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Wednesday 29 December 2010

Everyday Bicycle

I was initially taken in by the pitch of “Cycling is sport,” that most British cycle shops sell their customers. My first adult bike was a god-awful sub-£100 “Full-suspension” (Y-frame) mountain bike from Halfords. I wanted it so I could avoid spending £35 a month on bus fares getting to my crappy part-time job and for general transportation. Despite the fact that I wanted a bike for transportation, my own perception of cycling as being either mountain bikes or racing bikes combined with the fact that the bike shops generally seemed to only sell mountain bikes and racing bikes meant that I decided to buy a ridiculously inappropriate bike for my needs. Surprisingly, despite its best efforts, I rode the thing for nearly two years. As crappy as that bike was, I learned a lot about the mechanical side of bikes from it (unsurprisingly).

When the spindle inside the bottom bracket snapped I had no idea how to do that kind of repair and I was painfully aware of how low-end my bike was. I was slightly better off by that point and decided to spend a bit more on a new bike. This time, I went to the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative and took a look around. What I saw were almost exclusively either mountain bikes, racing bikes or “hybrid bikes.” Once again, with the help of the sport-focussed sales people, I left with a hard-tail mountain bike, a rear rack and a crud-catcher mudguard. I had made a marginally more practical choice; a rack and less suspension, but still an impractical choice for my needs. Despite its limitations, this bike was a revelation about spending a bit more but getting value for money.

I rode this bike for 18 months and slowly made modifications to make it less of a mountain bike and more of a road bike. When I started reading about cycling in other countries (where it isn’t actively supressed by transport policy) and got the Yuba Mundo, I saw the limitations of the mountain bike for practical everyday cycling. By then I was aware of immensely practical bikes such as the Pashley Roadster, but I had just bought a Yuba Mundo and another bike seemed excessive. I started using the Yuba for almost all of my riding; it was much more comfortable, it had proper mudguards to keep me clean and dry and the upright posture made riding much more enjoyable.

Eventually I sold the mountain bike to someone who uses it as it was intended and I bought the Kona Africa Bike. I saw it as a “Yuba Mundo without the Mundo” and enjoyed riding it immensely. Longer trips were uncomfortable, but for the vast majority of my riding it was fine. The hub gears, coaster brake, basket and chain-guard were a revelation, and adding a front drum-brake made it even more practical as a transport bike. I wanted a roadster, but the price was off-putting and having not test-ridden one, I didn’t know what I was missing.

I was lucky enough to find my Raleigh DL-1 on eBay, being sold by a retired Raleigh employee. I was happy enough with the Kona and Yuba, but the price was irresistible. I put in my bid and was very happy to win. The bike had almost all of the utilitarian features I had wanted (or would have wanted had I known of them) since I bought that crappy Halfords mountain bike. Adding the remaining features hasn’t required too much effort:

Roadster geometry:


This was the main draw of the bike for me, the geometry of the English Roadster, now commonly referred to as a Dutch-bike, (because they copied the same design and really made it their own whilst we lost our way, which as an Englishman I find quite sad), is a perfect trade off between the efficiency of the racing bike posture and the basic human desire to be comfortable.


I cannot oversell mudguards. Once you have ridden with them you won’t go back. Getting rained on isn’t usually fun, but getting filthy water sprayed up from the road by your wheels is much worse. Groundwater is still there after the rain and mudguards will keep you dry. It is insane how few people I see with mudguards in Manchester, where it rains on more than 1/2 of the days of the year.



Not really a big ask, obviously needed if you want to carry anything on your bike. It is surprising how few bikes come with racks, and how many bikes I see used as transport but lacking a rack. A backpack will do in a pinch, but is less than ideal. The weight in a backpack moves with your body, wasting more of your energy than if it is on a rack and moving with the bike. Sweaty back is never nice either.



A chain-guard will keep the oil and crap from your chain off your clothes. A chaincase will keep the water and crap off your chain and keep your clothes clean. Seems fairly logical to me.

Permanent Dynamo Lights:


Quick-release lights are a the norm when using batteries because the lights will work away from the bicycle, making them attractive to thieves. Dynamo lights are less useful to thieves because they require a dynamo. Permanently attached dynamo lights are hard to steal, of low value to thieves, always available and never need fresh batteries or re-charging. The combination of B&M lights I have fitted to my bike use a capacitor circuit (referred to as a standlight) to provide a few minutes of light when stationary, and a light-sensor so that they switch on automatically when it is dark. As a bonus, this feature also works when going through tunnels. The dynamo is conveniently sealed away in the front wheel hub. The dynamo rear light is a new addition, ordered from Dutch Bike Bits.


