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.

Axa HR Traction bottle dynamo

The last holdout bike in the household has finally ditched battery lights. After giving her Brompton a dynamo wheel by selflessly buying myself a new Brompton, I had been promising Ms C. that I would sort out her Kona Africa bike with dynamo lights. Due to various upgrades I had managed to end up with a spare B&M Lumotec Retro front lamp and a spare Brompton Spanninga rear light. All I was waiting for was the next time I needed to order something from Rose Bikes and I could add on one of their cheap Axa HR Traction bottle dynamos. Thanks to worn out stock Brompton brake pads, that time finally came.

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This is the same dynamo which used to be specified by Brompton (the left mounting version) before the Shimano dynamo hubs became available. Rose sell them for £14-15, depending on exchange rate, which is probably quite galling for anyone who bought them as a Brompton part. Thankfully, the parts needed to run this dynamo on the Brompton rear wheel (a special stay and a mudguard with a cut-out) are still available as spares, making this particular dynamo probably the cheapest (and fully supported) route to dynamo lighting on a Brompton.

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The bottom of the dynamo has two pairs of remarkably simple wire connectors, simply insert stripped wire into plastic housing and push it into the dynamo body. The arrangement allows front and rear lights to be connected to the dynamo independently of each other, rather than requiring the rear light be connected through the front as is the case with most hub dynamo set-ups. In the end I ran the rear light from the connectors on the Lumotec Retro so that it would be less work if the Kona Africa Bike ended up with a hub dynamo.

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Axa also make a dynamo mounting bracket which screws onto cantilever/linear pull brake bosses (front left/rear right only – requires left mounting version of dynamo). A simple design which works well, although the screw shown connecting bracket and dynamo was not included.

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Since the Africa Bike was kitted out with a front rack in 2011, the front lamp could not be mounted on the fork crown or using the headset bracket. Instead I used the cork-lined p-clip supplied with the front rack to fix the lamp in place on the right hand supporting leg, Japanese style.

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Not exactly elegant, but it does the job.

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Similarly, the rear light attachment was a bit of a bodge. Since the rear rack in integral to the Africa Bike’s frame and lacks a rear light mounting plate, I drilled four holes into a roughly 100 mm section of trunking lid I had knocking about. Two of these were for the fixing bolts on the light, the other two were to create a slot for the jubilee clip used to attach the creation to the rear rack. Not pretty but it does the job.

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I took the bike out for a spin with the dynamo on to make sure I had set it up without too much pressure causing excessive drag. Thankfully it was spot-on; other than the whirr of the roller it was barely noticeable. For a bike such as this which is used as practical transportation rather than high speed, high effort riding, this set-up works really well.

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.

Helmets on Heads

I found a new campaign via Twitter; Helmets on Heads. It is run by helmet and bicycle manufacturer Schwinn and an organisation called Think First (think a US Headway) which advertises itself as the US’s “National Injury Prevention Foundation.”

“The ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation’s award-winning, evidence-based programs are aimed at helping people learn to reduce their risk for injury.”

Despite this quote from the Think First website, this particular campaign aims to promote greater helmet use. From the campaign’s “The Facts” page:

  1. In 2009, there were an estimated 418,700 emergency room visits and nearly 28,000 inpatient hospital stays for bicycle-related injuries.
  2. Over the past several years, roughly 1 in 10 bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets.
  3. Nearly 70% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries.
  4. Bicycle helmets have been estimated to reduce the risk for head injuries by 85%.
  5. Despite these facts, only 20-25% of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets.

Fact number one doesn’t really tell the reader much because it is not put into any kind of context. 418,700 sounds like a lot, but it would be nice to see how this number compares to the number of pedestrian-related injuries or trouser-related injuries.

Fact three sounds believable enough and although this statistic has little to do with cycle helmets, the context is is placed in cleverly makes it appear to support the argument for greater use of cycle helmets.

Fact four seems oddly familiar, but it is at odds with more rigorous meta analyses such as Rune Elvik’s efficacy review, which places the benefit of helmet wearing around ‘net zero,’ with earlier similar studies placing the benefit of helmet wearing around the ‘negligible’ mark. This appears to be the only fact on the list which is outright dishonest.

Facts two and five are best taken together; the 20-25% of US cyclists who wear cycle helmets appear to account for 90% of the cycling fatalities in the USA.

