Sturmey Archer drum brakes

It is almost two years since I got the front hub I am currently using on the DL-1. In that time, it has been built into two different sizes of wheel and used on two different bikes (originally bought for use on the Kona Africa Bike) and probably done around 5,000 km in all weather. In all that time, I never actually got around to exchanging the V-brake lever I had been using it with for the proper type of lever (a cantilever-type one), until now.
I found a pair of Sturmey Archer drum brake levers on eBay for a decent price, so I decided I would indulge myself with some improved braking performance. The new levers improve the modulation of braking, whilst allowing very strong braking to be performed without extremely hard pulling of the lever. The only reason I put up with the wrong type of lever for so long is that I have relatively strong hands, so I was still able to get the braking power I needed just by squeezing extra hard. The new levers male hard braking much easier, whilst giving a slight performance boost over the old ones. They are also fairly aesthetically appealing, and  I would recommend them to anyone with drum, roller, caliper or cantilever brakes.
The only problem with the new levers was that I found the front drum started to lock-on after very hard braking. After first checking that cable-freeze wasn’t the cause of the problem, I decided that I should take a look inside the front drum. Sturmey Archer drum brakes are mechanically very simple and easy to work on (although they generally require little in the way of maintenance). Disassembly is straightforward:
Intact wheel
Removed locknut
Removed spacer
Brake mechanism slides out from drum
Brake mechanism (top)
Brake mechanism (underside), showing the brake shoes
After cleaning the brake dust from inside the drum and re-assembling it all, I took the bike out for a test ride. The front brake is as powerful as it ever was after almost two years of heavy use and no-longer locks-on after very hard braking. This is the only maintenance (or real cleaning) I have done to it in that whole time. I feel that it is a real shame that drum brakes are not more popular, especially when I think back to all the time I’ve spent adjusting and maintaining other types of bicycle brakes during the time I have been using this one, both on my own bikes and those of friends and family.

Raleigh Twenty Stowaway

The Sturmey Archer AW hub which was used for the pictures taken to make the hub servicing guide which formed my last post was from this Raleigh Twenty Stowaway; the folding version of the classic Raleigh Twenty. This Twenty belonged to a friend of mine and I was servicing the hub before selling it on her behalf. Prior to servicing the hub, I had done just about every conceivable bit of maintenance on this bike including front wheel, headset and bottom bracket bearings, a complete disassembling, cleaning, greasing and reassembling and replacement of the tyres, tubes, chain and saddle. As a result of this, the bike rides just like a brand new bike, despite being from 1976.
Raleigh used the ‘Stowaway‘ branding on some of their folding Twentys (in addition to several unrelated models).
The main hinge in the frame is perhaps inelegant but very sturdy.
Difficult to see on the picture, but the rear reflector is branded as Sturmey Archer.
Pletscher rear rack, complete with a rat-trap for carrying a newspaper.
Sturmey Archer AW hub, as featured previously.
The original Sturmey Archer grip shifter, controlled by rotating the entire grip to switch gears. In practice it works better than I expected.
Raleigh TwentyR-20‘ branding.
Seat-tube decal.
The Raleigh‘ Nottingham headbadge.
Brand new Raleigh Record tyres, as originally specified with the bike.
The Raleigh Twenty design has undoubtedly passed the test of time. It is a shame that the equivalent models subsequently made by Raleigh have failed to match the comfort, handling and practicality of this model. Clones of the Twenty do exist, although they have their drawbacks including price and the use of V-brakes on the UK model. There is nothing to stop Raleigh bringing back the Twenty properly, a good, small utility bike could be a good addition to their range. A few concessions to modern manufacturing techniques and componentry could be made, such as a welded frame (rather than brazed) a unicrown fork (rather than lugged). These minor sacrifices could easily be offset by a few improvements, such as dual pivot caliper brakes (or drum/coaster brakes), 406 mm aluminium rims (allowing a greater choice of tyres and the ability to stop during rain) and a proper headset (rather than a nylon bushing at the top of the head-tube).
After courting the ‘sporting goods’ and ‘bicycle shaped object’ markets extensively for the past few decades, perhaps it’s time for Raleigh to look back on one of the models which once made them great, and bring it back.

