About chestercycling

After a number of years in Manchester, writing the blog MCRcycling a new job has brought me to the historic and picturesque city of Chester. Much as before I will be writing about my experiences cycling in Chester along with general cycle advocacy and technical information and how-to guides related to the cycling components I indulge in.

Victorinox Cybertool 34 Review

A while back I reviewed my Leatherman Surge multi-tool. I am a big fan of the Surge and there have been many times when I have been glad to have it with me (holiday in Cornwall, overseas work trips). However, as noted in my review of the Surge, the locking blades mean that the Surge is in a bit of a legal grey area; when carrying the Surge I need to have a “good reason” to do so if I wish to stay on the right side of our purposefully vague laws on such things. Similar laws also prevented me from taking the Surge on a work trip to Japan a few months ago. Because of this, at the end of last year I decided to supplement my Surge with a swiss army knife, as the relatively small, non-locking blades mean that I can enjoy the benefits of having it with me at all times without the requirement to have a “good reason.”

A few years ago I read about a swiss army knife designed specifically for people who work with PCs, which included a small bit driver for the various small phillips and torx screws used on motherboards and in laptops. When I started thinking about getting a swiss army knife, I remembered this and I was pleased to find that not only does it still exist, there are a few different versions available in the Victorinox Cybertool range. The bit driver is also available in some of the larger Swisschamp models too (XLT, XXLT, XAVT).

Driver layer 1

For me the Cybertool 34 (CT34) offered the best range of tools within the size range I wanted, without having too much redundant overlap with the Surge. Both the CT34 and Surge have bot drivers, with some overlap in the supplied bits, but I would be much happier using the CT34 above the likes of a delivate motherboard than the Surge. Similarly, I prefer the Surge when working on things at a larger scale. The CT34 is available with translucent red or blue scales. I damaged the scales on mine (and never really liked the translucent scales either) so I decided to replace them with black.

The CT34 buts are 4mm hex, with a ball bearing on one side of the bit to retain them in the driver/holder. The holder only makes contact with the bits on two sides, so it is important to ensure one of these sides make contact with the ball bearing to prevent the bits falling out of the holder and the bit driver will also act as a 4/5mm nut spinner when empty. The bit selection includes #8, #10 and #15 Torx drivers, #0, #1 and #2 philips drivers (will also double for Pozi drivers in a pinch), 4mm hex driver and 4mm flat-head. In a pinch, the #8, #10 and #15 Torx drivers will also happily double up as 2, 2.5 and 3 mm (respectively) hex drivers too. The bit driver is what really makes this tool, and brings the whole Swiss Army Knife concept into the 21st century. I believe that the special bits are made by Facom and compatible alternative bits can be found in their catalogue.

Driver layer 2

The CT34 has a few features which the Surge lacks; the scales contain a surprisingly useful pressurised ballpoint pen, tweezers, toothpick and a pin, in addition to an eyeglass screwdriver which lives wound into the corkscrew. I wouldn’t want to write a lot with the pen, but it does often come in useful for writing down a quick note or marking something up. The toothpick is great, and it is possible to buy replacements once it gets to the point where you want to retire it.

Scale tools

Other tools unique to the CT34 are the corkscrew and hook. The corkscrew is not really that useful unless you tend to drink a lot of wine outside. The hook is rated for to almost 100 kg, which opens up some possibilities (zip-line, anyone?).

Corkscrew layer

Hook layer

Like the Surge, the CT34 also has two blades and pliers. Unlike the Surge, the blades are both non-locking and neither are serrated (the Surge has one straight and one serrated). The blades hold an edge very well, but because if this they require a bit more work during their (admittedly less frequent) sharpenings.

Blade layer

The pliers are sprung and much smaller than the Surge pliers; they are ideal for small detail work which makes them a good compliment to the Surge pliers, rather than redundant. They also include wire cutters (only really good for small gauge wire) in the jaw of the pliers and a crimper in the arms.

Pliers layer 1

Pliers 2

The remaining tools are duplicates of the tool selection available on the Surge, and include the following: A can opener (with a useful small flat head driver) and a bottle opener (with large flat head driver/scraper/pryer & wire bending notch).

Opener layer

Very good sprung scissors.

Scissor layer

Sharp awl with eye for thread. I like this awl better than the Surge awl, and I have made some holes in wood with it when there was no drill available.

