Critical Mass

After the symposium, I attended Critical Mass.  The organisation (such as it is) seemed to fall apart a bit, with the regular core massers being absent (possibly related to the Labour party conference).

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I took the Twenty and the Yuba as I was meeting a friend in town before the ride, and he was without bike.  I also took a cooler full of ice and Desperados for afterwards.

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The ride in was surprisingly pleasant.  Once at the library starting point I took in a lot of the bikes and started chatting to some random guy who had seen me on the Yuba before.

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I was most impressed with this, a Raleigh Twenty with the 26 inch Raleigh fork and wheel placed up front.  Also, it has a pretty funky paint job.

Apparently the October Critical Mass is supposed to be one of the biggest, and I intend to be there.

Meta-Bike

I delivered a birthday present to a good friend yesterday using the Yuba, and I was accompanied by another dear friend in her Raleigh Twenty.  The birthday-like nature of the event led us to going out to the pub for a few drinks, and the Yuba and Twenty were left behind at the end of the night.  Today I used my Twenty to go to work on, and went over to pick up the other two bikes.  the logical outcome was the Meta-Bike:

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It wasn’t as hard to ride as I expected.
UPDATE: The blue Raleigh Twenty pictured is called Beatrix, now featuring in the new blog Beatrix and Me.

September to September; 5,350 km

That’s about 3,325 miles for those of you in the USA, Burma or Liberia.  It is also on a par with LC from Naturally Cycling Manchester.  Last year I did 3,200 km and I am pleased that I have improved upon that this year.  I measure September to September because I got my first odometer in September 2008.  I like having an odometer, it is nice to know how far you have travelled, as it allows you to work out how much further there is to go.  Knowing your speed is a good motivator, it encourages you to keep up a pace and to work out how fast to go to arrive at your destination on time.  It is also a motivator, pushing you to try and go faster than last time when you’re riding down that epic hill (I got the Tourist up to 53.5 km.h-1 which is pitiful compared to a racer, but a racer it is not).  I use a Cat Eye Micro Wireless, not because I hate wires but because it has a settable odometer, meaning you don’t lose your data after a dead battery. 

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It also has the option for being used with two sets of wheels, or in my case two bikes, the Yuba and the Tourist (and previously the Kona and my Revolution Cuillin).  This was a big deal for me, as I like being able to combine my distances covered on each of my bikes (sadly not the Twenty though).

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I’d recommend an odometer to anyone, even if you only use it as a clock on your handlebar.

Out in Style

Last night I was out on the tiles in celebration of bank holiday Sunday.  Stop one was the Lass O’Gowrie for some proper ale (Sweeney’s, due to the only other ale being made by Greene King).  Upon leaving I noticed one of the fabled bike parking loops attached to the lamp-post outside the pub.  I have read about these on several bike sites, including the Grauniad Bike Blog, but this is the first time I have spotted one in the wild.

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Quite a nice idea, and also facilitating going to the pub by bike, always fun.  Next stop was The Font, outside of which I saw this parked up:

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The best part of this for me was not seeing a Raleigh Chopper out in the wild, but the fact that someone had chosen it as their means of transport for a night out in Manchester.  And I thought I was cool for having done the same thing with my Twenty.  Raleigh Chopper owner, I salute you.

Gazelle

Royal Dutch Gazelle is the largest bicycle manufacturer in The Netherlands.  Their bikes are generally well regarded as sturdy, well made transportation bikes, the kind of bikes which are common in the Netherlands but not so much here in the UK.  They got the “Royal” part of their name from Princess Margriet in honour of their centenary in 1992.  In addition to being a constitutional monarchy, with similar dense old cities and having a very similar climate, The Netherlands also has a very similar population density to the UK.  Sadly (for us) they have managed to deal with the issues of transport in a much better way than we have. I have seen a few Gazelles around on my travels:

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This is one of the most impressive kids’ bikes I have seen in Manchester.  Slack geometry, dynamo lights, mudguards, chain-guard, frame-fitting lock and a rear rack.  On a kids bike.  The wheels are 22 inch, which is probably a major pain to get replacement parts for, but like the Twenty next to it, it is probably fine to ride will into adult life with a longer seatpost.