Internal Hub Gears:


Three gears:

1-Setting off and climbing hills
2-Cruising along
3-Long flats and down-hills

All sealed inside the rear hub. Clean, sealed away from the elements, durable and low-maintenance. One day I might swap it out for a 5-speed hub with a bigger range, for those big up- and down-hill stretches.

Drum Brakes:

Effective, sealed away from the elements, durable and low-maintenance. Drum brakes are long-lasting and unaffected by the weather. I find their lack of popularity slightly odd.

Practical Tyres:

The original tyres which came with the bike were fine, but I decided to replace them with more durable, puncture-resistant and grippy Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. As a nice bonus they are also cream-coloured giving the bike that extra touch of class.

Ding-Dong Bell:


Ping bells don’t produce a particularly loud sound. The ding-dong bell common in the Netherlands and Denmark is both loud and polite-sounding.

A Leather Saddle:


Brooks make the best saddles I have ever used. Whilst they do require a bit of upkeep, they are well worth it. I have enjoyed cycling on mine (after my arse got used to it) and would heartily recommend.

All of these features add up to a bike which is easy to just hop on and go, no special clothing and no need for showering facilities at the other end. It is the ultimate in cheap, fast and enjoyable end-to-end personal transport.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Brooks B67 Update

In the style of Yakov Smirnoff, it would seem that you don’t break in a Brooks Saddle, it breaks you in. This is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but after my first proper ride on my new B67 saddle, it feels as comfortable as my older B66. It is probable that a small amount of breaking in occurs, but most of the changes seem to be in the rider’s arse.

Brooks saddles are like many luxury items, once you have one, it becomes more of an essential than a luxury. Think back to life before your first mobile phone, you managed fine without one, but now it feels like an essential item. A Brooks is the same. I wholeheartedly recommend the B66 based saddles for upright bicycles, but just be aware that once the saddle has broken you in, other saddles may feel like crap.

The B67 is almost identical to the B66, differing only in that it is compatible with micro-adjust seatposts. Having a B67 saddle on the Yuba makes it much more pleasant to ride, plus I prefer to have the same saddle on the bikes I use regularly (providing they have similar riding positions).
My test ride was along the Fallowfield Loop, in the fog and later fog and rain. It was still quite an enjoyable ride, the dynamo light illuminated the fog creating the sensation of riding through an over-exposed photograph. When the rain picked up, it gave me a chance to test out the rain-worthiness of the bottle dynamo. Re-assuringly there was minimal slippage (if any) and the light stayed perfectly bright throughout the rain. The increased temperature also meant that I didn’t have the same gear problems which the Yuba suffered from on Xmas day.
If you have a Brooks saddle and have been considering investing in another one for a second bike, but have been worried about going through the break-in again, don’t worry. Your new saddle will feel almost completely broken in from the start, because you already have been.

Monday 27 December 2010

Bumper Xmas Post

For the first time I have depended solely on my bike for transport at Xmas. In previous years I have walked or used public transport to get to where I needed to at this time of year. This year was different.

On Christmas Eve I went to visit my Dad in Pendlebury. I took the DL-1 up there and my odometer rolled over to 10,000 km total just as I was arriving. I got the usual accusation of madness for choosing to cycle there “In this weather.” Obviously he hadn’t noticed that all the main roads were completely clear. Pendlebury is uphill from the city centre, so the ride home is always fun. Traffic was very low by the time I left and so my speedy ride back was most enjoyable.

On Christmas Day I went to visit friends, one of whom was receiving a bicycle I had been working on as a gift. This meant taking the Yuba Mundo to allow me to tow and carry my trifle and other Xmas stuff. The towed bicycle itself was an old Universal 3-speed utility bike. The bike has fractional 26 inch (590 mm) wheels with non-steel rims allowing the brakes to actually stop the bike, and a pleasing upright posture. I hope it is being enjoyed by its new owner.





On Boxing Day I went to Rochdale to visit my Mum. Due to limited public transport options I decided to take the DL-1. By the time I had gotten to Failsworth, the wind made the snow-covered canal towpath look quite appealing. By maintaining a minimum speed of 20 km.h-1 wherever possible (Also the towpath speed limit) I was able to keep the bike under control on the compacted snow. The ride was most enjoyable. I was grateful to receive a B67 Saddle from my Mum for the Yuba.


Rochdale canal in the snow on Boxing Day.


Today I was going to get the train home due to the poor weather, but upon arriving at Rochdale station the industrial action taken by Northern Rail employees meant that there was a huge queue and I was unlikely to get a ticket in time. Thankfully I was able to hop on the bike and make my own way home. The rain meant the canal was not really an option today, so I rode my usual route home on the road. I saw a handful of other cyclists, all using the pavement. This was despite the fact that the roads were clear and the pavements were covered with ice; perhaps a sad indicator of the pent-up desire for segregated cycle infrastructure here in the UK. Despite the rain it was quite a pleasant ride, the rain even got some of the salt and grit off the bike.