Five years on a bike (Part One)

This summer marked the fifth year I have cycled as an adult. Of course for the vast majority of my life I have owned and ridden a bike, from my first bike at around the age of three, to my last childhood bike which I gave up on at around sixteen. After my last childhood bike and I parted ways, four years passed where I did not cycle at all, depending on walking and public transport for getting around. It was only because of the disproportionally high cost of public transport that I decided to buy another bike, in order to avoid paying £35 each month to get to the part-time job I had whilst I was an undergraduate.
A Shockwave SUS450, the first bike I bought as an adult
That first bike I owned as an adult was truly a real piece of crap, a £90 bicycle-shaped-object from Halfords. I bought it from White City Retail Park and rode it home, a distance of a few miles which seems a completely trivial distance now but which at that time left me completely exhausted. Simultaneously I was also enthused with the feeling of cycling, which I realised I had missed during the previous four years. At the time this bike worked quite well for me, I had no specialist knowledge of bikes or cycling whatsoever and so ignorance was bliss. Within three months of not paying for the bus the bike had paid for itself.
Those early rides to work along the main road from the city centre to Failsworth were a terrifying experience, like most inexperienced cyclists I rode in the gutter, terrified of being hit from behind by a motorist. Thankfully, the rides home were enough to make up for it. Finishing my shift after 10 pm meant the ride home along the same road was much more pleasant and after five hours of manual labour the experience was always refreshing, even in the rain (which on a bike without mudguards, I simultaneously experienced from above and below). I started to use the bike for shopping too, riding to the nearest supermarket with a backpack (the bike had no provision to fit a rack) and riding home with the weight on my back. As an arrangement it was far from ideal, but it was preferable to walking or paying for the bus again.
After three months of using this bike to get around, I had my first altercation with a motorist in Rochdale. The driver had decided to overtake me going down hill on Drake Street in order to make a sudden left turn. It is the sort of stupid manoeuvre on the part of the motorist which, with enough experience, most cyclists learn to expect and compensate for. I hit the left wing of the car and went flying over the bonnet and landed on the road, head first. I suffered some pretty nasty road rash down the side of my face and around my eye, in addition to grazes on my elbow and leg. My bike was relatively unscathed. After leaving the hospital later that day, I knew that I had to get back onto the bike right then, or I might be put off forever. I rode back to the trains station and then on home that night, and luckily the experience didn’t put me off cycling for good.
Despite being a terrible bike, I rode it for nearly two years. Throughout those two years, as problems with the bike arose, I started to learn about the basics of bike maintenance courtesy of the excellent writing of the late Sheldon Brown. Sheldon’s infectious enthusiasm for all things cycling shone through everything he wrote, even articles about brake adjustment or tracking down mystery creaks, clicks & clunks. After nearly two years of riding the SUS450, the bottom bracket spindle snapped as I was trying to pull away from a set of traffic lights. Whilst initially annoyed, not possessing the tools or knowledge to fix this problem gave me the perfect opportunity to rationalise buying a new, better bike, something which had been on my mind for a few years.
By this stage I was a little bit more knowledgeable about bikes, I had realised that the alleged ‘rear-suspension’ on my previous bike was little more than a mechanism to leech my pedalling effort and drive me slowly insane with persistent creaking. I also realised that riding with a backpack sucked. However, I was still largely unaware of several important practical features which existed on other bikes, such as the merits of having fewer gears, hub gears, proper mudguards, chain-guards, the irrelevance of front suspension for the type of riding I mainly did and of course, upright geometry. The next bike I purchased was a Revolution Cuillin Sport from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative. At the time I knew little about the specific merits of different types of bicycle brake, I only knew that after riding with some incredibly weak, low-end V-brakes for a few years I wanted something better, and I promptly set my heart on having a bike with disc-brakes.
Despite still being quite an impractical choice of bike for my needs, the Cuillin Sport was definitely a step in the right direction. Being slightly better suited to my needs, I naturally started to make more of my journeys by cycle, and as this bike represented a more significant investment to me at the time, I started to learn more and more about bicycle componentry and maintenance. Over the next 18 months I acquired the tools and expertise I required to keep the bike in tip-top condition, whilst occasionally upgrading the odd component to make the bike more suitable for my needs. After around 12 months, I had converted the bike from a mountain bike to a hybrid, and my level of knowledge had increased to the point where I knew that the bike was not really the right choice for my needs. I also learned about the Yuba Mundo through reading blogs such as Urban Simplicity, and became interested in just how capable a bicycle could be.
By this stage, I was aware of vehicular cycling, Cyclecraft and the range of measures which cyclists can use to minimise the problems which arise when riding on a road network which is designed solely around the needs and wants of the private motorist, where the needs of cycling and cyclists are usually not considered at all. I was mostly confident on the road but could still remember what it was like to cycle as a novice. I was still not quite fast enough to survive on some of the most hostile parts of the road network and blissfully unaware of how things like Cyclecraft, speed and cadence become irrelevant with the right infrastructure.
Eventually, a minor windfall from overtime meant that I could afford to buy a Yuba Mundo of my own. The Yuba Mundo represented something of a turning point for me. Whilst it did not completely representing the frame geometry I would come to evangelise, it gave me a new experience; riding a bike and feeling truly comfortable whilst doing so. Despite its size, the Yuba Mundo became my primary bike. When I did occasionally choose to instead venture out on the mountain bike, I was acutely aware of how uncomfortable it was; riding hunched forward, a fair amount of weight carried by my hands and with a triple chainset making use of the full range of the gears unnecessarily difficult. The Yubawas much more pleasant to ride.
I had not intended for the Yuba Mundo to take over as my primary means of transport, and its sheer size meant that using it as such was a bit of a compromise. I decided that what I needed was a smaller equivalent to the Yuba for everyday use, and I found that with the Kona Africa Bike. The Africa Bike was the first bike I owned without dérailleur gears, which was a revelation. Initially a single-speed, I acquired a Shimano Nexus three-speed rear wheel and decided to upgrade the Africa Bike to a three-speed. Shifting when stationary, the lack of maintenance and the ease with which they pair up with a chain-guard (or case) made me wonder why most bikes used for transport didn’t come with hub gears. The only downside to the bike was the front V-brake; I hadn’t yet fully forgiven the crappy V-brakes on the SUS450. I decided to remedy this by investing in a new front hub. I was very interested in the idea of the bicycle providing its own power source for the lights, and had been reading up on dynamo hubs. When I saw the Sturmey Archer X-FDD drum-brake and dynamo hub, I knew I had to try it. The hub wasn’t available in a production wheel, so I read and re-read the Sheldon Brown Wheelbuilding article and decided I’d have a bash at building myself a wheel. To my surprise, the wheel turned out just fine first time. The Africa Bike, with some modifications had been turned into an ideal shorter-range utility bicycle.

