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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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I can't begin to tell you how refreshing this blog post is. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only cycler who values comfort in a bike over lightness, speed, & shock absorption. Thanks for sharing that information about a truly comfortable/utilitarian bicycle.
    Just yesterday, I covered a similar issue on
    I often write guest blogs about the need for a third category of bikes besides just mountain bikes & road bikes. I do most of my riding on rail or canal trails, & I don't consider that either mountain biking or road biking. I prefer to just call it trail biking, & I've proposed that as a third category.
    Anyway, I'd be curious what you and your readers think of the idea of a third classification of biking. Feel free to visit my blog & let me know what you think.
    Thanks again for your recent blog post.

  3. @Trailsnet

    Thanks for the comment. When I look on bike websites, I find it odd that many of them split all of their bikes into either mountain or road bikes. Some have a "Hybrid" category where they dump all the bikes which don't easily fall into either of the first two categories. I find this odd because the type of bike |I ride pre-dates both of those sporting sub-categories of bikes altogether. In fact, most of the bicycles ever manufactured in the history of the world were bicycle of this kind; Roadsters.

    I primarily ride my bike to go somewhere, as a means of transport. I cover roads, tow-paths and bike roads such as disused railway routes. If you are riding tow-paths and rail-routes primarily for leisure, I think "Trail biking" sounds like a perfectly appropriate name. If you are riding primarily as a means of transport, I think the terrain covered is less relevant in defining the type of cycling than the reason the cycling is taking place.

  4. I concur with just about all you say with regard to a utilitarian bicycle. My bike was bought with the view it would be an everyday commuter bike + a very hardy tourer to last the rest of my lifetime (so I was happy to spend a fair bit from the outset).

    It is an aluminium, 26" inch wheel touring bike from Dutch maker Santos.

    Mudguards are something I always required and are great. I too cannot quite fathom why people choose to ride road bikes without them.

    I have rear and front racks (although only fit the front rack when touring). I would not dream of carrying a back pack for road use. I don't have a chain guard but am considering fitting one when I get chance.

    When I bought the bike I had the option of a Sun hub dynamo but decided against it as I was looking for way to shave the overall cost and I already had good battery lights. I agree dynamo lights are a sensible choice though.

    The biggest cost for me was a 14 speed Rohloff hub gear. It is certainly more than needed for a commuter bike but great when touring hills, fully loaded with camping gear. The benefit of a hub gear are that it is enclosed and very low maintenance, vastly reduces chain wear as there is no lateral chain movement and gears can be changed on the go or while stationery.

    I went for cable operated rim 'V' brakes as they are reliable with excellent stopping power and I know how to adjust and repair them. Although I can see the benefit of having enclosed brakes to keep them clean I am not familiar with the stopping power hub brakes offer. Would these really slow down a heavy, loaded bike on a long descent?

    Tyres are Schwalbe Marathon Supremes or Winters - very comfortable and as puncture resistant as any tyre is likely to be. I think some people just feel any rubber will do but tyre choice can change the whole feel and handling of a bike.

    Very importantly I have a leather saddle. Comfortable from the outset and like a proverbial pair of slippers now. It is a standard Brooks B17.

    I also have a butterfly touring handlebar with Ergon grips which is wonderful combo for long rides as it comfortable and offers a range of hand positions. A kick stand is a very useful addition for a touring bike and I have space for 3 bottle carriers on the frame.

    Very happy with the set up and the most comfortable bike i've ever had. Here it is in expedition dress.

  5. There's nothing like a crappy mountain bike to make you realise what is wrong with bikes in this country - unfortunately this put's off anyone who is not either determined or skint!

    I have a dutch bike and a vintage (ladies) Raleigh roadster and although the seat geometry is identical, the handlebars are set much lower on the Raleigh than my Gazelle, giving a much more sporty ride (it's also a lot lighter and quicker). It could be that the handlebars on the Raleigh may go a bit higher, but as it's vintage I'm not going to spend forever wrestling with rod brakes to adjust it. However, looking at old photographs, it does seem that the Raleigh design did have lower handlebars than the Dutch design. I suspect it makes little difference for most people, but if you are small with long legs, like I am, you end up leaning over more to reach the handlebars.