The new saddle needed to have the underside Proofided and the top Proofided and polished off before it was mounted on the Yuba Mundo. Proofide is recommended for all Brooks saddles by Brooks, but it is not included with the saddle. The recipe is secret but it looks and smells like old lard, leading me to think that it might just be old lard.



Before Proofide application.


After Proofide application.

When I warm up a bit I’ll take the Yuba for a spin to see how the new saddle feels. Has anyone else done much cycling over Christmas?

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Hills and Headwinds

I had what some refer to as “A moment of clarity,” yesterday. I had to run a family errand in Rochdale during the evening and I decided to ride there. I was expecting there to be little other traffic due to the time of day and I avoided the train because that particular route has been very unreliable lately. The route I usually take to Rochdale has a few hills and is a net climb when heading there from Manchester (making the ride back quite nice). Yesterday this net climb was combined with a fairly stiff headwind and a greater volume of motor traffic than I had expected. On several sections, the combination of those factors made me feel the need to walk the bike on the pavement for a few separate stretches.

On one of these stretches, there was a long section of car-parking allocated on the pavement which was not being used at the time. I decided that despite the hill and the headwind I might find riding along this section of parking bays better than walking. Riding along that section, the hill was still there and so was the headwind, but I was effectively separated from the motorised traffic. I was riding much slower than I usually do (~12 km.h-1) but the hill and headwind were no longer bothering me.

It was at that point that I realised why I felt the need to get off. The hill and headwind were too much together for me to maintain the minimum speed at which I feel comfortable riding on a fast (40 mph) or particularly narrow road (around 20-25 km.h-1). I imagine this speed is different for different people, for many it is the speed at which they would travel in a car, hence they are put off cycling on these roads altogether.

If I had been riding on Dutch-style segregated infrastructure, or if the road hadn’t been narrowed to accommodate free on-street parking, or if the speed limits were lower, I would have felt secure climbing the hill against the headwind at a very low speed. Many people say that Dutch levels of cycling are unattainable in the UK because of our geography (The Netherlands are famously quite flat), but the vast majority of people can tackle our hills on bikes. They just need to do so at a lower speed, whilst feeling safe from the threat of motorised vehicles. If that threat were removed, I, and I suspect many others, wouldn’t feel the need to get off and push on almost any hills, even with a stiff headwind.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Dear Government

Whilst I am a firm believer in cycling being an ideal way for ordinary people to get from A to B, the various governments of the UK have either neglected or suppressed cycling over the past few decades. Promoting cycling to individuals as “green,” or “healthy,” is of limited value, most people simply choose the path of least resistance when deciding how to get from A to B. The various governments I have mentioned have gone to extraordinary lengths and spent extraordinary amounts of tax money on making the car the path of least resistance for most people. Promoting cycling rather than ignoring or suppressing it is good for the government.

1) Congestion: Every British government spends billions on increasing road capacity for motorists, either by building new roads, widening existing roads or implementing ridiculous computerised “traffic smoothing” programs into traffic light systems. The end result is always just a greater volume of congestion. Transport demand is a fluid thing, if you don’t increase road capacity then people will choose another method of getting around. If you increase rail capacity, more people will travel by rail, if you build Dutch-style segregated infrastructure more people will travel by bike. All the road widening and “traffic smoothing” in the world won’t solve the issue of congestion when people are encouraged to travel everywhere in a single-occupant living-room-on-wheels. Cycle infrastructure and rail investment will.

2) Health care: Whilst transport isn’t paid for out of the NHS pot of gold, the current transport system takes a huge amount out of it. Around 3,000 people a year are killed by motorised transport and another 27,000 are maimed. The cost of their care is paid by the NHS which is paid for by the same taxes which pay for transport infrastructure. A further 50,000 premature deaths a year are caused by air pollution, chiefly produced by personal motor vehicles, which costs even more money. Most British citizens do not get as much exercise as their bodies need, leading to expensive medical complications later in life. By making it easier and more pleasant to cycle and walk, fewer British citizens will choose to drive. Fewer drivers means fewer road deaths, injuries and lower air pollution. More walking and cycling will increase the amount of exercise each citizen gets on average. This is an ideal way to exercise because it forms an ordinary part of peoples’ lives rather than being a conscious decision like using a gym. Regular exercise will also reduce the average spend per citizen on conditions such as depression and reduce their economic burden. The reduction in congestion will reduce ambulance (and fire/police) response times. All of these things will reduce the cost of the NHS in the long run and save money.

