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.

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.

Carradice Duxback Rain Poncho

Over the years I have tried numerous items of rainwear whilst cycling. In that time I have merely learned that there is no such thing as a ‘breathable’ waterproof fabric. In my experience, rainwear offers a choice between getting soaked with rainwater or getting soaked with sweat; staying dry was never really on the cards.

Because of this, the idea of a rain cape had interested me for a while. Due to the bloody awful noise made when cycling in most waterproof fabrics, I had my eye on a waxed cotton one, but was put off by the price, general lack of information and the fact that the few places which sold it all used the same rather crappy picture from the Carradice website. Eventually I found a good review of the cape on the Smut Peddler blog which has some more useful pictures of the cape as well as more information than the manufacturer was providing.

The Duxback poncho is offered in two sizes and without the ability to try one on in a shop before buying, I decided that the larger option would deb the safest bet. Sadly, at the time the larger model was unavailable from all of the relatively small number of suppliers who stock the item, but I was able to find a second hand one on eBay. Apart from needing some re-proofing at the seams, the second-hand poncho was in very good condition. 
Thankfully, the same blog which had the review of the cape also had an overview of re-proofing the cape 18 months later. After shopping around, I could not find the Carradice re-proofing wax from any supplier who didn’t wish to charge me as much again for delivery, so I decided to buy a larger pot of Barbour Thornproof Dressing which included delivery, totalling about the same amount as the Carradice wax. So far I have not noticed any ill-effects due to going ‘off-brand’ and I have plenty left for re-proofing saddlebags etc.
Usage of rain capes seems to have died out in the UK around the time that the bicycle industry decided to re-designate mudguards from ‘bicycle components’ to ‘bicycle accessories,’ but it is still going strong in parts of the world where bicycles are a mainstream mode of transport. Having finally tried a rain cape for myself I have found it to be the least uncomfortable and most practical bit of rainwear I have used. What makes the rain cape bearable is that the whole bottom of the cape is open to the circulation of air, preventing the awful sauna-suit effect which jackets and over-trousers invariably result in. In combination with mudguards (obviously) it does a good job of keeping the water off of most of you, your saddle and your handlebars, in addition to keeping the windchill off your hands. Compared to riding a Brompton with a bag on the front, the extra drag from wind and air resistance is not that bad, although I have yet to try the cape in strong winds.
Unfortunately, the rain cape does make you look like a it of a tit. This is exacerbated somewhat when combined with a small-wheeled bike like the Brompton, so if being laughed at by groups of Year 7 pupils is not something you are able to stomach, this is probably not the product for you. However, if like me you can live with looking a bit odd and have never previously managed to find a satisfactory bit of rainwear, this might be the thing for you.

Transport and Delusions

Reading Beyond the Kerb’s open letter to the legal system got me thinking about the mass delusion we suffer from in the UK when it comes to driving a car. 

Musical ability is something which some people are blessed with. Some people are extremely accomplished musicians. Some people are competent singers. Some choose not to participate, but within them lies potential which could one day be nurtured. Some people are tone deaf.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being musical. Other than not being able to join a choir or an orchestra (or at least, not a good one) being tone deaf will not significantly diminish your life, bar you from a significant number of jobs or cause exceptional hardship to you, or your family.

Our collective delusion is thinking that driving a car in a public space is different.

Some people are extremely proficient and enthusiastic drivers. Plenty more are competent. Some do not drive, but would be able to do so safely with sufficient training. Some people will are not capable of driving in a consistently safe manner.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with falling into the latter category. What is wrong is a system which allows people who are incompetent to drive to gain a licence. A system which allows people who have demonstrated their inability to drive, to continue driving. A system which places the convenience of an individual driver above the safety of innocent third parties. A system which gives no justice to this whose lives are ended, or irrevocably changed, typically through no fault of their own.

It is understandable that when confronted with a list of injustices like those described on Beyond the Kerb, we feel incredibly angry about the sheer injustice of it. I know I do. 

However, I do not feel that imprisoning drivers who kill through incompetence rather than malice achieves a great deal. Drivers who are imprisoned seldom receive permanent driving bans. In fact, driving bans shorter than the term of the prison sentence are depressingly common. When a driver’s incompetence results in a death or maiming, the only just outcome is to stop them from driving, permanently. Naturally it follows that the testing and monitoring of drivers needs to be made fit for purpose as well, to prevent these tragedies before they happen.

Having said this, being banned from driving, or being unable to pass the test in the first place shouldn’t diminish your life. Other than being prevented from working in driving jobs, not being permitted to drive should not bar you from a significant number of jobs or cause exceptional hardship to you or your family.