Reading Sheldon Brown’s site had infected me with a curiosity about the Raleigh Twenty. After reading about it on his site, I realised that these things were everywhere. After looking on eBay I realised that I could have one of my own for around £20-30 and I promptly took that offer. The Twenty gave me the opportunity to completely strip and re-build a bike for the first time. I had done almost all of these jobs before, but never all at once and on the same bike. After a weekend or two of work, I had re-painted and completely refurbished the Twenty and found it to be a delightful little bike, with the added bonus of it being worth practically nothing allowing me to leave it locked up outside without worrying about it. The Twenty was primarily used as a loaner bike, so I could still use the bike to get around when I had guests. When I later came to acquire a Brompton, the Twenty no-longer had much to do, so I sent it off to retirement at my father’s house.

Whilst I was quite happy with the Kona Africa Bike, I was becoming aware that it’s hybrid geometry was somewhat limiting on longer rides, where after around 20 miles or so in a single day it would leave my legs really very tired. I was aware that the right geometry, roadster geometry, would allow me to use my leg muscles more efficiently on longer rides. At the time I wasn’t planning on changing bike again, until I saw the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe (DL-1) on eBay at a price too good to pass on. Whilst not a huge departure from the Kona, the slightly different geometry was much more comfortable on longer rides, whilst also making it easier to put power down when setting off from stationary. The DL-1 also represented my first experience with Brooks saddles; whilst not exactly comfortable at first, I would later come to put a Brooks on every bike I rode.