3) Foreign Policy: The rate of consumption of oil by the UK is staggeringly high, yet we produce almost none domestically. Purchasing oil from overseas is costly, requiring the government to deal with and support undesirable governments who commit human rights abuses or are corrupt. The military cost of propping up these regimes, or replacing them with more friendly ones is huge, and politically damaging for governments. Purchasing oil from overseas creates economic problems with trade deficits as well. Encouraging walking and cycling through infrastructure will reduce our consumption of oil and reduce our dependency on undesirable governments and the political fallout of doing so, whilst also reducing our trade deficits.

4) Environment: In order to minimise the effects of man-made climate change, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Transport is a major source of these emissions, and reducing personal car usage will make a much bigger impact than electrifying the current fleet will. Electric cars are not environmentally friendly. Electrified railways and bicycles are.

5) Miscellaneous: Cars are expensive, most are produced overseas. Reducing our consumption of cars with pro-cycling, walking and rail investment will help balance our trade with car-manufacturing countries. The same infrastructural investment is a viable alternative to spending £5,000 per car in subsidy on electric vehicles. Reducing the volume and speed of motorised traffic will bring numerous social benefits, including parents feeling safe allowing their children to play outside and travel on their own as previous generations did. Building, maintaining and staffing new cycling, walking and rail infrastructure will create jobs. Bicycle traffic is much less destructive to road surfaces, swapping a lot of car journeys for bike journeys will reduce the road maintenance bill.

Most of what is written here may seem very obvious. I write it because despite the obviousness of it all, successive governments continue to ignore or suppress cycling whilst subsidising private car travel. The list of benefits to investing in cycle infrastructure are too many and too significant to be ignored.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

As many of you may remember, Cycling England is to be axed in the bonfire of the Quangos. Cycling England was not particularly effective at what it was supposed to do (obviously), but its closure means that the existing meagre cycling funding will be reduced further by being made into a “Sustainable Travel” fund whose use is allocated by local authorities. I expect that much of this money will be used for things like road widening and pot-hole filling justified by some ridiculous environmental spin.

Some expect that the CTC will move in to fill the void left by Cycling England. This comes with problems too, the CTC is committed to vehicular cycling and promotion of a sport-centric view of cycling which is destructive to mass cycling. Thankfully, Jim from the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club is championing a new organisation:

“An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.”

Unlike the existing cycling organisations, The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is not committed to vehicular cycling, sport-cycling and the status quo but aims to represent the interests of everyday citizen cyclists like many of you who read this blog, including Dutch-style infrastructure. The site is currently very new but I urge all of you to sign up and spread the word.


Thursday 9 December 2010

Pepsi Run

In my lunch hour I decided to go to Lidl in Longsight to buy some cheap special-offer Pepsi Max to stockpile. Naturally I took the Yuba. At the end of Plymouth Grove there is a (pathetic) cycle lane at the traffic lights. I was sadly unsurprised to see that it was blocked by queuing traffic. I was more surprised to see that two of those vehicles in the mandatory cycle lane were an ambulance and a Police van. At the next set of lights, the Police van jumped the red just as it changed. It is no wonder that the behaviour of other motorists is so very very poor when those who are supposed to enforce the law flout it so openly.

The rest of the ride was fairly pleasant, even with 64 litres of Pepsi Max on the back of the Yuba. For you imperial dinosaurs out there, that would weigh over 10 stone (143 lbs for those of you in the USA).

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Crap Walking in Rochdale

Last night, due to train cancellation I found myself at a loose end in Rochdale. To pass the time and keep warm I decided to walk to the next railway station along the line, Castleton a distance of 3.5 km away. The trip was practically a guide to the routine mistreatment of pedestrians which goes on everywhere in the UK.

The pavement was completely covered in ice the whole way, next to roads which had been gritted days ago. At one point the ice turned back to snow and I realised that I was walking on a grass verge rather than a pavement, which had ended abruptly a few meters prior for no obvious reason. When I got the the first of the junctions I was to traverse I was confronted with this:

Four pedestrian crossings required to cross one side of a the junction. Naturally pedestrians have the absolute lowest priority in this layout, so I was forced to jump the red. I hope the motorists didn't lose respect for me and other pedestrians in the process. Having tackled that junction, when I came up to the next, I noticed that someone had seen fit to block my way with an unnecessary fence.

View Larger Map

Luckily, being able bodied and reasonably fit I was able to traverse this pointless obstacle. The pavement became slightly less icy after this point:

Eventually I passed a bus stop as a budget JPT bus was letting a passenger off. I saw the fairly low price of a ticket advertised on the window of the bus and decided to end my misery there. Thanks Rochdale MBC for making choosing to walk in Rochdale even less appealing.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Yuba Anniversary

On Thursday the 9th of December it will be exactly one year since I took the trip up to Ansdell to pick up my shiny, brand new V2 Yuba Mundo from Practical Cycles. I have really enjoyed having this bike for the past year, it has been both useful and fun. I bought the bike in the hope that it would be a lifetime investment; if I looked after it well and replaced the moving parts as they wore out, I would be able to keep it running forever. Because of this I have not shied away from doing upgrades and modifications to the bike over the past year.

