motor traffic but is well used by cyclists and pedestrians. The van was parked illegally on double yellow lines and on the pavement, blocking access to a side road and covering a dropped kerb.

Those familiar with the area may find it puzzling that someone living here in Owen's Park halls of residence would want to get groceries delivered by Sainsbury's. I feel that the level of contempt displayed by the driver for pedestrians, cyclists, pram users and wheelchair users reflects badly on J Sainsbury's as a whole. I have emailed Sainsbury's about this incident and I will post an update if and when they reply.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Tips For New Cyclists

I have read a number of guides containing tips for new cyclists over the years. Most of the guides are the same as this, and contain advice which centres around buying a sports bicycle and modifying it and your attire to make up for the shortcomings of using this type of bike for everyday transportation purposes.

Myth: You have three choices of bike; road, mountain or hybrid.

The bicycle retail industry in the UK is focussed mainly around the sporting end of the market. Cycling for sport is fine, but it does mean that many bike shops advise their customers to get sports bikes which are inappropriate for their needs.

The bike needs of most people boil down to a desire to get from A to B, in relative comfort on a reliable bike. This type of bike is a roadster, or “Dutch bike.” Some examples of useful, everyday transportation bicycles include:

Pashley Roadster/Princess Sovereign


There are many more bikes which are fit for everyday transportation. All of these bikes contain all or most of the characteristics described in a previous post, mudguards, chain-guard/case, upright riding position, low-maintenance and reliable mechanical parts (internal hub gears, drum brakes, hub dynamo), durable tyres, lights and a frame-fitting lock. With a bike like these, you can simply hop on the bike in whatever clothes you are wearing and go.

Most bicycles for sale used to fall into this category, but as they were replaced by cars in the 1950s and 60s, the bicycle industry in the UK (and most of the English-speaking world) responded by marketing cycling as sport instead, in the hope that people would spend money on cars and bikes. This approach worked to a degree, most people own a bike, they simply don’t really use it. The reason for this is the reason for the typical guide written for new cyclists focuses on how to endure using  a sports bike for everyday transportation, with bicycles marketed as sporting goods, the average person buys a sporting bicycle.

Myth: You need a toolkit/pump etc.

If you use a sporting bicycle for general transportation, the limitations of doing so will make themselves known, either through frequent punctures or components such as brakes and gears needing frequent adjustments. Roadsters also  suffer from punctures, but much less frequently. This is because they come with much more durable tyres (sports bikes come with lightweight, puncture-prone tyres). Gears and brakes on a roadster will need much less attention and maintenance because their gears and brakes are internal and more durable.

Chain cleaning and maintenance are mentioned in a lot of articles, but riding a bike with a full chain-case means that chain cleaning and lubricating needs to be done much, much less frequently.

Being prepared for these situations isn’t a bad idea, but it will not feel as important if you have the right kind of bike.

Myth: You need cycle-specific clothes, and a shower when you get to work.

A sport bicycle will come without mudguards, or a chain-guard/case. This leads to filthy water from the road being sprayed up your back during and after rainfall, and oily filth from the chain ending up on your trousers.

The sporty feel of the bike encourages you to travel at a greater speed, which will make you hot and sweaty. A marginal drop in speed reduces aerodynamic drag by a more-than-proportional amount, so that whilst travelling more slowly will get you to your destination a few minutes later, you will not be sweaty and in need of a shower and/or change of clothes.

Myth: You need a helmet,and a high-visibility tabard.

Helmets and high-visibility gear are heavily promoted by various levels of government and the cycle industry as necessities for cyclists. The dubious benefits of helmets have been discussed here previously. High visibility gear is not a legal requirement before or after dark (unlike lights), but it can have benefits for those concerned about not being seen by negligent motorists. The promotion of both of these types of gear by government makes cycling look more dangerous than it actually is, and contributes to the stagnation and decline of cycling as a mode of transport.

Both helmets and high-visibility are a reaction to the poor conditions and lack of provisions for cyclists on the roads. I would not judge an individual negatively for choosing to use either of them, but it is the job of government to tackle the root cause of the problem rather than promoting things like helmets and high-visibility, designed to treat the symptoms of a problem.