DL-1: One Year On

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It has been around a year since I took delivery of my Raleigh Tourist De Luxe. Of course by, “Took delivery,” I mean cycled to Didsbury on the Yuba Mundo to meet the old gentleman from whom I was purchasing this fine steed, and towed it back to home. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be for me, having had no opportunity to test ride it. What I did know however, was that if I didn’t like it, I could sell the bike (or its component parts) for a fair bit more than I paid for it that day.
When I got the bike home, I adjusted the saddle and took it for a spin. Whilst I liked the ride, it wasn’t quite right; the gearing was far, far too high, with first gear being what I imagine a reasonable third gear should feel like on a three speed. The rod-brake handlebar was limited in its range of height adjustment and the angle of the bar was fixed. Luckily, a few replacement parts allowed me to fix these minor gripes and turn the bike into the perfect everyday transport solution for me. Over the past year I have made numerous additions and upgrades to the bike.
Additions and upgrades:
I have also been forced to replace a few parts due to failure.

Replacements due to failure:
However, I should mention that the X-RD3 hub was at least somewhat faulty from the start, and that my own experience shouldn’t detract from the consensus that this hub, and internal hub gears in general, are the best choice for a practical, low maintenance utilitarian bike.
After a year riding this bicycle, I can sincerely declare it to be one of the smartest purchases I have ever made. Since getting this bike I certainly cycle a lot more. My odometer is currently displaying a total distance cycled of 13,029 km, up from 8,000 km at about this time last year, most of that distance has been for transportation (as opposed to leisure), covered on the DL-1 because it is such an easy bike to ride.
When I say the DL-1 is easy to ride, I am not just referring to its ride quality (which is excellent). As an upright bike with mudguards, a chain-case, comfortable Brooks saddle and (since the addition of the saddlebag) permanent luggage, puncture-resistant tyres, automatic & permanently affixed dynamo lighting and low maintenance brakes and gears, all I ever have to do if I want to go out is unlock the bike, hop on and go. It is my hope that all of these features represent part of a bigger future for cycling in the UK, even if a lot of them come from its past.

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 The Tourist De Luxe as it is kitted out today
Whilst not quite the same as my Tourist De Luxe, Raleigh has recently started to sell the Raleigh Superbe again in the UK, after courting the, “Sporting goods,” and “Bicycle-shaped object,” markets almost exclusively here for the past few decades:
The 2011 Raleigh Superbe, is specced and priced similarly to the Pashley Roadster Sovereign (although not made here in the UK). It is available from numerous cycle outlets, including Evans Cycles.

Pashley Picador Plus

Over the Easter break I was fortunate enough to be able to have a play around on a Pashley tricycle, a Picador Plus from around 1990.

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The tricycle had an Italian brand leather saddle which had a texture like suede. It was quite pleasant to ride on.

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The Picador Plus has 20 inch (451 mm) wheels, the same as the Raleigh Twenty. The rear wheels do not have brakes at all, with the front wheel having both a caliper and a drum brake to make up for it, opening up the possibility of deliberately skidding the front wheel.

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Unusually, the trike uses derailleur gears, a 5-speed freewheel controlled by a friction shifter. Having not used a friction shifter before, I found it to be a bit of a pain. It is probably more a sign of the trike’s age than a deliberate spec choice.

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The gears needed a bit of work to stop the chain being derailed onto the axle in the highest and lowest gears, but it wasn’t so bad after a bit of tinkering. When I heard about the trike I was hoping it might have one of Sturmey Archer’s tricycle hubs with the reverse gear. After riding it I feel that a reverse gear would have been a welcome addition.

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Pashley logo on the headtube

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A bit more logo on the seat tube

Unlike the Nihola Cigar trike I had ridden previously, this trike had two rear wheels rather than two front wheels. This meant that the need to slow down on the corners with the Pashley was even more pressing than on the other trike. Until I got used to that I was going around most corners on two wheels. I also found the camber of the road to present a challenge on the trike, whereas it is barely noticeable on a bicycle. Overall I’m pretty convinced that tricycles aren’t for me, but I can see the benefits they offer to some who may find riding a bicycle difficult or even impossible for various reasons.

I was pleased to see that the Picador Plus does have an impressive load hauling capacity though:

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Ten bike parts & accessories due for a comeback

Progress is generally accepted as a good thing, but sometimes new trends, materials and components come along which don’t have all the advantages of the things they replace. This is especially true in the world of bicycles. I present here my top ten bicycle technologies and accessories which I feel are due for a comeback (some of which are already enjoying a bit of a resurgence).