The Saddle:

The Yuba Mundo came with a very wide and very squishy Selle Royal saddle, probably designed for the comfort of new cyclists. As a regular cyclist who had put the time in developing the “Arse of steel,” I found this saddle very uncomfortable after about 20 minutes of use. I replaced it with the same saddle I had been using on my mountain bike of the time, a Specialized Indie XC. However, having used a Brooks B66 on the DL-1 for the past few months, I now look forward to the day when I will be able to afford a B67 for the Yuba.


The Top Deck:

This was inspired by Joe George of Urban Simplicity, who made a wooden top-deck for his V1 Yuba. I followed his instructions to the letter before realising that the rack of a V1 is substantially wider than that of my V2. After going back to the drawing board I was able to fabricate this ugly but functional top deck.


The Fork:

The Yuba Mundo is rated to carry 200 kg of cargo yet is supplied with fairly basic V-brakes. The V2 didn’t even come with disc-brake bosses on the frame or fork. Knowing that the front brake is where the action is, I decided to replace the fork with a similar black one I purchased from eBay, which had IS disc brake mounts. The new fork necessitated a new headset due to the transition from a threaded to a threadless steerer. The new stem placed the handlebar a bit too low for my particular riding posture, and so eventually I added a stem riser to fix this issue.

The Front Brake and Wheel:

The new fork opened up the possibility of a front disc brake. Having had very positive experiences with the cable-actuated Avid BB disc brakes, I decided to take the plunge into the world of hydraulic disc brakes with the Avid Juicy 5. The brake came complete with lever, ready bled and good to go. It has been in service for nearly a year now and has yet to require any attention.

Disc brakes meant a disc wheel was needed, luckily I happened to have an old spare lying around from the old Cuillin Sport mountain bike. All I had to do was remove the old 160 mm rotor and replace it with the new 185 mm rotor.


The Bottle Holder:

The lack of a bottle holder was a mild annoyance in winter and spring. By summer it was getting to be a more pressing matter. I managed to find a few handlebar-mounted bottle cages online, but none of those were adjustable for normal 500/600 ml drinks bottles like the Topeak one I use (EBC don’t seem to sell it anymore). A bit of an old Kryptonite lock mount and some screws later and I had made my own adjustable handlebar bottle holder.


The Seatpost:

The original seatpost which came with the Yuba was 30 mm with a shim to fit it in the 31.8 mm seat-tube. The post wasn’t micro-adjust and after shredding the inside leg of a pair of trousers, I decided it was time to go micro-adjust. I tried a 27.2 mm post with a shim, but the result was some rather unpleasant creaking due to the fact that I was really pushing the maximum extension rating. Eventually I decided to spring for the official Yuba seat post and although pricey it has been hassle and creak free.


The Tyres:

When I retired the Kona Africa Bike from daily service, I decided to fit the brown Fat Franks from that bike to the Yuba. The Yuba came with black Fat Franks, but the brown ones looked nicer and have reflective sidewalls. The original black Fat Franks are now on the Africa Bike, which I eventually intend to sell on.

The Transmission:

The Yuba Mundo V2 has a 130 mm OLD for the back wheel. Yuba spec a freewheel rather than a cassette for the Mundo because it is cheaper and more readily available in other parts of the world. The disadvantages of a freewheel are that the load is taken at a less than ideal point on the axle, which Yuba take into account by making the axle 14 mm thick (rather than 9 or 10 mm). When the ratchet mechanism on the freewheel started to play up, I had to replace the freewheel. I also replaced the chain(s) due to the fact that it had worn along with the old freewheel.


The Dynamo and lamp:

Very recently, I added a dynamo and lamp to the Yuba. After replacing the bracket and unwinding the cable from the brake hose, I am very pleased with this arrangement.



The newest version of the Yuba Mundo (V3) addresses some of the issues I have encountered with my V2. The seatpost is now micro-adjust, the frame and fork have disc brake mounts, the bike comes with a plastic top-deck included, the rear OLD has been increased to the more standard 135 mm and the frame even has well placed screw bosses and loops for luggage straps. The bike does cost more now, but the extra cost is justified. After a year of using it, I would heartily recommend the Yuba Mundo to anyone and everyone.

Monday 6 December 2010

Yuba Dynamo Update

I managed to get a cheap dynamo mount from eBay. Generally these mountings are not designed for the sort of forks found on the Yuba Mundo (the same as on rigid mountain bikes), favouring the thinner fork tubes seen on bikes like the Raleigh Tourist or Twenty. Luckily I managed to find some longer bolts in my box of fixings, and the bottle dynamo is now mounted on the rim.