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Woods valves, I’m not the only one. 

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A view from the front.

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Close up of the rear-rack, a nice sight on a bike aimed at the Children’s market.

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There is even a bit of nice detail on the lugs, and a hole for the dynamo wiring .

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This is another Gazelle parked up near work.  Sturmey drum brakes in addition to mudguards, chain-case, dynamo lights, rear rack, frame fitting lock  and a skirt-guard.  All practical accessories for a transport bike, sadly rarely seen.

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It even has Gazelle wheel nuts and a bit of detail on the fork crown.

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Another practical Gazelle bike, this one is similar to my Raleigh Tourist, with slightly steeper geometry but similar components.  The rear rack has a fold-down stand much like a Pashley Roadster

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The rear wheel is a 3 Speed Sturmey Archer affair, with a coaster brake.  Coaster brakes are quite rare in the UK but I found the Kona’s coaster brake very intuitive.

These bikes aren’t for everyone, but it are ideal for the everyday needs of a great number of people.  Considering how much attention my DL-1 gets when it is out, it seems that the bike industry is missing an opportunity here in the UK.

Alternative Route Into Manchester

I wanted to pop into the city centre today but I wasn’t in a rush.  I ended up at the Whalley Range High School, with the intention to go onto the Fallowfield Loop to Chorlton, take Seymore Grove to Old Trafford and use the Ship Canal to get into the centre.  At the school I decided instead to follow a sign indicating a Sustrans route to Manchester.  I rode down a residential street for a while with no indication to turn off and eventually ended up in Alexandra Park. 

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I saw another sign and followed it, and a series of subsequent signs around an odd and indirect route through the park which led me out onto a side street parallel to Princess Road (not the most bike friendly road around).  There was another sign which led me onto Moss Lane West, I followed.  This was the last sign I saw.  Eventually I ended up in Chorlton, at Seymore Grove as i had originally planned.  These signs are a good idea in theory; directing cyclists who want an alternative to the main routes to lesser-known back-street routes.  They always seem to fall apart by only being partially signed, which is even worse when you consider that the signs’ main target market are newer cyclists.

Still, I found a park I didn’t know about, and managed to add about 12 km onto the direct route.  I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story:

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Hydes Brewery on Moss Lane West.  I would recommend the brewery tour here, at the end they teach you how to pull a pint of cask ale and then leave you to it for an hour or so.

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Classically bad cycle infrastructure at Old Trafford, cycle lane ends at a pinch point caused by a traffic island.

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A lovely folding Raleigh Twenty “Stowaway,” locked by its front wheel only, due to badly-conceived bike parking facilities at The Lowry Outlet Mall.

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Next to it a Pashley Princess and another less elegant bike locked-up together.  Could this be LC and PB visiting the Lowry Mall?

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Smashed bottle in segregated cycle lane near Castlefield.  Oddly it is a Strathmore water bottle, rather than booze.

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More motorised carnage on the roads just off the A57(M).  Hope everyone is alright.

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Parked up outside the railway arches at UMIST.  Good spot to park up if getting a train at Piccadilly due to CCTV and university security staff nearby.

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Interesting single-speed Kona I have seen around town a few times.

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Another bicycle route signpost on Whitworth Street showing Piccadilly station to the left of the sign, with Piccadilly Station itself visible at the end of the street.

In the end I managed to extend the 4 km round trip into town to 23 km, partly with the help of Sustrans signposting, partly because sometimes its just nice to have a wander around on the bike.

Dynamo Lighting

Dynamo lights were once common in the UK and USA, but have since fallen out of favour as battery technology progressed and people started using bicycles for sport rather than transportation purposes.  In other countries where cycling continued to be a mainstream method of transportation, dynamos remained popular due to their reliability and the lack of need to purchase and rely on batteries.  In Manchester it is dark almost all of the time (or at least almost all of an average adult’s free time) from October to February making lighting essential if you want to stay mobile in those months.  In Germany in particular it is illegal to use bicycles without a dynamo powered lighting system (except lightweight racers).  This means most German bikes come with lights, which is a legal requirement in some other countries and would make sense in most.