The difficulty is that with a transport system in which the odds are so heavily stacked in favour of the private motorist, it seems exceptionally easy to weasel out of a driving ban on the grounds of ‘‘exceptional hardship.’ Subsidised car use, bicycle infrastructure which is non-existent and public transport has been left to decay for decades before the remainder was converted to dividend mines for private shareholders means it is easier to pretend that driving is something that all adults can and eventually will do to an adequate standard.

Until we tackle the systemic disadvantage which non-car travel has been placed at for decades in the UK, the delusion will continue and innocent third parties will continue to pay.

Playing Baseball with Aunt Sally

I was prompted to write this piece based on a post by Carlton Reid on his Quickrelease blog, in which the a comparison is attempted between building infrastructure for bicycles as a means of increasing their use and building baseball stadiums as a means of increasing the popularity of baseball in the UK. As an analogy, it doesn’t really work (and I know I’ve strained a few myself on this blog in the past) but it is at least an interesting revisiting of a straw man with whom Carlton has been arguing with on and off for a few years now.

The straw man I refer to is as follows; that of the cycle campaigners advocating replication of The Netherlands’ approach to cycle infrastructure here in the UK, a significant proportion believe that implementing a botched half-measures as seen in Milton Keynes or Stevenage is enough to produce cycling rates in the UK which are comparable to those in The Netherlands. No-one is saying that quality cycle infrastructure is the entire solution to the unpopularity of cycling as a mode of transport in the UK, it is just most of the solution, difficult, an entirely essential component of the solution and the most obviously visible part of the changes required.  It makes sense that people are talking-up infrastructure; it is a very visible part of the changes we need, it is easy to communicate and it is the very foundation of making cycling a viable mode of transport for normal people. Talking down infrastructure, however, helps none of us, and is a particularly odd thing to do if you have previously made the case for the need for cyclists to present a united front to decision makers.

Carlton beats his straw man over the head with examples such as Milton Keynes or Stevenage, neither of which come close to representing what cycle campaigners advocating replication of The Netherlands’ approach to cycle infrastructure here in the UK are proposing. Whilst the treatment of main roads in these places may superficially resemble approaches used in The Netherlands, without the corresponding changes to other classes of road, such as residential streets, and the requisite inconveniencing of short-hop car trips arising from this infrastructure, attempting to use these places to argue that The Netherlands approach to cycle infrastructure would not work in the UK due to unspecified cultural difficulties is dishonest.

Instead, the importance of the built environment on the modes of travel people choose is downplayed, with unspecified cultural reasons suggested to be the real issue. As most of you will know, using the bicycle as a means of transport in most parts of the UK is not a normal thing to do. Using a means of transport which differs from the dominant means of transport; the car, on infrastructure designed entirely around the car, and amongst car users who have little understanding of cycling or cyclists can often make the act of cycling for transport into something of an ordeal. When facing this situation day in, day out, it can be very, very tempting to see the decision of others to drive rather than cycle as a personal failure, or a result of culture, rather than as a result of the environment. “If I can cycle in this, so can they,” you think to yourself, after a close overtake or a multi-lane roundabout, “if only they weren’t so lazy, or stupid, or addicted to their cars.” I find myself thinking along these lines sometimes, after a particularly gruelling ride to work. But really they’re just ordinary people, people who haven’t given much thought to why they chose the mode of transport they have. The cultural argument for why cycling has failed in the UK is so alluring because it allows us to feel morally superior to those who drive. Accepting that those who currently drive in the UK are the same as those who currently cycle in The Netherlands is hard because it means committing to changing the road environment here to more closely resemble that over there, which is a big job. It also means losing the thing which makes us special; being a cyclist, despite the environment, in a place where cycling is marginalised.

Carlton, it’s time to put this old straw man out to pasture.

Inside the Brompton Wide Range (BWR) Hub

It has been quite a while since I have written anything technical about bikes. This is largely a result of the fact that for the first time since I started cycling again as an adult I have been relatively happy with my bikes and their configurations, which has left me free of my usual desire to acquire shiny new bicycle parts. However, this state of relative satisfaction with the bikes does not mean that things don’t occasionally wear out or break. Last week  I noticed a familiar clicking sound coming from the rear hub of the Brompton.

I have written previously in reasonable detail about the Servicing the Sturmey Archer AW hub. The BWR hub used in the six-speed Bromptons is also a three speed hub gear made by Sturmey Archer, so I thought I would show how the BWR compares to the pictures I took of the 1976 AW hub for the aforementioned post.