The snow has died down a bit now, so I have returned the Yuba to its normal configuration and taken it out for a test ride. The dynamo works fine on the rim, and the drag is negligible. The main difference between this and the hub dynamo is the gentle whirring sound and the vibration it sends to the handlebar. Whilst I can see now discernible difference in my speed for a given effort, the psychological effect of the sound and vibration means that the bottle does feel like it drags more than the silent, vibration-free hub.

Overall I am happy with the set-up and would recommend it when a hub dynamo is unfeasible.

UPDATE: Don't wrap dynamo wire around the hose of a hydraulic brake. At high speeds the electricity seems to magnetise the steel layer inside the hose and slightly activates the brakes. This could just be a peculiarity of the dynamo/light/brake set-up I am using, but I advise the other 2 or 3 people out there in the world who want to run hydraulic discs and a bottle dynamo on the same bike to be aware of this.

Friday 3 December 2010

Bottling the Yuba

In July I added a dynamo lamp to my DL-1 and loved it. I was somewhat constrained when it came to choosing a lamp because I wanted something which fitted in with the classic look of the bike. After buying a set of AAA batteries for my front Yuba lamp I decided that I didn’t want to keep buying batteries anymore, I wanted a permanent set-and-forget system like on the DL-1. This time I would be less concerned with aesthetics and able to take advantage of modern-looking LED dynamo lamps.

A hub dynamo was not realistic due to the only reasonably affordable ones compatible with disc brakes being made by Shimano who use a proprietary system for mounting the rotors on the hub (although it is proprietary, it also has some advantages). This would have meant replacing my rotor as well as the front hub, spokes and buying a lamp, at which point the cost became prohibitive. A recent post on Lovely Bicycle! combined with Ian’s positive experiences with the bottle dynamo on his Gazelle inspired me to give the bottle dynamo a chance.

Many people in the UK and in North America have negative associations with bottle dynamos, but both dynamo and lighting technology have progressed a lot, modern bottle dynamos are more efficient and modern LED dynamo lamps can do more with the energy you provide.

I chose the Nordlicht 2000 dynamo, available from Hembrow’s store Dutch Bike Bits. It seemed like a good trade off between quality and price, the roller is rubber and able to run on the rim of the wheel or the tyre itself and replacements are readily available (including a larger wheel for faster riders). The dynamo itself came with no instructions whatsoever, but a bit of playing around with it revealed that the dynamo has a proper – connection rather than using the frame. The two prongs on the bottom are the terminals, they are spring-loaded and have a small hole in them which is revealed when depressed. This allows you to insert a wire and then release the prong to secure the wire.

The lamp I chose is a B&M Lumotec Lyt Plus (includes standlight). Having found the Lumotec Retro to be impressively bright already, the 50% higher rated light output on this model caught my interest. Being German, this lamp conveniently comes with a built in reflector. Once again, information was not particularly forthcoming. This lamp is rated at 2.4W leaving 0.6W for a dynamo rear light. There are connectors on the underside for both the dynamo itself and the rear light. The lamps is supplied with a wire to connect to the dynamo.

Sadly, the dynamo bracket I ordered was not as advertised, described as fitting to the left cantilever boss it in fact fits to the right (drive side) cantilever boss, causing problems with my left-fitting dynamo. Rather than getting it replaced, I decided to use a Birmingham screwdriver to make it fit on the left side. I will eventually replace it with a fork-fitting clamp so that I can run the dynamo on the rim to reduce drag at higher speeds.


The reflector works well.


The reflective tape shows up well on the side-rails too.


I wrapped the wire from the lamp around the hose line of the hydraulic disc brake (probably not the most common combination of bike technologies), and the bodged bracket.


The current set up is not particularly elegant, but the Yuba Mundo isn’t really about elegance anyway. When the replacement bracket comes, I will run the dynamo on the rim and tidy up the wiring a bit.

After installation I took the Yuba out for a test ride on the Fallowfield Loop. The Loop is great for these kinds of tests because it is completely unlit, plus the snow hasn’t been crushed into ice by cars.

When engaged, the dynamo makes a low whirring noise which is not overly distracting. The fact that the pitch changes with speed is actually quite useful for judging speed when darkness obscures the odometer. The level of illumination provided even at low speeds (10 km.h-1) is impressive. By around 15 km.h-1 the lamp is around three times brighter than my Revolution Vision lamp and probably twice as bright as my Lumotec Retro lamp. The shape of the light cast on the ground is slightly rectangular (tall rather than wide), which is actually quite useful. It was almost like riding with a pimpmobile directly behind me. The light provided my the Revolution Vision LED lamp is slightly too blue for my eyes and I was concerned that the light from the Lumotec Lyt would be the same. Thankfully it is actually very white, making it easier for me to see irregularities in the road ahead. Unlike the Lumotec Retro, the standlight feature uses the same bulb as the main light (albeit at reduced brightness) and so benefits from optimal positioning within the lens producing more useable illumination.

