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.
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Cycling to Shibuya

As discussed in the last post, I am currently staying in Saitama, a city in the Greater Tokyo area which is approximately 25 km outside of central Tokyo. On Sunday I found myself at a bit of a loose end, the weather was crisp, clear and bright, perfect for a bit of exploration.

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Japan’s version of a ‘shared use’ facility. Because Japan doesn’t treat its pedestrians with the same level of contempt as the UK does, the concept works surprisingly well.

Not willing to pay the extortionate rate expected for mobile data roaming (and forgetting to activate even the possibility before leaving the UK) I had to rely on an offline map for navigation. Add to this the unexplained failure of my phone’s GPS since arriving in Japan and I realised that travelling through the most populous metropolitan area in the world might require some creative navigation. After wandering around for a bit, I decided that I would use the train lines as a means of navigating. Thanks to the Carradice bag packed in my T-bag, I knew that I could easily pack the Brompton up and hop on the (quite easy to use) rail network should the need arise.

After heading towards central Tokyo for a while, I realised that if I followed the forking points of the train tracks correctly I could make it to Shibuya, a place I’ve wanted to see since sinking many an hour into Jet Set Radio many years ago.

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The Greater Tokyo area is remarkably permeable. Whilst there are some one-way restrictions for motor vehicles which do not apply to cyclists and pedestrians, this high level of permeability applies to motor vehicles almost as much as cycle and foot traffic. In order to make my journey I merely needed to have a rough idea of which direction I needed to travel in and the roads and streets always managed to allow me a way through. Despite this permeability, I was not bothered by a particularly notable volume of motor traffic on residential streets. Navigating through the crowds of pedestrians and other cyclists was the main obstacle I encountered and was one I was happy to work around.

This lack of rat-running is likely in part due to the fact that it just doesn’t seem to be acceptable here to haphazardly discard your car on whatever piece of public land you fancy at the other end of your journey. Cars here are stored when not in use, not carelessly abandoned. The result is that people seem to make fewer frivolous car trips (and seem to own fewer frivolous cars) with the bicycle picking up the slack instead. Residential streets are places rather than just routes, and these places are perfectly inviting for cycling and walking.

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Fancy a hot can of (surprisingly good) coffee whilst wandering, slightly lost, through a Shenmue-esque neighbourhood? No problem (I recommend the Rainbow Blend).

In addition to the extensive network of pleasant, permeable residential streets there are plenty of big, multi-lane car-centric roads running throughout Greater Tokyo. Thankfully these roads are made relatively pleasant thanks to two measures; shared use facilities and smoothing traffic flow.

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Cultural differences abound in Japan; here this sign is not an iron-clad guarantee you’ll have a bad cycling or walking experience.

Shared use facilities in Japan, whilst not a perfect solution, work unexpectedly well on the major routes. This is largely due to the fact that pedestrians are not treated with the same level of contempt in Japan that they are in the UK, so when cyclists and pedestrians are lumped together the experience is still positive. Presumably as a result of the ubiquitousness of shared use in Japan, there is not a great deal of conflict between the two types of user; pedestrians expect the encounter cyclists and cyclists expect to have to slow down or stop for pedestrians where volumes of foot traffic are higher.

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An elderly lady rides a typical Japanese city bike along one a shared use pavement. I’m not sure how she would feel about doing the same in London.

Don’t like it? Want to go faster? Get on the road. Cycling on main roads in Japan is also surprisingly pleasant thanks to measures which smooth the flow of traffic; all types of traffic. Next to the shared use sign in the above picture is a ’40’ sign, indicating a speed limit of 40 km/h or 25mph on what is effectively an urban dual carriageway. This speed limit, enforced by frequent stops for motor traffic at practically every set of traffic lights results in a consistent, smooth flow of motor, bicycle and foot traffic rather than the frequent short bursts of dangerous speed from motorists enabled by the complete subjugation of cyclists and pedestrians which we have in the UK.

