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…

Pashley Picador Plus

Over the Easter break I was fortunate enough to be able to have a play around on a Pashley tricycle, a Picador Plus from around 1990.

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The tricycle had an Italian brand leather saddle which had a texture like suede. It was quite pleasant to ride on.

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The Picador Plus has 20 inch (451 mm) wheels, the same as the Raleigh Twenty. The rear wheels do not have brakes at all, with the front wheel having both a caliper and a drum brake to make up for it, opening up the possibility of deliberately skidding the front wheel.

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Unusually, the trike uses derailleur gears, a 5-speed freewheel controlled by a friction shifter. Having not used a friction shifter before, I found it to be a bit of a pain. It is probably more a sign of the trike’s age than a deliberate spec choice.

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The gears needed a bit of work to stop the chain being derailed onto the axle in the highest and lowest gears, but it wasn’t so bad after a bit of tinkering. When I heard about the trike I was hoping it might have one of Sturmey Archer’s tricycle hubs with the reverse gear. After riding it I feel that a reverse gear would have been a welcome addition.

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Pashley logo on the headtube

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A bit more logo on the seat tube

Unlike the Nihola Cigar trike I had ridden previously, this trike had two rear wheels rather than two front wheels. This meant that the need to slow down on the corners with the Pashley was even more pressing than on the other trike. Until I got used to that I was going around most corners on two wheels. I also found the camber of the road to present a challenge on the trike, whereas it is barely noticeable on a bicycle. Overall I’m pretty convinced that tricycles aren’t for me, but I can see the benefits they offer to some who may find riding a bicycle difficult or even impossible for various reasons.

I was pleased to see that the Picador Plus does have an impressive load hauling capacity though:

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Ride Report: Bakfiets

This is my last ride report from my trip to Practical Cycles, where I was able to try out several cargo bikes I had never ridden before. I decided to save the best for last, the Bakfiets.nl Bakfiets. This particular Bakfiets’ frame and box is also used as the basis for the Workcycles Bakfiets as seen on iamnotacyclist.

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The model I tested had the rain-cover add-on attached. Designed to keep your cargo (be that animal, vegetable or mineral) dry, the rain cover does not impair the rider’s view or negatively impact the ride.

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The seat-tube angle is very low, even by the standards of Dutch geometry. This allows the rider to fully put a foot or two down whilst stationary, which helps to balance larger loads, or loads which move themselves around. The slack seat-tube angle means that despite being able to put your feet down when stopped, it is possible to get a good amount of leg extension whilst cycling, allowing the rider to put a good amount of power down. It is nice to see this level of though devoted to frame geometry after seeing so many bikes where geometry seems to be an after-thought (I’m looking at you “hybrids.”)

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Looking through the plastic rain-cover which forms a tent over the cargo box. 5 year old me would have loved riding in there, and I would probably still be partial to doing so. Seat platforms with seatbelts are available for seating up to four children, in up to two rows of two. Alternatively, the box can be emptied of these to fit in an adult, dogs or non-live cargo.

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The Selle Royal saddle is likely aimed at novice or non-cyclists. I found it acceptable for my short test ride, but I expect experienced cyclists would replace this with a Brooks B67 or similar.

The choice of componentry is ideal for this kind of bike, it is low maintenance, durable and weather-proof:

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The Bakfiets is fitted with durable Schwalbe Marathon tyres front (406 mm, 20 inch) and rear (559 mm, 26 inch)

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Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub gears, and a Shimano roller brake. An upgrade to the much more powerful IM70s is available

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A full chain-case is provided to protect the rider from the chain, and the chain from road filth

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The front hub is a Shimano dynamo hub, and the brake is a Shimano roller, again upgradeable to the IM70

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Dynamo-powered  Basta Pilot front lamp with automatic light-sensor switch

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Battery-operated rear light attached to the rear rack, further expanding the load capacity

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Frame fitted rear-wheel O-lock and dressguard

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The steering linkages which run under the box allowing the rider to turn the front wheel with the handlebars as normal

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The bakfiets also has a very wide and sturdy kickstand which clips to the underside of the box when not in use

It took me less than a minute to get used to the altered handling caused by the  front wheel offset, mainly because the offset of fairly minimal when compared to a normal bike such as a roadster. The handlebar is attached to a very steep tube, and the front wheel is only 20 inches in diameter to accommodate the box. This results in a stet up where the front wheel is only slightly more further forward than that of a 28 inch wheeled roadster with a slack headtube angle, such as the DL-1 or a Pashley Roadster/Princess.

The bike feels a lot lighter to ride than I expected, and easier to manoeuvre through doorways and such when not being ridden. The gearing offered a suitable range of low gears for accelerating & hill climbing with loads, with a good enough range to allow you to reach a good speed. The extended wheelbase produces a very stable and enjoyable ride, which despite the notable differences in design, feels instantly familiar to me as a Yuba Mundo owner. The ability to put your feet down whilst still having adequate leg extension makes the bike ideal for carrying children, where the desire to keep the bike upright when stationary needs to be balanced with being able to effectively propel the extra mass along.

