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Wednesday 31 August 2011

Mass Obsession

Whilst I primarily see cycling as a mode of transport, there are many for whom it is more of a sporting or leisure pursuit. Plenty of cyclists use their bikes primarily for transportation purposes, typically commuting, where the bicycle offers them a time advantage over driving, walking or public transport during peak hours. As sport-cycling is currently the dominant image of cycling sold by bike shops in the UK, it is common to see people riding for a wide variety of purposes on a narrow selection of bikes, typically racing (or road) bikes, mountain bikes, or the horrific merging of the two; the hybrid.

Anyone who gets on a bike to get around is a part of the solution, regardless of the type of bike they choose. After all, even a jump bike with a single low gear and no provision for fitting a saddle is still a more suitable method of getting around town than a single person driving a car designed to carry five. However, at times I do find certain behaviours of other cyclists a bit baffling.

Obsessing over the mass of your bike, also referred to as being a "Weight weenie," is particularly baffling when taken to extremes, especially on a bike ridden as a mode of transport. I can understand not wanting to carry a significant amount of extra weight unnecessarily, but I cannot fathom why anyone would choose not to have a rack on the bike they ride to work, just to save a tiny bit of weight. Often this means carrying a rucksack on your back instead of a pannier on your bike, the discomfort and inefficiency of carrying your luggage this way is a pretty poor trade-off compared to the tiny bit of extra weight a rear rack adds. Mudguards are another bicycle component which many choose to do without, the need for a change of clothes after even a shortest ride on a wet road, (even after the rain has stopped) to save the added mass of a pair of mudguards seems utterly baffling.

Another seldom-considered factor is what I'd like to call "Weight compensation." Common cycle wisdom states that less weight gives the potential for a higher speeds, but it also allows the rider to achieve the same speed with a little bit less effort. Safety interventions such as seat-belts and ABS are supposed to make people safer, but often end up subconsciously encouraging people to take greater risks because of the increase in perceived safety. reducing the mass of your bike will probably just end up making you use less effort to travel at the same speed. The body is a dynamic thing, and it won't take long for it to adapt to the reduced demands placed on it; take off that bike rack and eventually you become that tiny bit more feeble as you settle back to the pace you were travelling at before, losing the muscle strength you once had. I've seen this realisation on the faces of many a roadie when I'm out on the Yuba Mundo. The bike alone weighs in excess of three times as much as a good racing bike, but as they slowly overtake me they see I'm only travelling a few km/h slower than they are, on a huge bike which puts the rider in an upright position to boot.

The rider matters a lot more than the ride.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

CEoGB Poster Competition & Launch

As many of you will have heard elsewhere, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is having a poster competition. Whilst I am not eligible to enter, I have done a mock-up of a poster using a photo from Manchester Cycle Chic:

I encourage everyone to have a go at making a poster and spread the word too, encouraging others to do so too. The rules are simple, the poster must include the CEoGB logo, the tagline, "Making riding a bike as easy as riding a bike," and the rest is up to you.

The Official Launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will take place on Saturday the 3rd of September in London. More details will follow soon, but I hope as many of you as possible will be there too.

UPDATE (From the CEoGB website):

Saturday 3rd September

Gather at the south side of Lambeth Bridge at 11.30AM for press call.
(Smart ‘everyday’ wear and best smiles please; you might end up in the paper!) All types of bike and riders (including children) welcome.
12 midday; press call / photo opportunity
Photos with the Houses of Parliament in the background. Speech by Jim Davis, Chair and founder of Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. CEoGB declared officially ‘open for business’.
12.20 Depart for Victoria Tower Gardens for (short) cross-river bike ride on “London’s worst bike lane” across Lambeth Bridge (approx. 500 mtrs) Ride will be marshalled by CEoGB board. Further press photos of cyclists using ‘crap’ cycling infrastructure on bridges.
12.50 onwards; celebratory picnic in Victoria Tower Gardens.
Please bring picnic food and drink to share with your new found cycling friends to celebrate the launch of the Cycling Embassy. Family-friendly and child-safe enclosed park space. Sunglasses, picnic blankets and friendly smiles the order of the day. Please note; no glass, alcohol, banners or placards permitted in the park.
Saturday afternoon; informal, optional Royal Parks infrastructure safari taking in the pelicans of St James Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner, the Serpentine, Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall and back. Led by Mark Ames."

I look forward to seeing as many of you all there as possible, I expect it to be a great experience for everyone and as always, a brilliant opportunity to meet pleasant, like-minded folk.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Morning After

At around 7 am this morning, I decided to have a ride around the streets of the city centre to survey the damage done by the looters. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the streets themselves had already been largely cleaned up by the city’s street cleaning crews. There was a greater police presence than usual, and a lot more glazers around than usual, but the damage itself seems to have been hugely exaggerated by the Twitter rumour mill and rolling TV news reports.