I personally prefer hub dynamos to bottle dynamos because they are generally of  higher quality, are more discreet looking and it just seems to make sense to integrate the dynamo out-of-the-way into the hub.  Its a shame they don’t make rear hub dynamos anymore as having two dynamos would open up some interesting possibilities.

The German law requiring dynamo lights has created a market for high-end dynamo systems, many of which are available here.  Sadly information is patchy, making it off-putting to take the plunge.  With some advice from LC, I decided to invest in a Busch and Müller Lumotec Retro Senseo Plus dynamo headlamp, to be driven by my Sturmey-Archer X-FDD hub discussed previously.  The unwieldy name is in part due to the range of options available, bottle dynamo, hub dynamo, light-sensing auto-on/off, stand-light etc.  Mine has the stand-light, an off-switch (hub dynamo version) and the light-sensing auto-on/off features.

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The rear of the lamp has a switch, with three positions, basically off, automatic and on.

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The underside of the lamp has pins to drive a rear (0.6 W) lamp.  Modern LED lamps are available which are compatible with this arrangement.  This was not well explained in the product information I encountered, so is essentially a bonus.

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These are the pinouts on the dynamo hub.  The Shimano ones are essentially the same, save for a variation in shape.  I don’t yet know about the SON or SRAM versions.  Feel free to comment if you know anything about these hubs.

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This is the plastic plug which came with the hub, Shimano hubs come with a similar plug, older Sturmey Dynohubs use screws to make the connection much like older loudspeakers.

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The ends of the cable attached to the lamp.  The cable is essentially cheap speaker cable.  The ends are partially stripped like with new speaker cable.  All that needs doing is to remove the wire coating, twist the wires into a single fibre and feed them through the plug and fold them over into the grooves.

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Polarity is not important, as the dynamo outputs AC (making it not technically a dynamo) so just bung whichever wire in whichever side you fancy.  The reason I have posted this in such detain is that none of this information is given in either the B&M or Sturmey manuals, and so it might be useful to someone.

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The light comes on at about 8 km.h-1, but this will be lower for smaller wheeled bikes.  There might be a lower limit for wheel size in order to prevent generating too much power for average dynamo lamps.  Maybe one day I’ll put one on a Twenty and find out.  The stand-light is powered by a capacitor, so won’t be available straight away when the lamp is new.  I’m going to go for a spin tonight to test it out properly.

Living “car-free”

I have been inspired to write a post about living car free based on my interactions with friends who are car-dependent.  I don’t usually think of or refer to myself as “car-free”.  I also don’t think of or refer to myself as helicopter-free, tractor-free or snowmobile-free.  I suspect that most other people don’t either, but the car has an almost sacred position in our society, so much so that not having or using one apparently deserves a special term. 

Guide to living “car-free” in (Greater) Manchester:

1) Distance:  People who depend on cars tend to have a very distorted perspective on how far away things actually are.  I know someone who lives less that 300 m from a bus stop at which a once-every-five minutes bus runs along a main road (with bus lanes) to a final stop about 300 m from their workplace.  Because she has been dependent on the car for so long, 300 m (2 minutes walking) is perceived as too far away.

If you are thinking about reducing your dependence on a car but don’t want to take the plunge and get rid of it straight away, my advice to you is to try and go somewhere on foot first.  Some people forget just how easy and stress-free walking is.  Walk to somewhere nearby that you tend to drive to, it probably won’t take much longer and you’ll start to remember that it isn’t that far, and it isn’t that hard.

If it is still a bit too far to the nearest station for you to walk, consider getting a folding bike such as a Brompton or a folding Raleigh Twenty.

2) Cost:  If you can get past the distorted perspective of distance, the next hurdle is the cost of public transport.  Whilst it should be lower, car owners tend to inflate it by comparing the cost of public transport to the cost of fuel for their car for that journey.  It is important to avoid this trap.  The best way I can think of is to average it out over a year.  Compare one year’s use of public transport to one year’s worth of fuel, parking fees, insurance, vehicle excise duty, maintenance and the initial cost of the car (or the total cost of a car loan taken out to cover it), minus the likely return for it at the end of its life with you divided by the number of years you are likely to own the car for.  Suddenly the car is starting to look a lot more expensive.  A good way to look at this is to think of it as a percentage of your income.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 10-20% of an average person’s income.  If you don’t like your job much, think of it as time spent at work; for 15% of income that is 6 hours a week of a 40 hour week to pay for a car.