    I assume your Raleigh is a contemporary Danish one, rather than vintage, as even though I've added a modern coaster brake hub, I do find braking in the wet on hills a little hairy without the extra help from the front rod brake!

  6. @Darrell

    I think your set-up is ideal for your needs, if I was planning to do any serious cycle touring (and had more cash) I'd probably go for the Rohloff 14-speed hub or the Nuvinci CVP hub. A dynamo hub (either Shimano of Schmidt if you really have money to burn) is a good investment for a tourer, no worries about batteries when you are far away from civilisation. The 26 inch wheels are a wise choice too due to their ubiquitous availability should you need spares. Handlebars with a wider range of positions also make sense.

    I've not heard of drum brakes used for tourers, their longevity and reliability would be a plus, but they lack the stopping power of discs or a perfectly maintained, powerful rim brake. Saying this though, the Bakfiets cargo bike is spec'd with Shimano roller brakes. These are basically drum brakes with a cooling fin, allowing them to be more powerful without frying. They attach in a similar manner to a cassette and if one wears out you can quickly swap them out. I believe the IM70 is the current most powerful model. I have heard good things about them.

    Personally, I rarely do more than 50 km (30 miles) in a day on the DL-1, I don't carry huge loads on it (got the Yuba for that). It is my primary means of transport, so it needs to be comfortable in my normal clothes and also not get the oily and dependable. The various guards, saddle and geometry ensure it is comfortable and doesn't require specialist clothing. The hub gears, drum brakes, practical tyres and dynamo lights mean it is reliable and available when I need it.

    @Sheffield Cycle Chic

    Crappy mountain bikes must put off a lot of potential cyclists. In fact, they are behind my 5 year stint as a non-cyclist in my younger days. My Raleigh is a Danish one, although it did originally come with rods to activate the drums (very effective they were too, but the handlebar angle and position was very uncomfortable). Before I de-rodified it, I did raise the handlebar about 2 cm, it was a bit fiddly but nowhere near as bad as I expected. Those 2 cm did make a lot of difference to the level of comfort. Having the Gazelle as well probably makes the modification not worth the hassle. The coaster brake seems like a really good way to preserve the vintage Raleigh DL-1s whilst still having the options to actually stop the bike.

    These kind of bikes are not perfect for everyone's needs, but their features makes them good bikes for almost everyone, including those who currently do not cycle. definitely better than a crappy mountain bike.

  7. Good post. I wrote a similar one. I too think that bicycle shops are shooting themselves in the foot by recommending bikes that are of now use to people who are going to use it simply because they have no other in stock. And the reason why they don't have any other in stock is because noone is buying city bikes. And then the vicious circle closes. Sadly because of that people see bicycles as a recreation tool, a toy with no other purpose.

  8. Hi,

    A comment about mudguards. They are the embodiment of politeness in my opinion.

    Yes they stop you getting mud and water on yourself, or on the chainring of your bike, but they also prevent water spraying into the face of the poor sod who happens to be behind you.

    Many a time I have cycled after the rain only to get sprayed in the face by a cyclist with no mudguards. My prejudice makes me mention that they are usually dressed in lycra (with matching mud stripe up their back), crouching low on their dropped handlebars, and trying desperately to pretend they are in Tour de France.

    I guess they have no mud guards because they can't afford the weight gain. Ho Hum.

  9. @nrdu,

    It is ultimately self-defeating of the bicycle industry to market itself in this way, although I suppose they only really want you to buy a bicycle, they are less concerned if it gets used or not. I'd bet almost everyone owns a bike, they just don't use it because it is impractical for their needs.


    Mudguards are a polite accessory to have, I've been surprised in the past at how far back a guard-less bike can throw filthy water from the road.

    I think the obsession with weight doesn't help. How much does a pair of chromoplastic mudguards even weigh? Surely trimming your fingernails before a ride would make up the difference.


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