AWvBWR1

The planet cage differs significantly between the old AW hub and the BWR. The planet cage on the AW sits on top (drive side) of the sun pinion and can be simply lifted off during disassembly. This is also the case with the new AW and S-RF3 hubs without the ‘intermediate gear’ (sometimes referred to as NIG versions). The BWR differs in that the planet cage is split into two pieces, the bottom of which slides on from the bottom (non-drive side) and the top slides on from the top (drive side) and is fixed onto the bottom piece with the 4 M3 cap head screws shown in the picture above. The result of this is that the planet cage is stuck on the sun pinion. I decided not to disassemble to two-part planet cage as the first screw I tried to loosen was very stiff and it didn’t seem worth risking snapping the screw for this job. The low gear pawls seen at the bottom of the planet cage on the BWR are similar to those on the NIG AW and S-RF3 hubs (which are also retained with a circlip). These pawls are what produces the characteristic ‘tick-tick-tick’ of Sturmey Archer three speeds in their second and third gears.

AWvBWR6

The planets of the BWR have 12 teeth and revolve around a 34-tooth sun pinion, which produces wider-spaced gearing than the AW which has 20-tooth planet and 20 tooth sun pinion. These smaller planets require smaller pins than the standard range three-speed hub.

AWvBWR2

The clutch of the BWR differs noticeably from that of the old AW, but is the same as in the NIG AW and S-RF3 hubs. The axle key is fitted in the slot underneath the clutch in this shot (not fitted in the picture of the AW) and is also the same as in the new standard range hubs.

AWvBWR3

The gear ring has 60 teeth in the old AW, new NIG hubs and BWR. The differences between the 1976 AW hub and the BWR shown are largely superficial. The easily lost wire pawl springs are still used in the BWR gear ring. The gear ring pawls are disengaged in first gear, which is why there is no characteristic ‘tick-tick-tick’ sound.

AWvBWR4

The ball ring is another part which has changed little between the old AW and BWR shown. The only major difference appears to be the addition of two extra notches for removing the hub internals using a C-spanner or hammer and punch. The AW ball ring has a metal dust/bearing retaining cap which has been replaced in the more modern hubs with a plastic retaining ring for the ball bearings.

AWvBWR5

Here we can see the difference between the driver of the old AW hub and that of the BWR. Whilst the AW is designed to take a single three-splined sprocket, the BWR is designed to take a pair of Shimano-style nine-splined sprockets. Like the clutch, the internal portion of the driver was changed between the old AW and the new NIG AW, S-RF3 and BWR in order to fix the issue of the ‘intermediate gear.’ Other than being extended and having a different spline pattern for the two-speed cassette, the BWR driver is the same as that used in the NIG AW and S-RF3.

Aside for the problem of water ingress, the driver was where I found the source of the problem I was having with the BWR hub; the bearing surfaces on the driver and cone nut had some pitting on them. This is an issue I have had with every variant of the Sturmey Archer NIG three-speed hub, but oddly never the old AW. This does not seem to be a problem which afflicts other people with the same frequency and may be a result of the way I ride or the conditions my bikes are subjected to.

Thankfully in the past I have been able to order a replacement driver from SJS Cycles (who stock a great range of Sturmey Archer hub spares) but I could not find the BWR driver  (Sturmey Archer part number: HSA800) on their site. I emailed SJS to enquire about this part and was told that Brompton only issue them for service, in order to be supplied with a replacement driver from Brompton you need to send the old one back to them. I was quite surprised by this; as my primary means of transportation I can’t afford to have my Brompton out of action for the sort of time required to perform such an exchange. If I lived somewhere with a Brompton dealer who did Brompton servicing in a meaningful way (i.e. not Chester) perhaps there would be a better way of doing this, but here in Chester I would have to go through The Bike Factory who do not keep Brompton spares in stock.

I am not sure why Brompton has chosen to restrict the supply of BWR replacement parts. Outside of a big city with a selection of Brompton dealers, in order to be able to depend on a bicycle with this hub there needs to be a supply of spare parts available. I doubt that Brompton are selling the BWR driver at a loss, so even if some of them went to tinkerers and enthusiasts (e.g. turning a S-RF5 into a ten-speed on a Brompton) it would not be detrimental to their business. It is a truly baffling move by Brompton which serves only to make the BWR a less viable option for people like me. Whilst decades-old AW hubs still have spare parts readily available, I am not sure that I will be able to fix this BWR hub up as easily as the 36 year-old AW shown in the pictures above, and that leaves me a bit disappointed in Brompton.

Transport Diversity

In the previous post, Transport Security, the link between energy security and transport was discussed along with the implications for the future here in the UK. One of the issues touched upon in that post was the importance of a diverse mixture of transport modes.