As for drag, I can’t really give a verdict on that yet. The Yuba is currently set up for snow; lower saddle, lower tyre pressure and the slowing effect of the snow itself means that I can’t make a fair comparison. I’ll provide an update after the snow has cleared.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Britain Bike

This is an idea which has been forming for a while, hopefully by putting it on here it might find its way to someone with the power and resources to implement it (in one form or another).

In Britain most people never cycle, cycling isn’t treated as a viable means of transport, the law doesn’t take the maiming and killing of cyclists by motorists seriously, cycling infrastructure is either absent or dangerously badly designed and the car is king. Naturally this situation needs to change and there are countless other articles describing how mass cycling could be achieved in the UK (the answer is Dutch-style segregated infrastructure), this is an idea for a scheme which could form part of a wider cultural shift away from the car.

The Scheme:

Standardise the bicycle. Personally I like tinkering with my bikes, buying specific parts and installing them myself. Some people even feel the same way about their cars. The overwhelming majority couldn’t care less about this kind of thing. They just want something which works, when it doesn’t work they want to be able to take it somewhere nearby to be fixed and they want a replacement one to use whilst it is being repaired. This is the experience a car provides its user in the UK. You don’t get that experience with a bike in this country, most people who own bikes know how to do a reasonable amount of the mechanical work themselves (or have a close friend/partner to do it for them).

The government should subsidise the cost of the bicycles, the money they spend will be returned many times over by the reduced cost of healthcare, congestion and air quality fines from the EU. To make this easier politically, these bicycles should be made by a British company, for example Pashley. Having a British manufacturer would increase public support, seeing as it is supporting British manufacturing (not to mention the good quality). The bike could be sold by any number of retailers, but at least one would need to be a major national chain, such as Tesco.

The bike could be purchased at Tesco (or another similarly prolific national chain) and any other suppliers who signed up. Because the bike would be standardised, any problems with flat tyres, brakes, wheel bearings or gearing could be solved with a simple wheel-swap. This could be done in-store by someone with minimal training. The defective wheel could be sent to a central repair facility using the supplier’s distribution network, refurbished and sent to where it is needed next. This would cover the majority of common mechanical issues on bikes, anything else could be covered by replacing the whole bike and sending the defective unit back to the repair centre for refurbishment. A courtesy bike would be provided whilst the repairs were being conducted. The cost of these repairs could be covered by a simple monthly subscription (tack on third party insurance too). This would mean that for a small monthly fee you would always have a bike ready to use. A higher rate tariff could be included to cover theft too.

The Bike:

The bike itself would be a practical utilitarian machine, suitable for men and women and available in a few frame sizes. Thing along the lines of the Pashley Princess Sovereign and make it red (like other British icons such as the old phone boxes, London buses and post boxes). This would help give it a chance to become a British style icon, helping the popularity of the scheme. In terms of specification the bike would have standard utilitarian components; drum brakes, dynamo hub powered lights, 5 or 8 speed internal hub gearing, full mudguards, full chaincase, puncture-resistant tyres, a rear rack with a briefcase clip, an adjustable bottle holder, a frame lock, a quality U-lock and a kickstand. As much as I love my Brooks saddle, they do require some looking after which would make them unsuitable for this kind of machine. Ideally when purchasing the bike, it would be possible to select a saddle from a standard range of widths and padding.

All this would require the bike to be kept roughly in its stock configuration. This doesn’t mean the more adventurous couldn’t do their own maintenance and modifications, just that they would not be able to use the maintenance subscription. The subsidy would make these bikes attractively cheap, the standardisation and subscription model would remove any concerns about theft, maintenance and the offer of a courtesy bike would alleviate any concerns about being able to depend on a bike as a serious means of transport.

Opening cycling up to more people this way would make it politically easier to get all the other stuff we current cyclists want to see, such as infrastructure which doesn’t suck, better enforcement of laws protecting cyclists and acceptance of the EU fifth motoring directive.

What do you think? If you have any suggestions for refinement, different component choices or pitfalls, please leave a comment below.

This is actually the ladies’ version of the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe, but is a good starting point.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Snow Cycle

After work, I rode the Yuba Mundo to Morrisons in Chorlton for some supplies. The only reason I go there is because I get to use the Fallowfield Loop. As you may have noticed, it is snowy outside; main roads are clear, side roads have a hard layer of icy crushed snow on them thanks to the cars and the Fallowfield Loop had largely intact snow. In the dark, riding along the snowy path was a very serene experience.



The camera on my phone wasn’t able to capture the quiet beauty of the environment, so I urge you to go and see it for yourself whilst you the snow is still there.