Awl layer

The tools in Swiss Army Knives are held in place using back-spings. These keep the tools folded away when not in use and give the tools a satisfying “snap” when opening/closing. The main disadvantage of the back-spring mechanism over the Leatherman is that most of the tools require fairly long and substantial nails (or some sort of substitute) to get at, whereas the tools on the (admittedly less sleek) Leatherman are easily accessible without using nails. I get around this by using the tweezers from the scales to open the tools which have nail nicks, and the use of nail nicks does make for a much smaller overall package when compared to the likes of a Leatherman. At the time of writing I am in South China and I have managed to grow my nails a bit due to the fact that I have stopped biting them whilst I have been here due to the generally less hygienic conditions here (e.g. public toilets with no hand washing facilities, non-drinkable tap water etc.) and the nail nicks are working just fine for me at the moment.

Much like the Klean Kanteen bottle and Leatherman Surge I have reviewed previously, I have become rather attached to the Cybertool 34. I think part of this is due to having these things with me so much of the time and enjoying the various benefits they bring. This is especially true for the things I have with me when I’m travelling abroad on my own. Whilst it is smaller and therefore less capable than the Surge, after nearly eight months of carrying it with me most of the time I am very happy with the CT34. Paired with the Surge there are not many jobs which cannot be tackled. The CT34 is also a very capable tool in its own right, without being too bulky to carry around all/most of the time (although if you are going to have just one tool of this sort, the Cybertool 41, with the addition of a wood saw, metal saw, file and chisel may be a better option).

Klean Kanteen Insulated (591 ml/20 US fl oz)

I first heard of Klean Kanteen (KK) via Lovely Bicycle. They are available here in the UK (including in a few bricks and mortar shops) but as they are made for the US market, their capacities are made to crazy US units, rather than sensible, rest-of-the-world metric.

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Vacuum flasks are nothing new, but the majority of vacuum flasks on the market are aimed at people who want to carry hot, still drinks and are often sold with lids intended to double up as cups to drink from. Something I wanted for a long time is a vacuum flask for cold, possibly fizzy drinks and which I could drink from directly whilst on the go, rather than using a separate cup, but there did not seem to be any products which could need this requirement. One of my main aims was to reduce the number of cold drinks I purchased whilst out and about on warmer days, partly to save money and partly because of the tendency of many shops to use broken/ineffective drinks chillers or to not bother with stock rotation when filling fridges (Boots and Superdrug, I am looking at you).

Eventually, I found out that Klean Kanteen made insulated versions of some of their classic range of bottles. The size I bought (nominally 591 ml, 600 ml in practice) came with a loop carabiner lid, and I was not sure if the lid would be ok with fizzy drinks. However, I saw that a larger version of the same bottle (but with a swing-top lid) was being sold by Klean Kanteen as a growler* for carrying (carbonated) beer.

For a while I used the loop carabiner lid, but the seal on this did not do very well with carbonated drinks; the lid had to be screwed down very tight to prevent the pressure leaking out and when it was opened, a small part of the seal would often unseat before the rest, sometimes resulting in a highly directional spray (especially after riding the Brompton over cobbles). This happened in quite spectacular fashion as a sat in the quiet coach of a Virgin Pendolino to Edinburgh, spraying two fellow passengers with a fine mist of Pepsi Max. After this, I decided to give the Swing-top lid sold with the Klean Kanteen growlers a try instead. The addition of the swing-lock cap produces an ideal solution for keeping cold, fizzy drinks cold and fizzy for an extended period of time (9+ hours has been no problem). Occasionally, I have also had coffee in the bottle, which stays hot enough for me for at least four hours (and possibly a fair bit more too). A few times, I have used it for beer too.

Another feature of the flask which I like is that it is constructed from 18/8 stainless steel, inside and out. Whilst I suspect that the recent hysteria about BPA is overblown, I do not like the flavour-retention which happens with most re-usable plastic bottles. Aluminium bottles can also have this problem, as they require lining and this lining is usually made of some sort of polymer. The advantage of stainless steel is that it does not retain or impart any flavour on the contents of the bottle and is resistant to corrosion from the sorts of things you are likely to store inside the bottle and also the sorts of conditions the outside is likely to be exposed to. It is also durable, I have dropped mine a few times and whilst it is dented, it still functions perfectly well.

This bottle really works well for me, I use it everyday. I even took it with me when I had to travel to Japan for work in early May, which allowed me to really maximise the benefit from the airport lounge access I got as a check-in bonus.

*Growlers are vessels for transporting draught beer from a bar or brewery for later consumption elsewhere. I suspect that the name may be hindering the concept in the UK somewhat.

Update

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I have been in Kunming, China for a few weeks and I have really appreciated having the KK bottle with me. Tap water here is not drinkable, and in some of the workplaces I’ve visited there are often very few opportunities to get a drink. When drinking water is available, the custom is to serve it hot (which I do not find particularly refreshing) due to long-standing concerns here about water quality. Luckily, I’ve been able to have clean, icy-cold water available whilst at work and travelling around. It may seem like a small thing, but it has made the wider situation a lot more tolerable.