In transport as in nature, diversity is important. In agriculture, monoculture is the practice of growing a single, large and genetically (almost) uniform crop. This practice might be expected to provide certain benefits due to economies of scale, but it is not without its problems. A uniform crop has uniform susceptibility to disease, pests, weather conditions.  This makes the whole crop vulnerable to resilience problems when the crop is subjected to unforeseen external stresses. It is uniformly welcoming or unwelcoming to specific animal species, which can have numerous and varied unintended consequences. There are obvious parallels between the practice of agricultural monoculture and the transport monoculture we have allowed to develop in the UK.

In the UK, transport is currently dominated by the private car. It could even be said that this dominance has reached the point that the UK is a transport monoculture. This is compounded further by The Department for Transport’s own predictions that the next two decades’ growth in transport will further increase the total proportion of trips made by car. Cycle use is predicted to stagnate.

Predicted Growth 1As in agriculture, a transport monoculture is vulnerable because of its uniformity; in the case of our car monoculture significant vulnerabilities include uniform reliance on inefficient use of fuel and uniform reliance on inefficient use of space. A good example of when these vulnerabilities have been exposed include the refinery blockades for the former and the few weeks of snowfall the UK has seen in each of the past few years for the latter. Both of these types of events are examples of stresses on the UK transport system.

As in nature, a more diverse mixture of transport modes is more able to cope with stresses such as those discussed above. During a fuel shortage, modes which rely less on inefficient use of fuel such as bicycles, walking and public transport are in a good position to relieve some of the strain. During heavy snow, modes which use space more efficiently such as bicycles, walking and trains can more easily and quickly have sufficient space cleared to allow their safe passage. The same is true of freight. Diversity allows the weaknesses of a particular mode to be complemented by the strengths of another, and builds an element of much needed redundancy into the system.

These other modes are not without their own disadvantages and a transport mix which relies too much on trains or bicycles would be similarly (although perhaps less overall) vulnerable to unforeseen stresses. Whilst it can be tempting, when faced with ridiculous straw-man arguments, to suggest that the UK could manage perfectly well without cars, their continued availability compliments the vulnerability of bicycles to high winds or of trains to staff disputes.

Cars are only a problem at the moment because their near-total dominance of transport in the UK. Our road infrastructure is designed around them at the direct expense of the viability of walking and cycling. The public subsidy of car use leads to perverse economics which make local bus services economically inviable and allow road haulage to uncut rail freight in a manner which simply should not be possible. Increasing the diversity of the UK’s transport mix means directly addressing these problems. Road infrastructure should be designed around cycling, walking and motorised vehicles, not just motorised vehicles. Transport investment should include significant investment in rail rather than just motorised road transport and the external costs arising from motor vehicles should be shouldered directly by their users rather than shared by everyone.

By removing the perverse incentives strongly favouring motorised road transport in the forms of private car and road freight above all other modes we can more evenly spread the UK’s transport needs over a more diverse range of transport modes. This shift will increase the overall energy and space efficiency of transport in this country, currently dominated as it is by the most inefficient modes, as well as strengthening transport as a whole against the predicted and unpredicted stresses encountered the future.

Transport Security

Energy Security, according to Wikipedia, is “a term for an association between national security and the availability of natural resources for energy consumption. Access to cheap energy has become essential to the functioning of modern economies. However, the uneven distribution of energy supplies among countries has led to significant vulnerabilities.” Therefore, Transport Security can be thought of as a subset of energy security; the relationship between the essential role transport plays in the functioning of modern economies and the availability of the resources required by said transport. In 2005, transport accounted for approximately 35% of UK energy consumption.

The transport security of a country is dependent on several factors, including:

  • Transport mode mix
  • Transport infrastructure
  • Energy infrastructure
  • Energy prices & domestic resources
  • State intervention
  • Density of development

The UK’s transport is currently dominated by one mode; the private car. This domination is a result of several decades of car-favouring infrastructure design, preferential state investment in car infrastructure, state subsidy of the external costs arising from driving and low energy prices. These factors have enabled the private car to become the dominant mode of passenger transport in the UK, despite the significant inefficiency of the private car compared to other transport modes. These factors have had a significant effect the density and nature of both new residential and commercial developments and wreaked havoc on those which were constructed prior to the dominance of the private car. Building preferentially for the private car has also led to road freight becoming the dominant means of moving goods around in the UK (85% in 1998)

The continued decline in the UK’s North Sea oil production has led to it becoming a net importer of crude oil, and the price of fossil fuel-derived energy is set to continue rising. Changing the energy source of cars from burning fossil fuels to battery-electric is often mooted as a solution by both the motor lobby and the government, which has given generous subsidies to the manufacturers and buyers of electric cars. Whilst frequently mooted as a solution to the UK’s transport woes, electric cars have a number of the same problems as conventionally fuelled cars; inefficient use of space (especially in urban areas) detrimental effect on other transport modes, negative health effects to their operators and passengers arising from the sedentary lifestyle facilitated by car dependence and the death or injury of operators, passengers and third parties through improper use.