This list is one of the most interesting uses of facts I have seen in a long time. Other than fact four, which is outright bogus, the other facts presented seem likely to be sound. However, these facts are not used to make an argument in the conventional sense (Ie: by supporting a claim) they appear instead to be used as window-dressing; largely unrelated to the cause but when taken at face value and presented in the right way, they appear to support it. Let’s take another look at that window-dressing, but with a different slant:

  1. In 2009, there were an estimated 418,700 emergency room visits and nearly 28,000 inpatient hospital stays for bicycle-related injuries.
  2. Over the past several years, roughly 9 out of 10 bicyclists killed were wearing helmets.
  3. Nearly 70% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries.
  4. On average, bicycle helmets have been estimated to provide no overall benefit to their wearers in the event of a crash.
  5. Despite these facts, 20-25% of bicyclists still wear bicycle helmets.

Ok, so I changed fact four because of the bogus nature of the original #4. More or less the same list of facts now look like an argument against cycle helmets and I didn’t even have to lie.

The campaign also provides support materials for teachers:

Q. What is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself when riding a bike?
A. Wear a helmet! The impact of a crash is absorbed by the helmet, rather than your head and brain. Talk about the brain, how easily it can become injured, and how recovering from a brain injury can be difficult or impossible, depending on the extent of the injury. Protecting your brain is important!

I agree entirely that protecting one’s brain is indeed important. This is why, especially when forced to share space with motorised traffic, I would suggest that the most important thing to do to protect yourself when riding a bike would be to ensure your bike (especially the brakes) is in a good state of repair and that you are aware of the hazards in your surroundings so that you can take appropriate action. However, it looks like I was wrong, all that is needed is to slap on one of Schwinn’s fine cycle helmets and all will be well.

Electrified Brompton Luggage

Although expensive, I’m a big fan of the Brompton luggage system. Much like the fold of the bike itself, it is simple, elegant and involves the only the minimum amount of fannying about. It is this functional design which inspired me to finally revisit one of my old projects; USB charging using a bicycle dynamo. Whilst my previous attempt was rather crude (both electrically and aesthetically) the Brompton luggage system presented the opportunity to do this idea right.

You will need:

  • A Brompton (or other bike which uses the Brompton luggage system, such as the Circe Helios) with luggage block and either an A, C/T or S bag luggage frame (plus bag) made after Brompton switched from their older all steel frame design to their current tubes and black plastic one.
  • Switched* dynamo lights (and a dynamo)
  • At least six M3 x 5 mm (approx) cheese head screws (flat tops)
  • At least eight M3 washers
  • At least two M3 nuts
  • At least eight small (red insulation) 3 mm ring crimps
  • Some double (bell) wire, or two strands to twist together (1.5 m approx)
  • A 2.5 and 3 mm drill bit (and a drill)
  • A set of pliers
  • A flat head screwdriver of suitable size for the M3 screws
  • A few square cm of thin (approx 0.5 mm) sheet metal (a bit if old drinks can might do in a pinch)
  • It would also be advantageous to have a set of M3 taps, although a screw can be used for tapping if you do not have taps.

If you don’t have any of these parts, consider ordering them from Farnell (for reasons which will become apparent later).

The first task is to drill two holes on the top of the luggage block using the 2.5 mm bit as shown in the picture and then tap the holes (this can be done, with sufficient patience using one of the M3 screws if you do not have taps). Fit ring crimps (remove the insulation and crush the crimp closed with the wire inside the crimp using pliers) to a length of wire long enough to reach from these holes to the connector on the dynamo and connect the crimped ends to the luggage block with a screw and washer each. Connect the other end to the dynamo connector in parallel with your existing (switchable) dynamo lights. If you want the wiring to look tidy, fit a couple of P clips on the luggage block to route the wire.

Next comes the luggage frame. Drill two holes on the plastic part of the frame just above the cut out for the luggage block, as shown in the picture below and tap these holes as before. Make a pair of connectors from the sheet metal as shown below and drill them with the 3 mm bit. Fit these connectors to the luggage frame using a screw and a washer each in the holes tapped in the frame. The top of the luggage block does not usually make contact with the top of the cut-out on the frame, so your contacts will need to protrude downwards enough to make good contact with each of the screws on the top of the luggage block.

Congratulations, you now have a set of terminals supplying ~6V AC on your Brompton luggage. What you do with it is only limited by your imagination.

I decided to build a new USB charging circuit, based on this post. The post contains a list of all the parts you will need to build the circuit neatly on a bit of strip-board (veroboard) from the Farnell catalogue. I added a PCB USB socket from Maplin so that the 5V DC produced by could be used to charge a range of devices such as smartphones, MP3 players or GPS devices and a simple plastic enclosure to keep it all together. I drilled a pair of 3 mm holes for two screws to be used as electrical connectors and linked these connectors to those on the luggage frame using a ~400 mm section of paired wire with 3 mm ring crimps on each end. When using the referenced post, if you buy different but equivalent parts, be aware that capacitors 1 and 3 are polarised type and capacitor 2 is a non-polarised type.

The circuit on the strip-board (the layout may appear confusing due to an earlier mistake).

I added a switch to the enclosure so that the circuit can be switched off when the lights are in use. The strip-board and components can just about be stuffed into the remaining space in the enclosure, which has had a hole cut in it to allow access to the USB port. In the mark II I will probably think more carefully about the arrangement of parts and the inputs within the enclosure before I start drilling. The wire linking the assembled enclosure to the luggage frame is routed through a hole which had started to develop without any assistance from me in the bottom of the C bag’s left pocket.

The circuit charges my Android smartphone when the front wheel is spun by hand and I will update this post after I take it for an extended test ride in the near future. When running the charging circuit, simply turn off your dynamo lights. When using your dynamo lights, be sure to turn off the charging circuit. Happy charging.

* If you add additional switches, non-switched lights and a bottle dynamo could be used in place of a hub dynamo.

Brompton for beginners?

It has been nearly a year and a half since I acquired my Brompton M3L. Occasionally I find myself wondering how much easier certain times in my life would have been if instead I had bought the bike years ago. I’d certainly have been able to avoid a lot of the expensive trial and error involved in my early bicycle-purchasing experiences. Because of this, I thought it might be a good idea to lay out the reasons why new cyclists might want to consider buying a Brompton.

The Obvious

As much as everyone always bangs on about it, the fold is exceptional. However, rather than focusing on the mechanism, consider the benefits it offers. A bicycle which is easily folded into a compact unit allows people such as flat-dwellers, who might otherwise struggle with storage of a bicycle, to work-around the limitations presented by their living situation. Additionally the fold allows the bicycle to be taken to places which they are not usually welcome; whilst I lived in Manchester my Brompton went with me into Umami, Sandbar, The Ducie Arms, the University of Manchester and The Cornerhouse to name just a few establishments.

You can give up

When you have just started cycling, or just returned to it after a long break, the new demands placed on your body by cycling take their toll until your body adapts. Thankfully this doesn’t take very long at all, but during this time, the Brompton at least gives you the opportunity to fold up and hop on the bus if you get tired or encounter a problem.

You can give up

Two out of every three people who take up cycling in the UK give it up. This is due to the atrocious conditions new cyclists face on the roads. If you decide that cycling on the roads as they currently are isn’t for you, the fact that Brompton bicycles tend to be easy to sell and retain their value well means that you’ll be able to recoup most of your investment quite easily. Even accessories such as Brompton bags fetch a decent price on eBay.

You will buy one eventually anyway

If you are the one in three new cyclists who does stick with cycling, you’ll probably end up buying a Brompton eventually anyway. Each meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain I go to I see more people who have acquired a Brompton. At the May AGM it was Sally Hinchcliffe and A Grim North. Eventually I’m sure Joe Dunckley will give in. Even Lovely Bicycle has fallen for the Brompton, despite some slightly lukewarm initial impressions in pre-ownership posts.

Accessories

Whilst Brompton-branded accessories don’t really come cheap, they are generally very good. My own experience with both the C-bag and T-bag has been almost universally positive, as has also been the case with the dynamo wheel (other than the part where I was paying for them). A small amount of this outlay on accessories can be clawed back by taking the bike inside with you, which allows you to avoid buying a lock, which would be expensive if you subscribe to idea that it is good practice to spend ~10% of the value of a bike on a lock.

Jack of all trades

Whilst the Brompton isn’t the perfect bicycle for all situations, it is good enough for almost all of them. Despite this, I was surprised at how fast the Brompton can be ridden and how well it copes with this. The generous luggage capacity afforded by the T-bag and a saddlebag allows the Brompton to be a good enough load-carrying bicycle for the needs of most people. If I could only own a single bicycle, it would have to be a Brompton.

So new and would-be cyclists, consider the Brompton. Whilst it may appear expensive at first, at least you can flog it easily if it doesn’t work out, and if you do take to cycling you’ll probably end up buying one down the line anyway (and I can’t imagine they’ll be any cheaper in 2019).

Manchester Cycling Strategy

The Interim Strategy for Cycling in Manchester (draft) was recently brought to my attention via the GMCC. The draft can be found here (Hat tip: Manchester FOE). The Manchester Cycling Strategy (MCS) is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding between British Cycling and Manchester City Council. The executive summary on page 4 states,  “Manchester is the home of British Cycling – cycling’s national governing body.” Whilst it is true that British Cycling is the governing body of cyclesport, the relevance of British Cycling to transport cycling is at best, dubious. Whilst British Cycling have recently started to devote some attention to cycling as transport, they are first and foremost the governing body of cyclesport and not an organisation for furthering the aims of everyday folk who want to use a bike for transport.


The biggest problems in the MCS draft are often a result of this confusing mixture of sports promotion and facilitating cycling as transport. A good example to illustrate the absurdity of this is to consider motorsport. Whilst I am sure that there are a good number of people in Greater Manchester who participate in the various disciplines of motorsports, from rallying to formula three, the groups which represent these interests rarely weigh in on transport consultations such as the LTP3. Where they do decide to comment, it is extremely unlikely that they would try to present themselves as the ‘voice of the motorist’ because clearly they aren’t – they are the voice of motorsports. Whilst these two groups are superficially similar, their interests, needs and wishes are (quite rightly) lobbied for by separate groups. 


In cycling, the distinction is less commonly made, perhaps because there are so few people who regularly use bicycles for any purpose. The problem with this is that cycling is conflated with cyclesport, giving cyclesport a louder voice than it perhaps deserves, whilst making cycling for transport less visible and less attractive to normal people who aren’t interested in getting hot and sweaty in order to go shopping or to work.


This conflation of cycle sport with cycling for transport is illustrated well on page 5 which includes a list of headline figures for investment in ‘cycling’ over the past five years:

  • Over £3.2 million on infrastructure through LTP Highways Capital Programme
  • £518,000 on child cycle training
  • £56,000 promoting bike week
  • £24 million building the National Indoor BMX area
  • Over £12,000 in small grants to community groups
  • £2.5 million on promoting and supporting club and sport cycling
  • Over £250,000 on promoting cycling through initiatives such as Sky Rid [sic]
From this list, several issues stand out to me.
  1. Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for ‘cycling?’
  2. What does the National Indoor BMX Arena, supporting club and sport cycling and to a certain extent, the Sky Ride, have to do with cycling for transport?
  3. If (1.) is in fact the case, how can £24 million for the National Indoor BMX Arena and £2.5 million on promoting club and sport cycling be justified when only £3.2 million is spent on cycle infrastructure for transport cycling, which has the highest potential for growth and thus has easily the highest potential economic, social and public heath returns.
  4. The cyclesport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of a wider report on the uptake, promotion and enabling of sports in Manchester (which in itself is an important and laudable aim)
  5. The cycling for transport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of Manchester’s wider transport strategy (and dramatically increased in their scope)
Where the report discusses strategies for increasing and improving cycling in Manchester it refers to the LTP3 plan mentioned previously. The LTP3 is worded in a way which allows for the construction of a real network of quality cycle corridors to Dutch standards, the result of which would be immense growth in transport cycling in Manchester and the enormous wider benefits that brings. Unfortunately, it is also vague enough to allow for little change from the status quo, beyond a bit of paint and some crap signage along back-streets; the sort of measures which have already been well-established to be ineffective. The strategy goes on to identify five ‘key issues’ holding back transport cycling in Manchester:
  • Addressing the demand for cycle parking
  • Making major junctions safer for cyclists
  • Working with partners to reduce cycle theft
  • Liaising with City Centre employers to improve workplace cycle parking and changing facilities
  • Improving opportunities to cross the inner ring road
Sadly, these issues are more likely ‘things which existing cyclists would like fixed’ rather than issues which hold back those who wish to cycle for transport but do not currently do so. These issues are likely to be along the lines of:
  • Fear of being killed or injured when cycling with motor traffic
  • Separated bicycle tracks on main roads
  • Junction designs put cyclists (and pedestrians) in unnecessary danger in order to prioritise private motor traffic
  • Rat-running makes riding on streets feel unsafe
All of these issues are tackled in The Netherlands road network model; busy main routes have separate tracks and motor-vehicle rat-running (and hence volume) is eliminated on streets where people live (making them attractive for cycling despite the lack of separation). Address these issues (even in the form of a barebones functional network) and cycling rates in Manchester could easily be increased to 10-15 times their current level. 

Despite the paramount importance of infrastructure in making cycling into a viable mode of transport for normal people, the only infrastructure mentioned in the MCS draft are the three cycle centres to be built in the city centre. These will only improve the experience for existing cyclists, they will provide little or no benefit for would-be cyclists. My mother doesn’t ride a bike, not because there is nowhere for her to park her bike, shower and stash her lycras in a locker. She doesn’t cycle because she (entirely understandably) feels unsafe when cycling on our roads as they currently exist. Providing facilities which would be unnecessary in a mainstream cycling culture is not the way to build a mainstream cycling culture. Where cycling for transport is mainstream, people ride in whatever clothing they need to be wearing at their destination (possibly in addition to a coat and gloves) with the idea of needing to shower and change after cycling to work being something which is utterly irrelevant in a mass cycling culture.

The MCS at least does not explicitly exclude measures which would actually allow cycling for transport to grow, but unfortunately it takes the traditional approach of ‘tinkering around the edges,’ focussing on marginal improvements for existing cyclists whilst completely ignoring the reasons why normal people would never consider cycling for transport. In addition to the desperate need for vastly increasing the scope of the measures proposed to increase cycling for transport, the inclusion of so much irrelevant material pertaining to cyclesport confuses the issues for all users of cycles. Ideally, the cyclesport content in the MCS should exist as a part of a wider ‘Sport in Manchester’ strategy in order to prevent the needs of those participating in these two largely unrelated activities being confused. The report also focusses on leisure cycling separately. It is my belief that leisure cycling does not require a huge amount of specific ‘strategy’ to grow, provided that cycles are considered during the design or renovation of parks & towpaths etc. The measures which will make cycling for transport attractive to normal people will also increase the appeal of cycling for leisure.

Light is Running Out

It’s that time of year again. When Sunday comes it will be dark a lot of the time for anyone who works a conventional 9-5 shift pattern. This will be my second winter of riding with dynamo lights, with dynamos on all of the bikes this time, although still only enough lights for two of them; the Brompton and the DL-1. This is the perfect time of year to ‘go dynamo,’ not only for the long-term savings but, as I learned myself last winter, it’s extremely liberating.
Some people hang up their bikes for winter. If you are a utility cyclist however, this is unlikely to be the case. I have ridden through every winter since I started cycling again as an adult. However, until last year I never really got any enjoyment doing it.  Having to remember to take my lights everywhere, carry them around when off the bike was a minor hassle. What really bothered me was the persistent, nagging concern that I’d be caught out by flat batteries and have to risk a ride home without lights. The battery lights I had used in the past were adequate, but never truly that bright. I knew of the much brighter options available but the price never seemed justifiable to me, for something which could so easily become useless if forgotten of accidentally uncharged.
When I bought my first dynamo lamp, a B&M Lumotec Retro N senseo plus, it was mainly because I was concerned with having a light which was in-keeping with the aesthetics of my then new-to-me DL-1. English-language information regarding dynamo lights was pretty sketchy, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get. Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the light I had purchased was actually a lot brighter than my previous battery-powered LED lights, despite being a halogen bulb. It was always there when I needed it and would even come on automatically when darkness fell. This started to change the way I felt about riding in the dark, from something to be avoided to something to relish. As that first dynamo winter drew in, I found myself riding as much as I had during summer.
Naturally, I had to get the rear light powered by the dynamo too, whilst permanently attached to the bike, the rear the battery light which came with the DL-1 was still a weak link, dependent on batteries. Once again, information was lacking. B&M produced rear lights with the same automatic light-sensor on/off control as the Retro, although it seemed that this feature was only available with the battery or battery/dynamo hybrid models. Once again I took the plunge and purchased a B&M D-Toplight Plus. The tail-light was wired into the connectors on the front lamp for this purpose; to my surprise the automatic light sensor in the front light also controlled the power supply to the rear light. When it got dark both lights would come on automatically (including when passing through a tunnel). Brilliant.
Having this kind of set-up on the DL-1 made the Yuba Mundo seem almost a hassle to ride. The Shimano dynamo hubs available in my price range were all intended for use with Centerlock disk brakes, rather than the standard 6-bold arrangement used on the Yuba Mundo. The additional cost of a new Centerlock rotor or an IS adaptor pushed the price to more than I could justify spending at the time. A post from Lovely Bicycle! gave me the answer I was looking for, a bottle dynamo. Older bottle dynamos (and modern cheap ones) have contributed to the poor regard with which dynamo systems are viewed here in the UK. However, higher-spec bottles such as the Nordlicht 2000 or the B&M Dymotec seemed to offer a reasonable trade-off between performance and price. I decided to opt for the Basil Nordlicht bottle dynamo in combination with with a B&M Lumotec Lyt plus, a reasonably priced light with a higher light output rating than the Retro. Due to budgetary constraints, an additional rear light would have to wait.
Unlike the Sturmey Archer X-FDD hub dynamo on the DL-1, the Basil Nordlicht took a bit more work to find the optimum fitting. The advantage of the Basil Nordlichtis that the rollers can be changed. Multiple variants are available including a steel roller for running on the tyre, a rubber roller for running on the rim and a larger rubber roller for running on the rim at higher speeds. The larger roller is particularly useful as it allows the dynamo to be ‘geared down.’ As bottle dynamos are typically designed to produce full power output at relatively low speeds (<10km/h) they can produce too much drag when used by faster cyclists. The larger roller compensates for this by reducing the amount of dynamo revolutions per tyre revolution, and hence the resulting drag. Initially the bottle dynamo was mounted on the fork, unfortunately the pressure it exerted on the rim caused the rotor of the disk brake to rub against the brake pads when it was engaged. Eventually I mounted the dynamo on the seat-stay and adjusted the mounting angle which produced ideal dynamo contact pressure on the rim, enough to prevent slippage but not enough to create noticeable drag.