Hopefully the work of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will help to reverse this sad trend

Myth: Weight is important

If you want to race your bike, or ride up mountains, weight becomes more important, but for everyday transportation it is largely irrelevant. Even an extra few kilograms is very little in comparison to the weight of a rider, and once the bike is moving even a large amount of extra weight simple melts away.

Many of the drawbacks of sport bicycles come from an obsession with weight; lightweight tyres puncture more easily, lighter derailleur gears are less durable than internal hub gears and essential items such as racks, lights and locks are omitted from sport bicycles to save weight and create an accessories market containing essential items which should really be included with, or built into a practical transportation bike.

Now, that isn’t to say that some things won’t make riding a bike more pleasant. If you want to carry things, a backpack will be less pleasant than panniers. Panniers which convert into backpacks are available (although considering how obviously good this idea is, there are very few of them around). Alternatively, permanently-attached Dutch-style panniers are also a good option, just throw your backpack or bag-for-life full of stuff in there whilst you ride the bike.

A frame-fitting lock is useful, but a D-lock is a worthwhile investment (If you want even more peace-of-mind, try this lock). I will write about good locking technique in a future post. The wind-chill effect you get whilst riding means that you may feel the need for gloves whilst cycling for more of the the year than you do when walking. For transportation purposes, cycle-specific gloves are a bit of a con, just find something comfortable which keeps the wind out too.

A bit of adjustment to basic bike fit, understanding why bikes have gears and keeping your tyres at the right pressure will also help make the experience easier and nicer in the long run.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


In contrast to my previous post, I thought I’d post about some of my more pleasant recent experiences whilst out and about on the DL-1. After my appointment with the Rozzers this morning, I went into town to continue my search for a pair of nice wool gloves. When I returned to my bike I bumped into a lady I had met at Critical Mass some months back. I recognised her bike and asked if I had seen her at CM and she complimented my bike and asked if I was the person who wrote this blog.

Later on I overtook a man on a mountain bike. He caught me at the next set of lights and proceeded to ask about and pay compliments to the DL-1. He said he used to work in The Netherlands and remembers seeing similar bikes there.

Over Xmas whilst I was travelling to Rochdale on the canal, an man walking his dog seemed very pleased to see an old-looking asked me if the bike had previously belonged to my grandfather. He seemed surprised when I told him the bike was less than 2 years old (it was pretty filthy at the time).

When I got off the bike and pushed it along the pavement once outside a church on Oxford Road, I was approached by one of the punters who remembered the days when bicycles like the DL-1 were a common sight in this country. He told me about the very similar bike he once owned.

On several occasions I have been engaged in conversation about the DL-1 by train guards whilst transporting the bike on the train, many of whom remember similar bikes from their youths.

This is one of the best parts of cycling, you don’t interact with people and your surroundings in the same way in a car. These are the kind of experiences which give me hope for the cause of taking back and re-humanising our streets.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Attempted Assault

At around 20:00 on the 2/1/2011 I was travelling along Oldham Road towards Manchester. A white Nissan Micra (Reg removed due to ongoing Police investigation), containing 4 men of Asian descent, pulled along side me  where they began to verbally abuse me for no apparent reason. The driver of the car then attempted to force me off the road by cutting me up. The driver then overtook and pulled up at this set of lights where the 4 men, got out of the vehicle and attempted to push and kick me off my bike and into the path of an oncoming taxi.

Thankfully, due to the incredibly poor standard of driving seen on our roads, I had the necessary reflexes to avoid their attempts to assault me and continued along. The car caught up to me at around here:

Where the driver attempted again to run me off the road by pulling in front of me and braking hard. I managed to avoid this again and they drove off. At this point I only knew the first 5 digits of the registration number, so I decided to catch them up to make a note of the rest of the registration number. I caught up to the car here:

I managed to get the last part of the registration number when the occupants spouted more verbal abuse and then they pulled into the street above (Houldsworth Street).

Although I have very low hopes for any appropriate outcome, I have contacted the Police and I will continue to update the blog with my experiences at the hands of the GM Police. Obviously these scumbags need to be taken off the road for the safety of the general public, but I expect the actual outcome will be much more disappointing.