The Cargo Cult of Cycling Culture

Cycling culture is a term which is nebulous enough that it can mean significantly different things to different people.

To some, it will bring to mind images of hipsters and the fixed gear scene, or the likes of the counter-cultural Critical Mass movement. To others, it will invoke the BMX scene, or road cycling clubs, or people who live and breathe mountain biking. The one thing linking all of these ideas of cycling culture is that their members all take the bicycle and make it a significant part of their identities.

Because of this, I find it weird when “cycling culture” is discussed as a cause of cycling being a mainstream mode of transport in The Netherlands. The implication is that Dutch people are not choosing how to travel primarily based on their experience of their environment, but because of some sort of unique “cycling culture” which is a part of being Dutch. This implies that this ill-defined “cycling culture” would need to be somehow replicated in the UK in order to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport here. Some people may make the further inference that replication of this Dutch “cycling culture” is sufficient in itself to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport.

Also worth noting is that just because driving is the dominant mode of transport in the UK, it does not follow that the UK has an equivalent “car culture” which is a part of being British. Certainly there are car and motorsport enthusiasts who make the car part of their identities, but this is hardly typical of the average person in the UK. I also occasionally see arguments that the use of cars as status symbols in the UK produces a culture of driving and works against the cause of cycling as a mode of transport. Whilst there are also people who spend a lot of money on cars which they see as status symbols, these are also the kind of people who will spend money on other conspicuously expensive items in exactly the same way. It is the display of having the means to buy the car which is important, not the car itself (or the watch, clothes, house, boat, etc.). Again, I don’t see this being a major factor in the dominance of driving as a mode of transport in the UK. This kind of behaviour can also be seen in The Netherlands. Just owning a car is not in itself much of an indicator of socio-economic status nowadays.

The truth is that The Netherlands has no cycling culture and the UK has no car culture. What both countries have is people who choose how to get around by picking the path of least resistance, based on their own experience. Whereas for British people choosing the car is usually the path of least resistance, for Dutch people choosing the bike is often the path of least resistance. This is not due to a difference of culture, but an result of the differences in the built environment.

Certainly, there are also additional non-infrastructural factors increasing the attractiveness of cycling in The Netherlands, such as the provisions organisations and businesses make for people travelling by bicycle, but these are a reaction to the transport choices people make, not the main reason they make them. This reaction serves to reinforce the effect of the built environment on transport choice, as it does in the UK.

The argument that The Netherlands has a particular cycling culture which we would need to somehow replicate here for cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport is at its best cargo cult thinking, and at its worst, acts as an excuse for inaction and a quiet acceptance of the status quo.

Infrastructure is the foundation of cycling as a mainstream mode of transport. Nothing else will stand up if that foundation is not there first.

Leatherman Surge multi-tool review

It is hard to know what tools might be needed in an unexpected situation when you are out and about, whether on or off the bike. Multi-tools can be a useful way to stay prepared without the impracticality of carrying a selection of individual tools around with you.

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The Leatherman Surge has the following tools accessible from the folded position:

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A plain blade.

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A serrated blade.

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Spring-action scissors.

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A T-shank adaptor compatible with either the file or saw provided, or any other blade with a common T-shank end.

When unfolded, additional tools are accessible:

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Pliers including replaceable wire cutting/stripping blades and two crimping cut-outs below the pivot.

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An awl, large and small flat-head screwdrivers.

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A bottle/can opener and a bit-driver which is compatible with proprietary Leatherman bits (available separately) or regular hex bits with the use of an adapter (available separately)

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Proprietary Leatherman bits (not necessarily included with every Surge)

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In addition to this, my Surge came with a leather pouch which can be worn on the belt. This is useful as the weight of the Surge is a bit too much to be comfortable in trouser pockets.

The build quality is really quite impressive. There is no play in the pliers or any of the other tools, the tools are made from an appropriate grade of steel for their intended purposes and the blades are designed in such a way that their edges do not strike or sit in contact with the housing when folded away.

Sadly, in the UK at least, the Leatherman Surge is not a legal carry item for most people because it features two locking knife blades. Whilst there are exceptions for those with a “good reason” for carrying one, such as profession, the vagueness of that clause could lead you to think that you’re safe whilst actually falling foul of the law. Because of this, and the absence of an adjustable spanner, I would not recommend the Surge as a multi-tool for cycling purposes. However, I would recommend it for anyone who would benefit from having a really good general purpose multi-tool.

Spending Tips

Last week the deputy prime minister announced something like £1.10 for every individual in the UK is to be spent on cycling per year for the next three years. I imagine that planners in Whitehall and the various local authority offices around the country are thinking how best to use this money to make the bicycle into accessible transportation for all. I thought I would compile some suggestions.