I thought I’d pull over and just enjoy the quiet for a few minutes, here is the Yuba all loaded up with shopping. The reflective tape on the side-rails/chainstays is new. It is mainly there to cover up the scuffed paintwork, but it also makes the bike stand out a bit more too, which is a bonus.

As is customary for cycling bloggers to do at this time of year, I hereby present my top tips for cycling in the snow and ice:

Lower your saddle a bit to make it easier to compensate for any slips. A bit of trial and error is needed to find the optimum height which allows you to stop a fall but isn’t so low it makes cycling tiring. This will also generally improve your stability on ice.

Lower your tyre pressure. This may also require a bit of trial and error; you will benefit from extra contact between the tyre and the ground but if you go too far cycling will become very laborious. Personally I let my tyres down to the pressure they are at when I usually think to myself, “These tyres could do with pumping up a bit.”

Increase your turning radius. If you are familiar enough with your bike, you will already have a pretty good idea of the smallest circle you could cycle with it, the sharpest turn you could make at a given speed. When on an icy surface, double this radius (sharper turns can still be made but require you to really slow down). Your bike will ride fine over ice in a straight line, it is when you try to change direction that the ice becomes a problem. If you change direction more gently, the ice will pose less of an issue.

Longer wheelbase. This is similar to the turning radius advice; if you are fortunate enough to own more than one bike, choose the one where the hubs of the wheels are furthest apart. This bike will  likely have less twitchy steering and handle better in the snow and ice. Wider tyres and hub brakes (drum/roller/disc) will help too.

Monday 29 November 2010

Plug-in Car Grant

In the 2009 budget, the then-chancellor Alistair Darling announced that like Germany, France and Italy, the government of the UK was to introduce a car scrappage scheme. Under this scheme, if you owned a car which was 10 or more years old (and you had owned it for at least 12 months), the government would put £1,000 towards the cost of a new car on the condition that your old one was scrapped. This done in the hope of boosting the economy. The scheme was essentially government-subsidising of car-dependency with dubious economic benefits (unlike Germany, France and Italy, the UK is not a major manufacturer of motor vehicles).

The worst part of the scheme was the fact that the government could have used this initiative to give people a nudge in the right direction when it comes to their transport choices. Imagine if instead of subsiding the purchase of a new car (which was likely manufactured elsewhere), the government gave those scrapping an old car a rail season ticket between their home and a place of work for a year or two, or if the scheme had allowed the money to be used for a bicycle and accessories, or even if it had just given those scrapping the car some money on the agreement that they do not buy another car for specific number of years.

The environmental benefits of any of these schemes would have been clearer than they were with the car-scrappage scheme. The environmental cost of manufacturing a new car and shipping it is greater than any benefit of increased fuel efficiency of the newer model. The scrappage scheme also caused social problems as these new cars were generally driven more than the cars they replaced. Economically speaking, with comparatively few cars being made here in the UK, the benefit to the UK economy would have been fairly minimal. There is also added downside of the fact that several car manufacturers may have been saved from going bust; whilst I am obviously not pro job-loss, it would have been better for the government to put money into creating new jobs requiring similar skills such as train, bus or bike manufacturing, rather than keeping car manufacturing capacity at its current level.

The government is now subsidising the purchase of electric cars, which at present come with all the downsides of petrol-fuelled cars, most of which stem from each individual person using a 5/7-person vehicle to travel everywhere alone. The government is throwing £5,000 away per new car, subsidising those wealthy enough to afford an electric car at the same time as allowing massive increases in public transport fares, scrapping Cycling England and generally reducing funding available for cycling projects. Electric cars are not the future (at least not in towns and cities), there are plenty of places which government money could provide society with a much greater benefit; particularly cycling and rail projects.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Saturday Out

I found myself at a bit of a loose end today, it was cold outside but cold inside my flat too, so I decided to go out on the bike to get warm. Heading towards town I decided to get onto the Ashton canal.



I was intending to turn off the canal and head to the Debdale end of the Fallowfield Loop but when I got to the turn I remembered the pick and mix stall in Ashton and decided to continue. The below zero temperature meant the towpath was frozen solid and quite rideable.


A section of canal had been drained for maintenance, and there were several anti-cyclist, anti-wheelchair barriers, but otherwise the ride was easygoing and pleasant.



This route would have been impassable on the Yuba Mundo, which is a shame.

I took the same route home and decided to turn off onto the Fallowfield Loop seeing as I was enjoying my ride. As LC recently posted, the Loop is looking very nice in the frosty weather:



I also saw some interesting political graffiti near Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield:



I covered a good 40 km and managed not to break a sweat or generate a thirst due to the cold. This kind of weather is great for just getting out there and having an explore by bike.

Finally, I saw this saddle. It seems that some cyclists have had issues with “Fake gel.” The manufacturers of this saddle apparently wanted to alleviate customers’ concerns: