Tandem

Last weekend I was able to spend some time getting to grips with a tandem, a completely new experience for me. This was made possible thanks to Ian of Lazy Bicycle Blog, who agreed to lend me his tandem for the weekend in exchange for a loan of my Brompton. When we were discussing the exchange, Ian said that there were some pictures of the tandem on some of his older blog posts. Whilst I did have a look for them, I didn’t look too hard, so I was slightly surprised when I got there and saw these:

A racing tandem, complete with Shimano Deore components, 24-speed dérailleur gears and drop handlebars. Not the sort of thing I usually ride. Ian rode me to the main road (presumably being amused by my relatively poor proficiency with drops) and I set off back to the city centre. It didn’t take too long before I became reasonably happy with the narrower bars, the positions of the brake levers and the bar-end shifters. As I headed down Hyde Road, I decided that I would take a detour on the Floop to avoid the traffic. Needless to say, I was initially unimpressed to encounter this:

However, my irritation was soothed slightly by the fact that the tandem weighs so little. It actually felt lighter than my DL-1 does when equipped with saddlebag and locks. I returned home and planned to try the bike out with a “Rear Admiral,” on the following day. That evening I swapped the saddles for some of the Brooks saddles on bikes I had to hand. This was partly because of personal preference, but largely so I could mount my Carradice saddlebag to cope with the lack of a rear rack.

The next day, Ms. C. and I took the tandem out for a ride together. Whilst we were initially wobbly during the process of starting and stopping, we quickly seemed to get the hang of it and managed a round trip to Chorlton, checking out the newly opened Pedal MCR on the return home. The ride experience was interesting, the bike felt quite fast with a Rear Admiral, presumably due to the increase in power without much change in aerodynamics. This experience is probably somewhat skewed though, as the racy geometry and components of the tandem encouraged me to ride faster regardless of whether I was on it alone or not. After all, the great thing about drops is that they make you go faster, but what sucks about drops is that they make you go faster. I found myself cycling faster and tiring myself out more than I usually would without any intention of doing so.

The real fun of the tandem though, came later that night when we took it over to see some friends. After a bit of persuasion, everyone wanted to give it a try. With me as captain, this seemed to go relatively smoothly. When I was not captain, the results were generally more amusing.

I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to try a tandem, it was definitely a good experience. Whilst it is not based on the type of bike I would normally ride, it was still immense fun. Now, if anyone has a tandem based on a roadster, let me know…
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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

Ten bike parts & accessories due for a comeback

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

Hub Gears

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

Drum/Roller/Coaster Brakes

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

Briefcase Clips

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

Saddlebags

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

Wool

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

Chain Cases

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

North Road Handlebars

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

Steel

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

Relaxed Geometry

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

Dynamo Lighting

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