Hub Gears

The innards of a Sturmey Archer AW hub I am currently working on. Even in this state, the hub is still working.
My first experience of hub gears was in Belgium, on a hire bike used for a bicycle tour of Brussels. The bike was equipped with a Nexus 8-speed hub which offered a similar range to my 24-speed derailleur-geared bike of the time. I instantly appreciated being able to shift gear when stationary, the possibilities for enclosing the chain and the increased durability from sealing away the gears inside the hub.
Two of the Three bikes I now own have hub gears.

Drum/Roller/Coaster Brakes

Image courtesy of Ecovelo
The same bike in Brussels had the most basic model Shimano Roller brakes. These were weaker than the disc brakes I was used to at the time, but once I had gotten used to the reversed brake levers (left-hand front, as is common in countries with right-hand traffic) I came to like the idea of trading a little stopping power over discs for a great deal more durability. Being sealed away in the hub means that their performance is independent of weather conditions, unlike rim brakes. For a bike you depend on to get around, drum brakes are a great option.
The Raleigh DL-1 has similar front and rear Sturmey Archer drum brakes.

Briefcase Clips

Briefcase clips were a common feature of rat-trap pannier racks here in the UK in the days of mass cycling. Naturally in The Netherlands and Denmark they are still relatively commonplace. A small loop protrudes from the side of the rack into which a briefcase handle is placed. The spring-loaded rat trap is then lowered, and a small protruding rod from it holds the briefcase in place.
Whilst briefcases are not as common as they were, I regularly use the clip on the DL-1 for plastic carrier bags when I have been a bit over-zealous with the grocery shopping, or for my U-lock when I have no space in my regular pannier.

Saddlebags

A Carradice saddlebag on a Raleigh Wayfarer. Image courtesy of Urban Adventure League
I am hoping to join the saddlebag club soon. Saddlebags were once commonplace, but declined in popularity with the decline in transportation cycling in the UK. Like panniers, they place the load on the bike rather than the rider, reducing the amount of effort required for carrying and preventing the risk of a sweaty back which comes with backpacks. They also offer advantages over panniers; the load is more central and less likely to affect balance and they do not require a rear rack, only a saddle with bag loops such as a Brooks.

Wool

Wool is great. I’m not a big fan of having special clothing just for cycling, I’d rather wear something which is practical both on and off the bike. In the colder months wool is ideal for this, it is warm, it breathes and it absorbs a decent amount of moisture without feeling wet and it doesn’t readily hold odours.

Chain Cases

A completely enclosed chain on a Pashley bicycle. Image courtesy of Let’s Go Ride A Bike
When dérailleur gears are no-longer used, the possibility of completely enclosing the chain is opened up. A chain guard has the advantage of protecting the rider from the chain, meaning no more trouser clips or rolling up your trouser leg. A chain case offers this advantage whilst also protecting the chain from road filth and rain, leading to a longer life and reduced maintenance.

North Road Handlebars

Most of the bikes on sale in the UK come with either riser or straight bars, as seen on mountain bikes, or drops (resembling ram’s horns), as seen on racing bikes. These bars offer a moderately aggressive (straight) or aggressive (drops) riding posture suited to sport cycling. For everyday transportation, they are not the best choice for everyone. North road handlebars (and similar variants) offer an upright riding position. The advantages of this include; comfort for the rider, increased head height (ideal when negotiating traffic) and rider weight is shifted back (reducing the possibility of going over the handlebar under heavy braking).

Steel

A lugged joint between a top-tube and head-tube on a steel frame. Image courtesy of Rivendell
Aluminium has become a very popular frame material in recent years, due to the pursuit of ever lighter bicycles. It is light and stiff, making it an appropriate material for frames. The different properties of aluminium mean that it is desirable to use oversized tubing, which makes the frame particularly light and stiff. Despite this, many feel that steel produces a better quality of ride, the reduced stiffness of the narrower tubing used in forks seems to allow more of the vibration from the road to be absorbed and dissipated before it reaches the rider. This perception is of course completely subjective, but is something worth considering. Other advantages of steel include the possibility of lugged construction, which I find to be aesthetically pleasing, and the relative ease with which a steel frame can be repaired in comparison to an aluminium one.

Relaxed Geometry

I read somewhere that most of the bikes which have ever been manufactured are of the same basic design as the English Roadster or the Dutch Bike. In the UK however, this design in geometry have fallen out of favour. Whilst the roadster is enjoying a bit of a resurgence due to the popularity various models of Pashley Cycles, the relaxed roadster geometry is mainly only seen on bikes marketed as “traditional” or “heritage” bikes. The geometry of these bikes makes them ideal for everyday transport for the average person’s needs. In addition to the models make by Pashley, I’d like to see some more designs based on this geometry available in UK bike shops.