At present in the UK, electric cars also have a number of problems distinct from conventionally-fuelled cars; much of the UK’s electricity-generation infrastructure is fossil fuel-based and vulnerable to much the same pressures on price as conventionally-fuelled cars and at the time of writing, much of the UK’s electricity generating capacity is due to be retired in the next few years. Whilst there are advantages to burning fossil fuels in facilities away from large population centres rather than within them, the issue of the need to replace much of the UK’s electricity generating infrastructure in the near future (referred to as the ‘energy gap‘) is a major hurdle to shifting cars from their reliance on the inefficient use of fossil fuel-derived energy to the inefficient use of electrical energy. Put simply, a large scale renewal of existing electricity generating capacity taking place at the same time building the expansion in generating capacity required to shift much of the 35% of energy expenditure arising from transport to electricity would represent a significant challenge, especially considering the UK’s emissions targets.

This puts the UK at a cross-roads with regards to its future transport security. There are several realistic possibilities:

  1. Significantly expand, diversify and de-carbonise electricity generating capacity at the same time as replacing much of the existing, fossil fuel-based generation capacity. This will allow personal transport to shift from its current car-dependent form reliant on the inefficient use of direct fossil fuel-derived to a similar car-dependent form reliant on the inefficient use of (cheap) non-fossil fuel-derived electricity. This option does nothing to address the other problems arising from a car-dominated transport system (discussed above) and has the further disadvantage of not offerring any realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to space constraints. A transport mix heavily dominated by a single mode is also less resilient to unforeseen future stresses.
  2. Replace the electricity generating capacity which is due for renewal without the significant expansion required for a move to electric cars whilst investing in infrastructure required to diversify the transport mix. This can be done by investing in infrastructure which favours more efficient modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and rail. This has the added advantage of addressing some of the issues arising from a car-dominated transport system (discussed above) and has the further advantage of offering a realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to more efficient use of space. A more diverse transport mix is also more resilient to unforeseen future stresses.
  3. Replace the electricity generating capacity which is due for renewal without the significant expansion required for a move to electric cars, without investing in infrastructure required to diversify the transport mix. Transport will continue to be dominated by the private, fossil fuel-powered car for the foreseeable future. This option does nothing to address the problems arising from a (fossil fuel-powered) car-dominated transport system (discussed above) has the further disadvantage of not offerring any realistic prospect of significant future expansion, due to space constraints and leaves the majority of UK transport (and the economic activity reliant on it) dependent on imported fuels, vulnerable to price spikes and fluctuations in availability. As in option 1, a transport mix heavily reliant on a single mode is less resilient to unforeseen stresses than a diverse transport mix.

In the past, the UK’s North Sea oil reserves and established electricity generating capacity had given the UK the luxury of choosing whether to address the issue of its future transport security or do nothing. Naturally when given this choice, doing nothing is the easiest choice, even if it has significant drawbacks. In the next few years, the UK will be at the point where something has to be done as a matter of urgency. I just hope that we put the work in now to diversify both our transport and electricity generation mixes to ensure transport security in the long-term.

Richard Wellings and the IEA offer a radical alternative to fuel duty

A report from the right-wing pressure group the Institute for Economic Affairs (in which the author at first seems to struggle to set out a case for abolishing fuel duty) has attracted some interest on Twitter, in part because of its rather ‘free-market’ attitude to the value of human life:

“While the discussion may seem callous, it is the case that some road fatalities save the government significant sums of money, for example in future health and pension expenditure.”

The report states that contributions from fuel duty and something which the report refers to as a ‘road tax’ (presumably the author is referring to the emissions-based Vehicle Excise Duty) outstrip the government’s current spending on road building and maintenance. Presumably the reader is supposed to infer from this that road building and maintenance are the only external costs arising from motoring where as the reality is that motoring costs the taxpayer at least £9 billion per year more than it produces in tax receipts. Surprisingly  for someone who has apparently managed to acquire a PhD in transport and environmental policy, Richard Wellings seemed to be unaware of this shortfall when writing the report:

“Motoring taxes were being used to fund general public expenditure, primarily on the welfare state. Spending on roads was only equivalent to about a fifth of the motoring tax take and a significant proportion was devoted to ‘anti-car’ schemes.”