The bakfiets is an extremely versatile bike, capable of hauling loads of cargo like the longtail Yuba Mundo or Surly Big Dummy, but with the re-assurance of having that cargo visible to you whilst riding. This is especially important for carrying passengers as it means parents can keep a watchful eye on their children, or adult passengers can more easily socialise with their chauffeur than on a longtail bike. The bakfiets also opens up possibilities for animal carrying which is less feasible on other cargo bikes, such as a larger family dog. When I have the space and money, I will definitely be getting one of these.

The Chorlton Green Festival is on Saturday, and the bakfiets along with the Surly Big Dummy, Yuba Mundo, BSP Seine, Circe Helios, Nihola Cigar Trike will be there at the Practical Cycles stall for test rides, along with the Zigo Child Stroller/Trike and the Civia Loring Town Bike. See you there.

Ride Report: BSP Seine “Motherbike”

During my recent visit to Practical Cycles I was able to test ride a number of bikes including the BSP Seine bike. I will be posting ride report for the Bakfiets later this week. Previous ride reports can be found here.

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The BSP Seine is a modern-styled Dutch bike; it has the geometry and practical componentry of a classic Dutch bike but it is made of oversized aluminium tubing rather than lugged steel. It is aimed at a family audience, having two child seats in addition to a pair of small panniers.

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The smaller of the two child seats is placed up-front, with the handlebar wrapping around the seat.

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The larger child seat is placed above the rear rack, without preventing the use of smaller panniers

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The bike has a very appropriate specification; hub gears (7 speed Nexus) and roller brake in the rear

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Roller brake and dynamo hub in the front

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Smart-brand light-sensing front lamp

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Battery-operated light & motion sensing automatic rear light

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And of course a frame-fitted O-lock and skirt-guard

The bike is also equipped with a full chain-case, mudguards, a steering stabiliser and a twin-leg kickstand. When I came to ride the bike, if felt instantly familiar. The geometry and swept back handlebar gives the bike a similar ride quality to the DL-1. The low step-through meant that the front child seat did not negatively affect getting on or off the bike, and it did not diminish the ride. The handlebar was tilted a bit low for me, but this can be easily adjusted to accommodate a range of rider heights.

The roadster-like handling characteristics make the bike extremely stable, which is ideal for a bike designed to carry children. It is definitely a much better option than carrying your kids the one mile to school in a Land Rover.

Zaynan from Practical Cycles will be at the Chorlton Green Festival on Saturday the 16th of April. Amongst the cycles he will have with him will be the BSP Seine, so head down there if you fancy a closer look or a test ride.

Ride Report: Nihola Cigar Tricycle

During my recent visit to Practical Cycles I was able to test ride a number of bikes including the Nihola Cigar Trike. I will be posting ride reports for the other bikes I test rode throughout the course of this week and the next.

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The Nihola Cigar has two front wheels, much like a Bakfiets tricycle.
The specification of the bike was generally sensible, dual drum brakes up front, controlled by a single lever (bicycle polo enthusiasts take note), Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, a seven speed Shimano Nexus internal hub gear, mudguards, a partial chain guard and even a rear rack to add even more capacity. The trike also includes a parking brake, to prevent it rolling away on uneven ground
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The front wheels have unbranded drum brakes in them, although judging by the hub shells I’d guess they were Sturmey Archers.
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Shinamo Nexus 8-speed internal hub gear. 
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The frame is re-assuringly well built, with the cargo box being well-attached to the frame in numerous places.
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A frame-fitted rear wheel lock is also included to prevent the bike being ridden off whilst the rider nips into a shop.
 
The rear wheel has a V-brake which I find to be a bizarre component choice on a bike such as this, where there is less pressure to keep costs to a bare minimum. A rear roller brake would have made more sense in my opinion, although with dual drum brakes at the front, this is only a small negative.
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Inside the cargo box is a child seat, suitable for two children, complete with seatbelts. The front portion of the box is clear, allowing the passengers to see where it is they are going. The box is capacious enough to allow a decent amount of stuff to be carried in addition to children, and the rear rack adds further capacity.
This was my first “two-front-wheels” tricycle experience, and it has been a very long time since I have ridden any other tricycle, so I was expecting it to feel a bit odd for me. As a non-driving cyclist, I am unaccustomed to having to slow down to take corners. However, after a few minutes I started to get used to the differences between this and a bicycle and I enjoyed  the fact that the tricycle required no balancing on my part whatsoever, meaning that very heavy loads would be more manageable. Overall it was very fun to ride after I’d gotten over the first few hair-raising corners
There were a few downsides to the tricycle, its size means it would require a garage or similar for storage, being wider than the average doorway. A reverse gear would also be a welcome addition for low-speed manoeuvring. Bicycle tyres are parabolic in profile because of the way a bicycle turns. Because trikes are less common, they tend to use bicycle tyres which will wear out more quickly due to the inability to lean in on corners. Square-profile tyres (as seen on cars) would be a good innovation for most tricycles, but in the meantime the super hard-wearing Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are a good choice in the specification of this trike. I imagine that not trying to take the corners at full speed as I did will also improve tyre life.
I personally found the urge to lean into the corners to be difficult to overcome, but for someone who also drives and cycles or someone who doesn’t/cannot ride a bike, I can imagine the handling will feel quite normal, and this tricycle could be the right choice for them. The fact that the trike doesn’t need to be balanced or propped up when stationary will be a big bonus for those carrying children.
Zaynan from Practical Cycles will be at the Chorlton Green Festival on Saturday the 16th of April. Amongst the cycles he will have with him will be the Nihola Cigar, so head down there if you fancy a closer look or a test ride.