The back of the BMW dealership on Upper Brook Street had a window put through. I often encounter their employees on this back-road, moving cars from the forecourt to the back. Based on my encounters with them, I don’t have a great deal of sympathy here.


Admittedly, the smashing up of this poor bike could be unrelated to the wider disorder last night.


KRO Piccadilly, widely reported to have been ransacked, seems to have gotten away with only some damage to the door.


Caffe Nero at Piccadilly Gardens had a pane of glass smashed in their door, but is otherwise fine.


Jessops on Market Street, heavily boarded up. Apparently the looters didn’t have much luck getting into here, despite their best efforts.


Burned-out Miss Selfridges, Market Street.


The scumbag who was recorded setting Miss Selfridges on fire






Some damage to numerous shops on Market Street and the outside of the Arndale.


Hard Rock Cafe at The Printworks boarded up.


This independent jewellers near Shudehill was hit.


Another small business, in the Northern Quarter.


Odd bar (Northern Quarter) appears to have been re-glazed this morning.


Another small business, a Northern Quarter jewellers was attacked.


Despite loads of rumours to the contrary, Afflecks Palace, which was actually trending worldwide on Twitter at one point, is fine.


As is Vinyl Exchange.


This smashed up, abandoned monitor was the only piece of debris I saw on the streets.


Forbidden Planet’s window was damaged, but the shop doesn’t seem to have been breached.



These two establishments seem to have taken the worst of the damage on Oldham Street.


A bit of door damage to high & Mighty on King Street.


Another shop on King Street damaged.


Looters reportedly hit Sainsbury’s Local on Deansgate early on.

There was similar damage to some other businesses I passed too, although not on the sort of scale suggested by reports on Twitter and the rolling TV news. Thankfully the damage seems to have been a lot less severe than everyone was expecting. The Greater Manchester Police seems to have done an excellent job of containing the disorder last night, despite using tactics which appeared significantly less severe than those used against the largely peaceful anti-fees/anti-cuts protesters earlier this year. Perhaps there is a lesson there at least.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Pedestrian danger from cars versus cycles

Whenever cycling is discussed in the mainstream press, a common theme which often emerges in the comment thread following the story is the perceived danger cyclists pose to pedestrians. A good example of this is the comment thread under any of the stories published in The Grauniad Bike Blog. It is a truly impressive feat that the motoring lobby has managed to pull off; persuading pedestrians that it is cyclists, not motorists who pose the biggest threat to their safety. 

These comments are usually countered by comments from cyclists themselves, who are quick to point out the much, much greater risk posed to pedestrians by motorists. Usually, these comments consist of a series of suppositions which, whilst often perfectly plausible, are difficult to back up with actual documented evidence. These suppositions often include the following: Cyclists are less likely to be distracted on the road compared to motorists due to being aware of their increased vulnerability in the event of a collision, cyclists are more likely to notice pedestrians in their vicinity because their visibility is less impaired than that of someone sat in a car, cyclists are exposed to fewer distractions on a bike than motorists are in a car (generally bikes don't have radios/heaters/fans or passengers), the nature of cycling makes it less feasible to try to text/shave/apply make-up whilst cycling when compared to a motorist sat in a car. Please feel free to leave any other reasonable-sounding suppositions in the comments below.

Another argument given is that cyclists generally travel at lower speeds than motorists and that a bike & cyclist together are smaller and lighter than a car. Unlike the suppositions above, these things are either demonstrably true, or obviously self-evident. The figure at the top of the post shows a diagram of 70 metres of a 6 metre wide road with 1 metre pavements either side. The left lane shows a blue bar, graded in increasingly dark shades. The lightest section of this bar represents the space a 2 metre wide motor vehicle (such as those models favoured by pimps) travelling at 30 mph would travel through during a 3 second "Distraction period," during which its operator is not devoting their full attention to the road. The vehicle travels approximately 40 metres during the 3 second window where the driver is not paying attention, meaning the vehicle will cover an area of approximately 80 square metres. Any pedestrian (or other road user) present in this area at the time the driver takes their eyes off the road is at risk from the motor vehicle. At 40 mph (darker blue), the car will travel approximately 53 metres during this distraction period, covering an area of approximately 106 square metres. At 50 mph (darkest blue), the car will travel approximately 66 metres during the distraction period, covering an area of approximately 132 square metres. Speeds of up to 50 mph are still relatively common on urban roads, these speeds even being officially sanctioned on some roads.