However despite the IEA seemingly not doing their research on the wider costs of motoring, I was rather encouraged by this:

“The privatisation of the road network would facilitate the abolition of fuel duty. The flotation of motorways and trunk roads would raise approximately £150 billion, which would be used to make large cuts in fuel duty. Government spending on transport would then be phased out, saving about £20 billion p.a. Finally, general tax revenues would increase markedly due to substantial efficiency gains, including much lower levels of congestion.”

Note here that the term ‘transport’ is used here to refer to ‘car transport.’ For a right-wing pressure group the IEA seem oddly determined to remove individual’s choice when it comes to transport mode.

Presumably, the problems arising after the privatisation of the railway, electricity, gas, water and telecommunications infrastructure and services are supposed to be seen by the reader as the exception rather than the rule when it comes to privatisation. The report only specifically mentions motorways and trunk roads, suggesting the author, like Minister for Roads and moron Mike Penning, is labouring under the false assumption that trunk roads (like motorways) are for the exclusive use of motorised vehicles. However, when I thought more about it, I got the feeling that there might be more to this report than meets the eye.

The big question is, why only mention motorways and trunk roads? Surely the private sector would be more dynamic and innovative than local authorities when it comes to local roads and surely the IEA wouldn’t support funding these roads through council tax. So let’s suppose we privatise the whole road network, carriageways, footways and all. Setting aside the wider issues of selling basically the entire public realm off to private companies, what would privatised road transport without fuel tax and no VED look like?

Carving it up

Traditionally privatisation in the UK has taken the form of a handful of monopolies dominating a different regions, and there is no reason to expect that the privatisation of the road network to be much different. However, it may be the case that some companies specialise in roads formerly controlled by local authorities, whilst different companies specialise in trunk roads, motorways or rural roads. In order to be charged, expect to have your movements tracked like never before.

Externalities

Naturally with the contribution towards covering some of the wider costs of motoring coming from VED and fuel tax gone, it would fall to the road operating companies to cover the external costs arising from their operations. Costs such as the hospitalisation and ongoing care costs arising both directly from road traffic collisions and indirectly from factors like air pollution and obesogenic environments would no-longer have to be paid for by taxpayers, which should be reflected by a significant reduction in the individual’s tax burden.

An interesting knock-on effect from this would be that motorway-style road designs in towns and cities which encourage dangerous driving behaviour, require different modes of travel to mix, or which produce high-levels of emissions in densely populated areas through inappropriately high speed limits would likely be phased out by road operating companies in favour of designs which reduce their costs. New designs would enforce lower speed limits in populated areas and separate out different vehicle types in order to drive down costs.

Similarly, whilst the criminal justice system at present is reluctant to hand a lifetime ban even to those who have clearly demonstrated they should never, ever drive again, under a privatised road system, road operating companies would seek to minimise their liability by either banning such drivers from the roads they operate or else charge such individuals for access at such a rate that it acts as a de facto ban.

Costs for motor traffic users

Following on from the banning (or de facto banning) of dangerous drivers, high risk drivers such as those who have been previously involved in crashes, new drivers, young drivers or old drivers would likely be charged at a higher rate. Certain journeys would require using parts of the network owned and operated by different companies, the result of which being that whilst some journeys may be relatively easy or cheap, others could become quite costly and difficult with the difference between the two being down to largely arbitrary factors. With the effective monopolies road operating companies would likely be given over certain routes (as described above) and light-touch regulation from the state, it is likely that costs to motor-traffic users would increase above inflation year-on-year, as is currently seen on the privatised rail network.

Naturally, road operating companies would seek to maximise profits by charging a higher rate for peak-time use, in addition to increasing peak-time road capacity by reducing speed limits, whilst rural users would likely face higher standard-rate charges due to the lack of economies-of-scale on the roads servicing more remote, sparsely-populated communities, but people are free to move home if they so choose. Bus services using multiple road operating companies’ roads may be more expensive than routes along roads operated by a single company.

Another advantage of privatised roads would be that the current blight of local authorities providing free on-street car parking for people who don’t work hard enough to own a house with a driveway will end, in favour of parking charges at the market rate.

Impact on road freight

A knock-on effect from higher peak-time pricing would be that it would be more economical for businesses to schedule deliveries during off-peak times. Large and heavy goods vehicles would naturally face much higher charges than smaller motor vehicles due to their increased wear on the road, disruptive effect on other traffic and significantly increased costs arising from death or injury. However, the advantage of this would be in restoring the competitiveness of rail freight; rail freight hubs would be viable in most towns and cities, with the last mile delivered by smaller delivery vehicles.