3) Convenience:  Sometimes you may need to travel late at night or early in the morning.  For me, these times tend to be parties and pub outings, where a car would be useless anyway.  People who come to parties by car tend to leave very early because they need to abstain from drinking, and they seem not to have a very good time.  If you find you need to travel regularly at all hours, a bike can be very useful.  Remember the re-discovering of walking, and learning that a mile is really not that far after-all?  Well its the same for cycling, except you will discover in a matter of weeks that 5 or 10 miles is really not that far on a bike.  I’d bet that anyone could ride 5 miles in half an hour, even on a BMX dressed in a chicken suit.  Once again perception of distance is the problem.  I’d be willing to bet that that kind of distance range covers the needs of most people, especially if used as a supplement to public transport.

A bike can in fact be more convenient than a car.  It will take you from door to door, you can avoid a lot of traffic jams by filtering along the stationary cars and areas such as canal towpaths and other non-car-worthy rights of way can be used to get around, in addition to the roads.  The pushing of special magical underpants and high-visibility clothing by the motoring lobbies may be partially designed as a barrier to the natural hop-on and go convenience of cycling.

4) Weather:  As Billy Connolly said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.”  This applies to cycles too,  there is a secret weapon cyclists can use against the rain which has long been forgotten here in the UK; mudguards.  In all but the heaviest rain the vast majority of water hitting you will be thrown at you from your tyres.  This is also the least pleasant water, containing filth from the road too.  With mudguards you can avoid a lot of the wet, with the rest of the work being done with a raincoat, or if you want to go faster for longer, some bike-specific quick-drying clothes.  You can always carry some spare clothes in a pannier if you think its going to be really rainy.  If you get the bus or the train, this isn’t much of an issue anyway.

On a snow day, most cars will be rendered useless, so its not worth owning one on the basis that it will keep you mobile in the event of snow.  During the Great Snow of 2010 I cycled everywhere, and I was a lot more sure-footed than the cars and a lot of the people.  Just lower your saddle a bit and lower the pressure in your tyres (and make sure they are not overly skinny tyres).  If you fall off its not that bad, the snow makes your fall happen in slow motion, giving you time to right yourself or a soft landing of you can’t.

On a nice day, being on the bike beats car or public transport hands-down.

5) That one thing:  Whenever I discuss the ease of not having a car with someone for this long, it is common for them to give an example of one specific thing they believe is impossible without a car.  Often it involves carrying a large object like a case of beer, or an item of furniture.  A case of beer can be carried with a standard bike pannier rack, and even more easily with a Yuba Mundo.  The Yuba Mundo can also tackle most of the furniture transportable by car.  It is also worth remembering the fairly narrow range of large objects which a car can carry before it become necessary to have the item delivered professionally, combined with the generally infrequent need to transport these items.  Even with a car, you’d probably get a wardrobe or a bed delivered instead.  At least without the car you’ll have plenty of extra cash to pay for the delivery.  Once again, it is perception which needs to be challenged.

6) Family:  This is an area where I lack personal experience, but which I have read a great deal about on blogs such as the Lazy Rider Bicycle Blog, A Most Civilized Conveyance and the community surrounding Bike Portland.  Basically the consensus seems to be that kids are fine as cargo when young, and solutions exist to transport kids on a normal bike.  When they get older there are things like the Bakfiets or on the back of a Yuba Mundo, and eventually they can match your own ability to get around on two-wheels.

Of course often overlooked in these kinds of discussions are the countless families here in the UK who rely solely on public transport.  Discounted child rates are common, in addition to schemes such as the Family Railcard.