Dynamo Lighting

A topic I have written about extensively, dynamo lights are a great option for an everyday transport bike, where an “always available” lighting solution is very desirable. Most people are put off by memories of cheap bottle dynamos driving terrible filament lamps, but modern hub and bottle dynamos are much better. Combine these with modern LED lighting technologies and you have the perfect dependable lighting solution for an everyday transport bike. No batteries, no fuss.
What bicycle components and accessories which have fallen out of favour would you like to see coming back?

Risk Compensation Experience

I have written previously about the effects of risk compensation on road safety. A good example of this effect is the Munich Taxi experiment, where a fleet of taxis, half with ABS and half without were secretly monitored and the differences examined. It was found:

“Drivers of cabs with ABS made sharper turns in curves, were less accurate in their lane-holding behaviour, proceeded at a shorter forward sight distance, made more poorly adjusted merging manoeuvres and created more "traffic conflicts". This is a technical term for a situation in which one or more traffic participants have to take swift action to avoid a collision with another road user.[3] Finally, as compared with the non-ABS cabs, the ABS cabs were driven faster at one of the four measuring points along the route. All these differences were significant.”

In brief, the increased safety offered to the vehicle operators/occupants by the improved brakes was compensated for by an increase in risk-taking behaviour by the vehicle operators.

I currently operate a “fleet” of three bikes, all of which have different types and combinations of brakes:

The DL-1 has 70 mm Sturmey Archer drum brakes in both the front and rear wheels. These offer reasonable stopping power and supreme durability, requiring almost zero maintenance. Sturmey Archer drums offer good modulation, with light braking being easily controllable and hard braking available if you need it when you really squeeze the levers.

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The Sturmey Archer drum brakes; front (top) and rear (bottom)

The Brompton has calliper brakes front and rear. These were presumably chosen because they offer reasonable stopping power and reasonable durability whilst minimising weight (which is an important consideration for a folding bike, unlike a full-sized transport bike). A peculiarity of the Brompton is that the rear brake seems to offer more stopping power than expected, whilst the front feels weaker than expected. The callipers offer similar stopping power and modulation to the Sturmey Archer drum brakes, but are exposed and thus require more maintenance.

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The Brompton calliper brakes; front (left) and rear (right)

The Yuba Mundo has a more exotic brake configuration; a rear V-brake and a front 185 mm Avid Juicy hydraulic disc brake. This combination was chosen because the original front V-brake did not offer what I felt was appropriate stopping power or modulation for a loaded Yuba Mundo. The rear V-brake is adequate; offering a lot of stopping power but poor modulation, with a small amount of brake lever travel the brakes make the transition from doing hardly anything to slow the bike to locking up the rear wheel. The front disc brake offers an extreme level of stopping power, which is ideal when the bike is loaded. It also offers good modulation for when a small amount of braking is required. When the bike is unloaded/lightly loaded, it is able to stop incredibly quickly.

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The Yuba Mundo front hydraulic disc brake (top) and rear V-brake (bottom)

Whilst I use all three bikes regularly, I rarely use different bikes in quick succession. A few weeks ago, I returned from a 30 km ride on the Yuba Mundo to pick up some wheel building parts which I dropped off at home. I had to pop back to work immediately afterwards and took the DL-1. When I approached the first set of traffic lights I experienced risk compensation first hand; after riding the lightly-loaded Yuba Mundo over a  few hours I had become accustomed to riding faster and braking later for a given set of road conditions, and I had to brake very hard on the DL-1 to stop in a space which the Yuba Mundo would have been able to stop in easily. This is why I worry when I hear about engineering-based safety enhancements such as ABS in cars, they improve the safety of the vehicle’s occupants but this is often at the expense of everyone outside of the vehicle.

Spotted in Manchester #2

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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LC’s Pashley Princess Sovereign, Vita.

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A roadster with a personalised coat-guard.

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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.

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.

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:

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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.

Mudguards:

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.

Rack:

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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.

Chaincase:

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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:

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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.

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Internal Hub Gears:

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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:

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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:

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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.