The shared use facilities have priority over minor side roads which is enforced by a combination of fairly tight turning geometry and a general tendency amongst motorists to act as if they are in charge of machines which could easily kill or maim people if operated without due care and attention. At major intersections, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get a green phase in the same direction at the same time. Motorists are permitted to turn left but must defer to bicycle and foot traffic heading straight ahead. Again this works surprisingly well thanks to a technique which Japanese motorists have developed known as ‘paying attention.’

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The very big roads have separate little roads running alongside them which are used for cycling, walking and as residents’ access. The structure above the road in this shot is a motorway which has high noise-abating walls.

Through a combination of these different types of road, I followed the train line a rather circuitous, approximately 50 km route to Shibuya. I saw plenty of little slices of life in Japan; a mother cycling to the shops with her child and his grandfather not far behind, children cycling unaccompanied along city streets and shopping malls so inundated that you have to pay for bicycle parking.

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Whilst it doesn’t hold up to The Netherlands example, Tokyo shows what can be achieved when government policy at least doesn’t actively suppress cycling.

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This was the one point I thought I may have to turn back; I had cycled down a residential street to an ornamental garden next to a river. I carried the Brompton down the steps and found that there was a path leading to a footbridge over the river leading me back to the train tracks I was using to navigate.

Eventually I made it to Shibuya. By this point my arms were really aching; unlike making a similar journey in the UK, I didn’t need to stop all that often. It turns out that my body has grown accustomed to the frequent stops I must make as a cyclist in the UK riding on a road network designed solely around motor traffic.

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A street in Shinjuku, pedestrianised during shopping hours. Nearby here is where I saw the only HGV I have seen in Japan. It was being used as a mobile stage to promote an album launch. Major freight movements seem to be by rail.

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A scramble crossing outside Shibuya station. By the time I got to Shibuya, after a short wander around, I was so tired I decided to head back to Saitama. Sometimes it is all about the journey.

Cycling alone and through the one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, I was unfamiliar with the language and the specifics of the law and yet I still felt safer than I ever do cycling on the roads back in the UK. The UK really has an awful long way to go.

Brompton by air

I decided to try another type of multi-mode travel with the Brompton; bicycle and aeroplane. My existing suitcase is not wide enough to accommodate the Brompton, so after a bit of research on Seven League Boots I decided to opt for the Carradice Folding Bike Case.

Unlike their  excellent saddlebags, the Carradice Folding Bike Case (more of a bag than a case, really) is made from Cordura-type polyester material rather than cotton duck. Whilst I am a fan of cotton duck, the extra weight it would require would not be desirable when using this bag for air travel. However, considering the material used, I feel that this bag is a bit over-priced.

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The bag came with no padding, but thankfully it does adhere to gaffer tape quite well, making these stiff foam pieces ideal for protecting the rollers/rack in transit.

20121129_150241The bag is more than sufficiently large to fit any Brompton with a saddle attached, although configurations which differ significantly from stock may not fit. The Seven League Boots post suggested removing the saddle when using the bag for flying due to the risk of damage (particularly to a Brooks saddle) and storing it between the wheels of the folded Brompton. I use the telescopic seat-post, so I will turn the telescoping part of the post around to minimise the number and size of protrusions from the folded package, with the remaining protrusions covered over with bits of foam.

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Naturally I removed the clamps from the frame as these were an easy target for damage. I wrapped the clamps up in gaffer tape and stuck them to the frame in the middle of the fold.

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As recommended in the Seven League Boots post mentioned before, I taped the saddle into the relatively well protected space in the middle of the folded bike

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A D-lock can be locked through the frame to save space, with the gap in the middle of the fold useful for stashing bits like a locking cable. The frame from my T-bag is pushed down the side of the bike in the bag to offer a bit of extra protection as well as making the T-bag itself a less conspicuous, odd-looking piece of hand luggage.

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The final step in packing the bag is to place your trousers, jumpers, jackets etc into a standard suit bag and wrap it over the top and sides of the bike before zipping it up. This gives a bit more protection to the bike and also means that you don’t use up your entire luggage allowance on a bike. A toiletries bag can easily be seated on top of the folded bike underneath the suit bag.