1. More car parking spaces

One of the major things which puts people off cycling is the fact that people on bikes have to mix with people in cars, which makes most people feel unsafe when using a bicycle. Spending money on providing more free car parking spaces will give people somewhere to put their cars, helping to reduce the numbers on the roads

2. Motivational advertising

People usually choose the path of least resistance when it comes to travel, both in the mode they choose and the route they take. A handful of advertisements on bus stops, television and radio should be sufficient to overcome this basic core component of human psychology.

3. Showers

When cycling amongst motor vehicles, people tend to want to minimise the speed differential between themselves and other types of vehicle. The fact that this can lead to sweating is a well known factor keeping people off bikes and the logical solution to this is earmark some cash for a fund which will enable employers, schools, pubs, restaurants, post offices, banks and retailers to provide shower facilities for those cycling to their premises.

4. Maintenance

Poorly maintained bikes are a big barrier to cycling, with many new bikes being used only a handful of times before before their owners, mindful of the wear and tear caused to bikes by actually using them consign their bikes to the shed, for no other reason than this.

5. Safety

Safety is a big concern for would-be bicycle users. Unfortunately the roads and the motor vehicles which use them are an unchangeable part of the environment, which we are as powerless to change as the tides or the natural processes leading to the continuous warming of the Earth’s climate. Thankfully we have two powerful solutions at our disposal, polystyrene hats and fluorescent waistcoats. When used together they completely solve al problems relating to safety.

6. Spread it around

Should significant sums of money be spent to significantly improve the experience of people travelling by bicycle on a single major route, or would the same resources be better spread much more evenly across the land? Whilst improving a single route to Dutch standards would significantly increase cycling participation and the safety of those on bikes in one area, it is far better to use the money for thousands of ASLs, sharrows and training places to help people cope with roads whose designs disregard their needs. Spread the money around so everyone benefits, much like pouring a bottle of Ribena into a reservoir.

True Story

When talking with some colleagues in the tea room, the topic of bad driving, and more specifically bad overtakes came up. After hearing a few stories, I shared a few of my own horror stories of close passes on national speed limit roads from a cycling perspective. After this, the topic of cycle helmets came up, so I dutifully explained that the reality of cycle helmets falls short of what the general public often imagines.

From across the room, a chap chimes in with a story from the days when he used to cycle in to work. He told jus that several years ago, he was riding his bicycle without lights, in the dark down an unlit country lane. He collided head-on with another chap on a bike without lights. Both were injured, the other chap quite badly so.

At the end of his story, he turned to us and said, “I bet he wishes he was wearing a helmet that day. I know I do.”

Personally, I’d have gone for lights.

All Quiet

Yesterday, for the first time in almost two years I seriously considered buying another bike. I have yet to decide whether or not I will buy (yet) another bike, but I discovered something about my relationship with cycling in the process.

More astute readers may have noticed that the pace of posts on this site has slowed down somewhat. During this quiet time, cycling has remained my main mode of transport and I cycle approximately 9 miles every weekday as part of my commute, in addition to running errands at the weekend. Despite this, I have not felt the inspiration to post much of anything, or to ride much beyond what I need to do to get around. However, since I started to seriously entertain the possibility of acquiring another bike I have been feeling the call of the pedals and the desire to blog once more.

A scene from this evening’s commute home

It strikes me that a big part of my enthusiasm for cycling (and blogging about cycling) stemmed from a near-constant series of acquisitions of bicycles and bicycle-related stuff in the quest for the ‘perfect’ set-up. Once I had a set-up which worked well for me, the quest was over, or at least it slowed down. Whilst my ideal set-up will naturally change over the course of my life, the significant amount of research, trial and error required to get to what I have now was what kept this blog regularly updated for as long as it was. The problem with having a set-up which works well for your needs is that there is little left to discover, nothing to be researched into meticulously for hours on end. Nothing to blog about.

This realisation led me to notice a pattern. For example, during the time the blog has been quiet, I spent quite a lot of time researching kitchen stand-mixers, intended mainly for the benefit of Ms C’s baking. I wanted to make sure we got the best one that I could also service myself, have good spares availability for years to come at the best price point. Similar to bicycles, there is a surprising amount of information, opinion and even tribalism (Kenwood vs KitchenAid discussions can get just as heated as any obscure bicycle forum thread) surrounding stand mixers. That peculiar world, and many others like it held my attention for much longer than I would have expected them to. Once the stand mixer had been chosen, I ended up learning about bread making, flours grains and a similar series of events occurred all over again.

I suspect that my inspiration to write about bicycles and bicycle-related issues will wax and wane over time as the set-up I have becomes more or less suited to the situations life throws my way. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to turn this blog into one which discusses whatever it is that I’m trying enthusiastically to perfect at any given time.