Costs for non-motorised users

The issue of non-motorised traffic (pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders) is not touched upon in the report itself, but it is easy to infer how these types of traffic should be dealt with. Naturally, like motor traffic these traffic types will require extensive tracking for the purposes of charging. However, as we have expected the road operating companies to pay for the negative externalities arising from motorised traffic, it is only fitting that we reward them for the positive externalities of non-motorised traffic.

Positive externalities such as productivity benefits and reduced instances of sick leave to employers whose employees travel to work on foot or by cycle, reduced healthcare expenditure and reduced emissions and benefits to local businesses along walking and cycling routes should be used to offset the costs of negative externalities to road operating companies. The knock-on effect of this is that road designs which maximise the uptake of walking and cycling would be a worthwhile investment for road operating companies, as would be removing road designs which create conflict between road users. As they produce almost exclusively positive externalities, the direct cost to pedestrians and bicyclists would be zero, although tracking and monitoring would still be required to calculate the offset to negative externalities a road operating company had earned from its pedestrian and bicyclist users.

In conclusion

At first glance Richard Wellings’ report, ‘Time To Excise Fuel Duty?’ might appear to be overly simplistic drivel which overlooks the existence and value of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, children and most startlingly the value of human life, bringing shame on the very institution of the PhD. Taken at face value, it certainly pushes all the classic right-wing buttons; motorists portrayed as unfairly-taxed victims whose travel choice is essential for economic prosperity and producing absolutely no significant negative outcomes for third parties, those living in rural areas are portrayed as victims and pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport users and children effectively do not exist. Even human life is given a market rate. However, on second glance what the report is proposing would actually be radical subversion of current right-wing thinking on driving. Reading between the lines, Richard Wellings is proposing a model in which motorists pay a fair price for their externalities and car use is restrained in favour of modes which produce positive externalities – an extremely logical, sensible proposal disguised between the lines in a report from the IEA.

Travelling by train: The rules

Whilst I’m a big fan of the bicycle as the main means of everyday transport, for longer distances I prefer the train. The train makes a lot of sense, but it can be intimidating for newcomers. Therefore I decided to put together this handy guide to behaving on the train.

The golden rule: Think of the train as an extension of your home.

This is probably the core of almost all of the other rules. You’ve paid for this train journey, so you deserve to put your feet up and make yourself at home

Getting on and off the train:

1. The doors

When the train arrives and you wish to get on, it makes sense to position yourself square in front of the nearest set of train doors. Other passengers may wish to alight, but they’ll doubtless find your enthusiasm for the train they’re desperately trying to leave endearing.

2. Have a seat

Once you have managed to fight your way past the passengers getting off the train, make sure you sort out your bags and remove any extra layers of clothing you might wish to before you get settled into your seat. There’ll be no time for all that once you’re underway.

3. Luggage

Luggage is best kept within reach and thankfully each train seat comes with a seat-shaped table for storage of personal belongings. If you have a lot of luggage, it can be haphazardly tossed into the racks at the ends of the carriage as you get on the train.

During travel:

4. Sprawl

If the train becomes rather busy, make sure you have something to put on the seat-shaped table next to your seat, lest a newcomer to train travel come along and mistake the table for a spare seat.

5. Tables and four seater areas

The middle of some carriages have extra tables and seat-shaped tables for the lucky  lone traveller who gets there first.

6. Music and video

Some passengers may have forgotten to bring a personal music or video playing device along for the trip, or worse, be too poor to afford one of their own. They’ll doubtlessly be delighted should you choose to share your own music, or even better the sound from a video over a loudspeaker.

7. Going to the game

Travelling on the train to football matches is a popular way for many individuals who usually travel by car to spectate at sporting events and also indulge in alcohol. It is only natural that other passengers will be curious about your team allegiance. Loud, inappropriate bellowing will serve to enlighten your curious fellow travellers.

8. Progeny

Other train passengers may not have children of their own and will undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to experience parenthood as you sit back and let your children climb over them and fight with each other in the aisles. Likewise, nothing helps drown out that nasty engine noise quite as well as four hours of a baby crying whilst being ignored by his or her parent.

9. Standing

Should your train run out of seating space, you may have to stand. To make the best of a bad situation, standing passengers squash into the ends of the carriages to form impromptu mosh pits. Standing in the aisles of the carriage is seen as a sign of weakness.

In the station:

10. Ticket barriers

Larger stations have automated ticket barriers, which have robbed many people of their jobs as station staff. naturally passengers are against this and in solidarity shun the many automated ticket barriers in favour of everyone entering and exiting the station through the same solitary staffed barrier which was intended for use by passengers with wheelchairs/crutches/prams/large luggage or bicycle. In addition to this, many passengers express their preference for human staff by asking this lone barrier attendant for timetabling information which is readily available on the many automated screens.