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Add a couple of luggage straps and pack your hand luggage into the frame-less T-bag and you are ready to fly across the world. I’ve unpacked the Brompton at the other end and rather pleasingly, it has faired well. Now all I need to do is get to grips with cycling in a strange new land.

Nice Rack

Despite no-longer being mine, the Kona Africa Bike continues to be treated to upgrades and improvements, the latest of which is a Basil Memories front rack. The Africa Bike originally came with a spring-loaded folding front basket which, whilst an excellent idea in theory, ended up squeaking excessively in use. This may have been partly due to the fact that I one carried a 10 kg bag of cat litter in there, which it became immediately obvious was far too heavy for the basket. The new rack which takes its place has a weight rating of 15 kg, adding a reasonable amount of extra carrying capacity to the bike. I personally find having luggage up-front to be re-assuring because I can keep an eye on it whilst on the move. Access to luggage whilst on the move is another bonus.
The rack is not the only addition to the Africa Bike, a Brooks saddle was added a few months back, and a Carradice Pendle saddle bag is another recent addition.

The Basil Memories front rack attached to the handlebar via hooks, in much the same way as the folding basket which came with the bike. The legs are intended to fit onto the front wheel axle, which would not be a problem on a bike with thin fork tubing or a lot of rake, such as a typical roadster.

Thankfully, despite the thick fork tubing of the Africa Bike, the rack legs were easily attached to the fork via the second set of eyelets above the axle, designed for attaching a large basket or rack.

The hooks which attach the rack to the handlebar are adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of bike sizes and handlebar heights, with at least 20 cm of extra height left over for the set-up on the Africa Bike. The only thing missing now is a wicker hamper to sit on the rack

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.

Carradice Pendle Review

As I previously hinted, I have recently acquired a traditional saddlebag. I have always liked the look of the traditional saddlebags which I have seen on various bikes over the years, generally lugged steel touring bikes owned by men of a certain age.
Traditional saddlebags attach to the loops found on the back of most older saddles, modern leather saddles and the standard Brompton saddle (to name a few). I bought a Carradice Pendle with the intention of using it mainly on the DL-1, as I have long wanted some luggage which is aesthetically complementary to its looks.

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The Pendle sat on my desk at work

The bag consists of a large main compartment (big enough for a large U-lock, cable and a jacket) and two side pockets which are ideal in both size and position for things like cameras, hip flasks or snacks. The pockets and main compartments close via leather straps and buckles, which will become easier to fasten and unfasten as they age.
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The bag includes a handy loop for clipping an LED light to

The attachment system is straightforward but the back does not attach/detach quickly enough to make it worthwhile to do each time the bike is locked. Two leather straps wrap around a wooden dowel in the main compartment and through the loops, and a third strap is fed through a leather buckle on the rear of the bag and through the seat-post or rear-rack.

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Carradice also sell a quick-release system for those who do not wish to leave the bag attached to the bike. I rarely leave the DL-1 locked up in public for long periods of time, so this shouldn’t be an issue for me. As an alternative, the black strap seen on the flap for attaching a light could equally be used for threading through a cable lock if extra security is desired.

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Over the weekend I used the bag on the Brompton as I needed some extra carrying capacity. When riding the bag does not interfere with my legs and for the most part I simply forgot about it, the position of the load means it doesn’t really affect handling whilst in the saddle. On the DL-1, even when loaded the bike is easier to pick up and carry than when the equivalent load is placed in a single pannier.

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A tin of tomatoes inside the bag for scale

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Traditional-style Carradice saddlebags are handmade in Lancashire, mine was made by Christine

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The side pockets are useful for storing items you want to have quick access to on a ride, such as a camera

Traditional saddlebags are not as popular as they once were, but they are a viable alternative/addition to panniers and a definite improvement over a rucksack. I would definitely recommend.

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By fixing to any saddle with bag loops, saddlebags such as the Pendle can be used on multiple bikes when the need arises