Having addressed the main concerns people usually raise when talking about car dependency, I would like to look at some of the advantages of car freedom:

1) Richer:  Without having to pour so much of your wage into the car, you’ll be a fair amount better off.  If you cycle or walk a lot rather than heavily depending on public transport that money is going to be useful because,

2) Fitter:  You’re likely to live longer, as much as ten years longer.  A lot of car-dependents drive their cars to the gym to try and keep fit.  If you walk or cycle to get around that is money that you won’t have to spend at the gym.  The health benefits are not just physical, exercise such as walking and cycling is good for your well-being

3) Happier:  Exercise produces biochemical changes in your brain giving you a pleasant feeling which lasts for a while after exercise.  This has benefits if you are cycling or walking to work because it makes you,

4) More Productive:  Starting the day with a bit of exercise such as walking or cycling makes you more mentally alert and productive.  You might find that after walking or cycling in that work sucks a little bit less.

5) Comfortable:  When I started walking and cycling more I noticed that I started to feel a lot more comfortable in general, clothes fit me better and I found myself feeling too hot or too cold a lot less frequently.  I also started to be less-frequently ill with coughs and colds.

6) Not Drinking Too Much:  OK, the theme starts to fall apart here a bit.  Now that I cycle and walk most places, I get enough exercise so that I don’t have to worry so much about drinking and eating too much.

7) Not part of the problem:  By choosing a car-free lifestyle you are setting an example to others that there is another way by not contributing to the wide ranging environmental, political and social problems associated with mass-car ownership, both locally and globally.

Saddles

There is  much that is counter-intuitive about cycling.  Cyclists have a much lower maximum speed than other road users, but in a place like Manchester can easily match or beat the journey times of those travelling in a car (or bus).  Riding on the pavement or in the gutter away from the other traffic makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence than riding with the traffic (although proper infrastructure would be even better).  Riding with a helmet makes you more likely to become a victim of motorist negligence, and increases the risk of neck-injury if that happens, without providing any useful safety increase overall.  Finally a soft saddle will make your arse sore a lot more than a firm one.

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This enormous squishy saddle came with my Yuba Mundo.  It is made by Selle Royal and conforms to what most people would consider a “comfortable” saddle.  It is currently living on the Twenty as I only use it for short rides and the cushy saddle is useful for the Twenty’s other use; loaning to friends, specifically those who cycle very little.

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This is a Specialized Indie XC saddle, part of the Body Geometry range.  I use this type of saddle on my Yuba Mundo and formerly on the Kona Africa Bike and Revolution Cuillin Sport.  It is much less soft and squishy, with just a bit of padding and a cut out in the middle.  This type of saddle is mainly ideal for bikes with a “lean-forward” riding posture such as mountain bikes, although if angled oddly can be quite nice for an upright bicycle too.

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This is a Brooks B66 leather saddle, as used on my Raleigh DL-1.  It has no padding, only the slight give of the leather, which is slowly moulding to the shape of my derriere with use.  Even when it was rock hard it was quite comfortable.

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Finally this is a Real MAN ® Saddle, made from solid Canadian granite.  One day I hope to be man enough to ride one of these.

The science bit:

The soft saddle is comfortable for short rides because the sit bones are supported by the compressed gel in the saddle.  Newer riders often prefer these saddles because it takes time to develop the muscles needed to support a part of your weight with your feet and hands whilst riding.  It is uncomfortable on long rides because the gel is compressed by your sit bones (which are ok to bear a load).  The displaced gel which isn’t underneath your sit bones starts to put pressure on various junk-regions and other soft tissues, restricting blood flow and resulting in pain after riding. This tends to apply to those seat covers available in bike shops too, the best option is just to toughen up by riding.  These soft saddles also often have a very wide nose which leads to chaffing of the inner thigh on a longer ride (it will destroy trousers in the longer term too).

It is possible to retain some padding without sending your fun-zone into hibernation with a saddle such as the Specialised Body Geometry ones.  These have a cut out in the centre which stops the displaced gel or padding from putting pressure where it isn’t wanted.  In my experience this type of saddle works best on a bike with a forward-leaning posture, such as a racing or mountain bike, due to the increased use of the arms to support your weight meaning that you put less of it on the saddle.  There are also stretched leather saddles with similar dimensions for use with this riding posture.