Ride Report: Surly Big Dummy

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During my recent visit to Practical Cycles I was able to test ride a number of bikes including the Surly Big Dummy. I will be posting ride reports for the other bikes I test rode throughout the course of this week.
The concept behind the Big Dummy is essentially the same as that of the Yuba Mundo, the wheelbase is extended to allow an extra-long rear rack to be incorporated into the frame. The Big Dummy differs however in that the rear rack is not part of the frame, instead the frame is built to use the Xtracycle platform which can be used to convert most 26 inch/700C bikes into long-tail cargo bikes.
The Big Dummy is a significant step up in price from the Yuba Mundo, but this is reflected in the componentry included, and the cromoly steel used to construct the frame. By using the Xtracycle platform, all of the Xtracycle accessories are compatible with the Big Dummy. This was a big advantage over the Yuba Mundo a few years ago, but Yuba have since caught up and offer a much larger selection of add-ons and accessories.
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Zaynan, the owner of Practical Cycles poses with the 8-speed Alfine geared Big Dummy
The standard spec complete Big Dummy comes with derailleur gearing, but Zaynan offers customisation options, the model I test rode was equipped with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear, complete with high-end trigger shifters.
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I was particularly taken with the lovely Sturmey Archer chainset (this picture sadly does not do it justice, someone else has done better). At first I thought it was the hugely expensive SA chainset recently reviewed on Road.cc, but I was please to learn that it is actually only around £36. Now all I need is a bike which it will be appropriate for.
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Sadly Yuba have stopped specifying Fat Franks for the V3 Mundo. Thankfully the Big Dummy still comes with this excellent tyre. The Xtracycle rack (unpainted tubing) fitting point can also be seen here, with the optional Wide-Loader stored away in the right Xtracycle bag, being installed in a similar manner to the main rack.
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The model I test rode was also equipped with a front B&M dynamo light powered by a Shimano Disk-brake dynamo-hub. This is effectively the same light as my DL-1’s Lumotec Retro but in a more modern-looking package.
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Using the Xtracycle platform enables Big Dummy owners to use the full range of Xtracycle accessories, including their heavy-duty kickstand
As for the ride, the bike felt instantly familiar to me. The steerer had thankfully been left at full-length and the bike had been equipped with moustache bars to give a more upright posture than the standard spec Big Dummy. The handling was almost exactly the same as the Yuba Mundo, but the rider position was more reminiscent on the Brompton M-type. For me this was perfectly pleasant, although the geometry and componentry of the Big Dummy are likely to appeal to someone who wants a cargo-bike which feels more like a cross-country mountain bike.
The Alfine hub was slightly smoother than the Nexus equivalent, the shifting was very precise and fast, even under load which is usually a problem for hub gears. The shifter was of the dual-trigger variety with one lever for shifting up and one for shifting down. This is the first time I have used this arrangement with a hub gear and I found it worked rather well. The Shimano disk brakes were as good as any of the cable-actuated discs I have used elsewhere and are an appropriate choice for a bike designed for load carrying and reasonable speed.
My impressions of the Big Dummy were favourable, but is it worth double the cost over the Yuba Mundo? If you are likely to spend a lot on upgrading the Yuba Mundo, the Dig Dummy may become more competitive price-wise. The frame is of a higher build-quality and higher-grade steel, but its load rating is lower. The standard rear dropouts (as opposed to the odd 14 mm dropouts on the Mundo) are more conducive to installing hub-gears, making any future hub-gear upgrades easier for Big Dummy owners than Yuba Mundo owners.
The upgraded specifications of the V3 Yuba Mundo do reduce the competitiveness of the Big Dummy in my opinion, although these have also increased the price. Personally, I enjoy the process of tinkering with, and upgrading my bikes. However, I understand that many people do not feel the same way. If you want the best componentry on your long-tail without the need to do a lot of upgrading, the Big Dummy could be for you.
Zaynan from Practical Cycles will be at the Chorlton Green Festival on Saturday the 16th of April. Amongst the cycles he will have with him will be the Surly Big Dummy, so if you want to have a closer look or a test ride, head down there.