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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Five years on a bike (Part Two)

This is the follow-up to a recent post of my reflections on the five years since I started to cycle again as an adult. The first part can be found here: Five years on a bike (Part One).

I had finally gotten the kind of bike I had been coveting for quite some time but which I could never seem to justify the expense of, a traditional roadster, the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe. After owning the bike for more than a year, I can honestly say that it (or an equivalent bike, such as the Pashley Roadster Sovereign) would have been well worth the full price tag. 

Whilst I had finally stopped the hunt for a better bike, some of my friends and family started to express an interest in the sort of bikes I had been getting into, and over the summer and autumn of that year I did a number of Raleigh Twenty and roadster restorations. I was happy with my DL-1, but I was still always on the look out for nice things to go on it, such as new tyres, dynamo lights or a lovely Carradice saddlebag. Even now I like the idea of swapping the rear hub at some point to add more gears. The Yuba was also treated to some dynamo lighting and a Brooks saddle.

By this point, whilst I was a confident cyclist who was well versed in the vehicular cycling techniques outlined in Cyclecraft, I was acutely aware that the road network in the UK was designed without any care or consideration being given to the safety or convenience of cyclists (and very little given to pedestrians either), instead primarily focussed on the needs and whims of the private motorist. Whilst I, and a minority of people still cycled in these dire conditions, I came to realise that without radical alterations to the road network, the vast majority of people never ever would (at least not above and beyond the odd bit of recreational cycling in parks or on trails). I was aware of cycling campaigns, but none of them really seemed to capture my interest, seeming primarily focussed on sport-cycling, or on merely mitigating the problems encountered by the minority of existing, fast, confident, vehicular cyclists, rather than seeking measures to make cycling accessible to a much wider audience. Thankfully, it was at around this time that I stumbled upon the initial founding of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, which at the time seemed like one of the first, sensible glimmers of hope I had encountered in the UK cycling 'scene.'

By the beginning of 2011, my situation had changed so that I was travelling on Virgin and Cross-country trains regularly. Both of these operators have cycle carriage policies (and risible cycle carriage capacities) designed to discourage passengers from taking cycles on their trains (the extra effort, planning and in effect gambling required making it viable for only perhaps for the occasional trip). This presented me with a problem, I wanted to be able to finish my journey by cycle after departing the train. A trip to London, with its recently scrapped Western extension of the congestion charge gave me an opportunity; a glut of Bromptons for sale at good prices, sold by people who could now afford to ditch their bikes in favour of driving again (another win for common sense in policy making there, Boris). Londoners' loss to their liveable streets, health, safety and ability to get around was at least turned to my gain, I had acquired my own Brompton M3L in red.

At first, I wasn't sure if I'd like the Brompton, but I knew that I could probably sell it for as much as I paid, due to the shortage of Bromptons on sale in the North. It was certainly a departure from the kinds of bikes I had become accustomed to, making me even more surprised to discover that I really liked it. The more aggressive, but still quite comfortable riding position made it the fastest of my bikes. It also surprised me by remaining pleasant and comfortable to ride over longer distances; to this day I often ride it from Macclesfield to Manchester a few mornings a month. If, by some cruel twist of fate, I was only allowed to own a single bike, the versatility and sheer all-round brilliance of this little bike means that it would have to be a Brompton.

The Brompton completely filled and exceeded my Twenty's niche, and with space at a premium, I could no-longer justify keeping it. Thankfully, my father was in need of a bike. His modern Raleigh P1000 hybrid was a little bit too big for him to really feel safe when riding it. The 18 gears were more than he needed. I decided that the Twenty would be better off with him, and that it would be a better fit for his needs.

If I had spent the past five years using a bicycle for transport, but without the same enthusiasm I have for bikes, I probably could say that cycling has saved me a lot of money on public transport. However, as an enthusiast, I have probably spent about as much money on bicycle-related things as I have saved on bus, train, tram and taxi fares. The key differences are that I have something to show for the money spent on bicycles and paraphernalia. Firstly, I am significantly more healthy than I was before I started cycling just over five years ago, despite rarely venturing out on a bicycle with the intention  of doing so for the benefit of my health. As someone who was particularly unfit for much of my life, I truly appreciate this side-effect. Secondly, unlike money spent on public transport, I still have something to show for the money spent on bicycles and paraphernalia; the actual bicycles and paraphernalia which continue to be useful to me to this day.

I hope this account of my experiences of cycling as an adult can help novices to avoid making some of the same mistakes I did:

  • If you are cycling to get from A-to-B, don't buy a 'full-suspension' mountain bike, especially if it is in the same price-range as mine was. Spending more money on a quality bike will always be a better idea. Most of the bikes made by Pashley, Velorbis or Gazelle for instance will include many of the accessories needed to make cycling more pleasant & lower maintenance. Whilst it may seem like a lot of money, quality bikes hold their value quite well; if a year passes and you feel that the bike isn't quite right for you, you can sell it and recoup much of what you spent. The same cannot be said for a low end bike, despite it being more likely you will feel this way.
  • Mudguards are better than waterproof over-trousers.
  • If you can only ever own one bike, get a Brompton. The folding solves the storage problems which can afflict flat-dwellers, concerns about leaving it locked up outside and concerns about your own fitness as a new cyclist; it is easy to be ambitious with longer distance journeys when you know you can give up and hop on a bus, tram, train or taxi with your bike if something goes wrong along the way.
  • For purposes where reliability is an important factor, hub gears are a better choice than dérailleur gears, especially if coupled with puncture-resistant tyres.
  • If you find you are using your bike as a main means of transport, make the investment in dynamo lighting as soon as you can. The sooner you make the change, the more money you will save on replacement battery lights and batteries in the long term. Most of the equipment can be ported from one bike to the next relatively easily if you decide to change your bike in the future.
  • If you are carrying stuff on your bike, sweaty-back problems can be avoided by carrying the load on a front or rear rack, handlebar bag or saddlebag. It may surprise you how much this improves comfort if you have become accustomed to cycling with a backpack.
  • Although requiring a discomfort period, a tensioned leather saddle, such as a Brooks or Velo Orange will be more comfortable than a plastic saddle.


  1. It's been interesting following your journey thus far Chris!

    You are partly to blame for me selling a nearly new sylph-like road bike & buying a Dutch Wimmins' model as a replacement...never regretted it for a minute though ;>D

    Being lucky enough to have ridden your current three bicycles...a message to the non-believers reading this blog...stop worrying about groupsets & carbon fibre...just change yer ways!

  2. "If you can only ever own one bike, get a Brompton."
    Great minds think alike!

  3. @Ian,

    Thanks, I'm glad to have been a 'bad' influence. I was the same, although it was mountain rather than road bikes for me. My friend who bought the Cuillin Sport after I bought the Africa Bike couldn't fathom why I would switch to that from what was in his eyes a 'better' bike. But then again, he is only interested in riding trails etc...


    As much as I love my roadster, I think I would miss the Brompton more now. It's the one bike that can pretty much do it all, whilst also folding small enough to slide under a table at a restaurant, or sneak into a cinema. As popular as they are, it's amazing that they aren't at least an order of magnitude more popular than that.


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