The Brooks has the least padding of the saddles (except the Real MAN saddle) but it has a huge following of people who find them the most comfortable saddle around.  I am becoming one of them as my B66 breaks in more.  The lack of padding means that your sit bones make contact but nothing puts pressure on the rest of you.  The leather means that it becomes personalised over time, which is the same reason why I have always preferred shoes and boots to trainers.  The B66 is wide at the back to support an upright and feet-forwards riding posture, but leather saddles are available for all shapes of bike.  The width of the saddle tapers off quickly at the nose, to avoid the problems with the nose of the Selle Royal saddle (oddly Selle Royal also own Brooks).  As a rule of thumb, get a wider saddle if you ride an upright and go narrower if you ride in a more forward-leaning position.  These saddles are great if you want your saddle to get better and more personal with age and use

Raleigh Tourist DL-1

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This is a Rod-brake roadster, a Raleigh DL-1 Tourist from 1950.  For a long time Raleigh made three popular utilitarian three-speed bikes,  the Sports, the Superbe and the Tourist (or DL-1).  The differences between these were mainly in the bundled accessories, with the Sports (and possibly the Superbe) having a slightly steeper seat and headtube angle, than the Tourist.  Some contradictory information exists on this matter with pictures of Superbes with the same apparent frame geometry as the Tourist existing.  These were serious transportation, used by ordinary people for their basic transport needs in a manner we seem to have forgotten in the UK.  These machines were built to last, with durability placed above the more modern obsession with reducing weight above all else.  The Tourist (Dl-1) had a slack seat-tube angle now commonly associated with bikes from The Netherlands (although the Sports was still quite slack by modern standards) in addition to features designed to make the bike ideal for everyday transport; mudguards, a full chainguard, a rear rack, hub gears a Brooks leather saddle and in some cases dynamo lights and drum brakes (in place of rod brakes).  There are plenty of these bikes around 50 or 60 years later, they were designed to last forever with only the minimum of care, but sadly when the bicycle fell out of favour here as a means of personal transportation, their production was wound down and stopped in the mid-1980s.  The remaining ones are highly sought-after, often fetching high prices on eBay when in good condition.  Those which are not are still purchased and either restored for actual use or to become museum pieces, rarely ridden if at all.  Similar bikes are still made and sold in other countries where bikes are more commonly used in a more utilitarian manner than in the UK.  I learned a lot about these bikes whilst restoring the Raleigh Twenty and I spent a while reading up on the various bike forums, and on the Lovely Bicycle! blog and found out that a company in India makes DL-1 copies, possibly using the original equipment, although information regarding the quality of these bikes was contradictory, and it seemed like it would be a better idea to get an old DL-1 second hand rather than go down this route if you wanted some DL-1 goodness.  I was surprised to find this.  When Raleigh was broken up, and production moved out of Nottingham, Raleigh’s Danish arm kept producing bikes which had appeal in the Danish and Dutch markets, with one of their models being essentially a DL-1, called the “Tourist De Luxe.”  The most appealing part of this to me is that they have kept the bike essentially the same, but made subtle upgrades to the components to bring it up-to-date:

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Front and rear drum brakes, either rod or cable operated (at least until last year) and a modern successor to the Sturmey Archer AW 3 speed hub, the XRD3. 

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Square taper sealed-cartridge  bottom bracket and matching cranks (no more cotters and 26 tpi issues)

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Rat-trap pannier rack with briefcase clip.

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Brooks B66 saddle with clips for a traditional saddle-bag

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28-inch (ERTO 635) wheels.  The tread is the same as on the Raleigh Record tyres which came with the Twenty.

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Woods valve (yes, they still exist), can be pumped up with a presta-specific pump (not one of those dual schraeder/presta ones though)

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Curious Raleigh Nottingham logo, no longer used for Raleigh bikes made in the Taiwan (I think) due to EU legislation.  New Raleigh bikes just say “Raleigh Bikes” on the logo.

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Rod brake mechanism.

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White tail of rear mudguard.  Note another Nottingham logo.  There is another on the headtube obscured by the rods.

Not a great deal of the English-speaking interwebs seems to have much information or awareness of this bike, but I was lucky enough to see one on eBay, possibly a Nottingham-built prototype from what remains of the former Raleigh site.  I am currently testing it out and if I like it I will sell off the Kona Africa Bike to make room for this stately and very gentlemanly conveyance.