11. Smoking

Whilst smoking in stations is banned in the UK, but no-one minds really. Some of your fellow passengers may be too poor to afford smokes anymore and will doubtless appreciate your second hand smoke taking them back to a happier time.

I hope this guide can help those new to train travel to fit right in on Britain’s trains

After the gritting

The recent snow and the resulting gritting had not been kind to the Brompton and I had not properly cleaned the bike since just before the Japan trip. After the snow melt the original chain and sprockets which came with the bike were in need of some attention. The 2-speed and BWR 6-speed Bromptons use Shimano cassette splined cogs (the SRAM 6-speed uses standard 3-spline sprockets) which have an asymmetrical pattern preventing the sprockets from being reversed when worn.

When worn beyond a certain point, it is necessary to replace the chain and sprockets together, although I started the job under the impression that the sprockets on the BWR hub would be reversible like on the other hub gears I’ve used. This problem was confounded by the fact that the replacement 16/13 tooth sprocket set was out of stock everywhere which didn’t have extortionate delivery rates and Chester’s only Brompton seller doesn’t stock spares, “We can order that in for you though.”

Whilst waiting for my sprocket set to arrive, I decided to try some cheap, reversible cassette-splined single speed sprockets. Whilst these were full-groove sprockets which were not designed for derailing, older hybrid gearing systems like Cyclo and Dacon encouraged me to try. Suffice to say, 16-to-13 shifts do not work with the Brompton’s rather basic 2-speed derailleur, but at least I have the parts needed to run the bike as a 3-speed should there be future shortages of the necessary replacement sprockets. 

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Original sprockets on the left, basic 3/32″ single speed sprockets on the right.

Whilst the 13-tooth sprocket looks like it would probably work in combination with a Brompton 16-tooth sprocket, but in the end when I received the larger Brompton ‘official’ sprocket it did not. Somehow, it seems the gap between the two sprockets seems oddly too small for the chain to stay on the smaller sprocket.

Sprockets

The sprocket incompatibility was discovered because the 13-tooth Brompton sprocket I eventually received was a three-spline type for use with most other types of hub gear. Subsequent tests also revealed that the 13-tooth sprocket contained up to 60% horse meat. I emailed the supplier (SJS) and was informed that the item was out of stock and that it “was not possible” to remove the sprocket I needed from one of the kits allowing the BWR to be run as a three-speed (which showed up in stock) and replace it at a later date. Instead I was offered a 12-tooth sprocket as a stop-gap and the 13-tooth sprocket would be forwarded on in a few weeks when the stock shortage was sorted. The 12-tooth sprocket works fine, although the gear steps are a bit uneven.

The rear brake pads also required a bit of attention. When I got the new Brompton I changed the front brake pads for Kool Stop salmon pads but left the rear ones as stock. These have since worn out, so I replaced them with a set of Kool Stop pads ordered with the Axa bottle dynamo. When these were delivered, the box turned out to be two pairs of pads and one set of shoes, which has left me with a spare set of brake shoes and pads to fit to Ms C’s Brompton, which still has the old style so\ingle pivot caliper on the back.

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The last round of replacement parts was the telescopic seat-post. This part has improved the experience of riding the Brompton, but at less than 1 year old I am quite disappointed by the significant loss of the chroming on the lower tube and the fragmenting of the plastic upper sleeve which is not available as a separate replacement part (instead it comes bundled with the lower part of the seat-post). In time I will try to patch up the original lower seat-post (stay tuned) but for now I have ordered a replacement lower part of the telescopic seat-post which should solve the issues for a while.

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The chrome layer flaking off inside the tube too.

Finally, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was working on the Brompton to do some rust-prevention on the frame, by spraying Waxoyl into the tubes of the rear frame, main frame and the stem. Waxoyl is spray which leaves a flexible waxy layer over the inside of the frame tubes when dry, designed to get rid of existing rust and prevent any further rusting. I had considered doing this when the bike was new, but at the time it was summer and rust-prevention didn’t seem such a pressing matter. Until it dries, this stuff flows inside the tubes, so it is best to spray roughly parallel tubes and keep them fairly level until the foam dries, before moving on to other tubes. I avoided spraying the seat-tube as the waxy layer left behind would likely lead to significant seat-post slippage. I’ll get around to the head-tube and fork when I have to do some work on the headset. Some of it ended up on the chain and seems to be quite good as a ‘dry’ chain lubricant.