The right lane shows a pink bar, graded in two shades of pink, representing the area which would be covered by a typical 0.6 metre wide utility bicycle travelling at 12 mph and 20 mph (light pink and darker pink respectively), during the same 3 second distraction window. At 12 mph (a fairly typical cycling speed for a utility cyclist) the cycle will travel approximately 15.8 metres during the same 3-second distraction period, covering an area of approximately 9.5 square metres. At 20 mph (the sprint speed recommended in Cyclecraft to enable cyclists to reasonably deal with our fundamentally cycling-hostile road network), the cycle will travel approximately 26.4 metres during the distraction period, covering an area of approximately 15.8 square metres. For a sense of scale, the black rectangle in the lower left corner is 1.7 metres by 0.6, representing the height and width of a relatively large human.

So there we have it, at a fairly common urban speed of 30 mph, a car will travel over an area more than five times greater than the area a cycle would cover at the relatively high speed of 20 mph during a three second period of operator distraction. At a typical cycling speed of 12 mph, a cycle will travel over an area which is over 8 times smaller than the car would at 30 mph. This representation is a bit of blunt instrument, It'd be great to see some research which takes into account the effects of vehicle mass, vehicle profile and some of the suppositions listed above too. As it is, I think it helps to hammer home the fact that it is of course the private motor vehicle which represents the greatest risk to the safety of pedestrians (and cyclists, and even other motorists). The reason people focus on the (much, much lower) risks posed to pedestrians by cyclists, is that the private motor vehicle is the sacred bull in society's china shop.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Shimano and hub gears

Shimano make some pretty excellent hub gears. I added a 3 speed Nexus coaster brake hub to the Kona Africa Bike and I was very happy with the performance of the hub. In London, the Boris bikes use the roller-brake version of this same hub, and it performs admirably in a rather harsh application. I also have used Shimano Nexus 7 and 8 speed hubs (and the Alfine 8 speed hub) on numerous bikes, including on my visit to Practical Cycles. Each time my experience with these hubs has been very positive.

The Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub (X-RD3) on my DL-1 has broken again. I have yet to open it up, but so far it feels like it is the same problem as last time. The excellent reputation of the Sturmey 3 speed hub, combined with my own very positive experiences of its reliability lead me to think that the re-occurrence of the problem is probably (at least partially) a result of my last repair job. It has been my intention for some time to eventually upgrade the DL-1 to either a 5, 7 or 8 speed hub when finances permit. For the moment however, they do not permit, so I have decided to re-build the rear wheel with the Nexus 3 speed coaster brake hub I have spare from the Kona Africa Bike. This is the cheapest option available to me as I already have most of the parts, and I should be able to re-use the existing spokes.

When I originally upgraded the Kona Africa Bike from a single to a three speed hub, I remember looking at Shimano hub gears online. The prices often seemed quite reasonable at first, but unlike their Sturmey Archer counterparts Shimano hubs are not sold complete with shifters. This might seem only a minor irritation, however it then becomes apparent that the hub doesn't come with the bell-crank mechanism which changes the gears either. Luckily, the bell crank and shifter can be bought together as a single pre-calibrated unit. Great. But then it turns out that the hub doesn't come with the axle nuts or the non-turn washer to fit it. Some of the websites listing the hub sell a "Fitting Kit," for the hub, presumably it contains the axle nuts and non-turn washer needed to fit the hub, and possibly a sprocket and snap ring. This shall have to remain a mystery for now, because none of the websites which sell the fitting kit offer any sort of useful description of what it contains. Luckily it is fairly cheap, so it is not that much of a gamble. The sites selling the hubs also list the Push Rod as a separate item. The hub doesn't come with a push rod, despite it being an integral part of the hub and the fact that there are not multiple push rod options available for a given hub (the push rod to be used is axle-length dependent). Does the fixing kit come with a push rod? Who knows? It is fairly cheap at least, so I buy one anyway.

Clearly this is not a good way to do business. Hub gears are not going to be big sellers to individuals, the market for these hubs is primarily going to be OEMs who may have access to Shimano sales reps to help them through the Shimano parts jungle. However, there will still be a number of enthusiasts and even smaller OEMs who are put off by the needless complexity in the way Shimano sells hub gear equipment. Surely Shimano could make sure that websites selling their parts actually know what they are (I'm looking at you Bikester). Surely they could include all of the necessary equipment (such as axle nuts and push rods), or sell "hub kits" which include all of the parts of the hub for a given drop-out type (where applicable). 

As it currently stands, Shimano are shooting themselves in the foot by making the purchasing of their hub gears into a massive pain in the arse for the enthusiast market. Their rivals in this market, Sturmey Archer, have happily been selling hubs with the shifter, axle nuts and even all of the internal parts of the hub included in the deal for years. When I initially upgraded the Kona Africa Bike to a three speed, the confusion, lack of information and sheer number of extra parts I would've had to buy to build up a new 3 speed wheel led me to buy a separate bike with the hub I wanted (a Raleigh Drift), converting it to a single speed (using the original Kona wheel) and selling it on. Surprisingly, that was the more simple option open to me at that time. I shall document my experience with Shimano spare parts here, simply to make life easier for other people in the same situation.