At present the Basil Nordlicht bottle dynamo is still fitted to the Yuba Mundo, although there are no dynamo lights fitted for it to drive. This is due to my acquisition of a Brompton. After a few weeks with the Brompton, I felt that a bike such as this really needed to be all in-one, including self-sufficient lighting. It was around this time that the annual price increases for Brompton components were being rolled out. The Brompton dynamo wheel RRP was about to increase by about 15% making that then the ideal time to upgrade to the Shimano hub dynamo wheel. I had considered the fitting the Basil Nordlicht bottle to the Brompton, but the relatively good price of the wheel and my uncertainty about clearances for fitting the bottle led me to choose the hub over the bottle.

Rather than splash out on a new front light, my limited budget led me to fit the Lyt from the Yuba Mundo instead. My intention was to replace the front lamp on the Yuba Mundo at a later date, which I have still yet to do. Initially I bent the Lyt mount to fit it into the tight space between the caliper brake and the luggage block, a solution which was far from ideal. I was later able to use a Brompton Cyo mounting bracket to fit the Lyt into the limited space offered by the Brompton. I also added a Brompton rear dynamo light (made by Spanninga) to complete the set-up

The version of the Lyt I had purchased for the Yuba Mundo was the bottle dynamo version; when connected to the hub dynamo on the Brompton, both front and rear lights ran whenever the bike was in motion. Whilst not as optimal as the automatic on/off light sensor of the Retro, this set-up actually works well, due to the extraordinary operational lifespan of LEDs. It now appears that I was a little ahead of the curve in choosing this set-up; B&M’s entire 2012 range of dynamo lighting comes with the option for daylight running lights.

My experiences with dynamo lighting have not been universally positive. The standlight functions on both of the lights fitted to the Brompton failed by summer, although they were both relatively easy to fix. However, it is my ‘off-label’ riding with the Brompton which is more likely the cause of this failure than any deficiency in the lights’ designs; Bromptons are not really ideal bikes for fast riding on cobbled paths, the resulting vibrations were obviously a bit too much for the capacitors powering the standlight. Under more typical riding conditions I doubt that this problem would have occurred. For this reason I would still strongly recommend dynamo lighting to anyone, including the models of light which I have had problems with.

A great deal of dynamo lighting technology is designed by (or for) the German market. German regulations stipulate that a bicycle must be sold complete with a dynamo lighting system (except lightweight sports-bikes), including lights which conform to specific regulations for beam shape and light intensity. These regulations are more strict than elsewhere and have effectively become the de facto international standard. The misconceptions about dynamo lighting which persist in the English-speaking world means that we do not constitute a huge proportion of the market for dynamo lighting components, with equipment and information  often difficult to come by. B&M in particular make great equipment but the English-language information about them is lacking. They also suffer from the Windows Vista effect; huge numbers of variants on each light model exist with relatively subtle differences between them and confusing nomenclature. These differences are seldom well explained in product descriptions on the handful of retailers which stock them.

Because of this, to help prospective dynamo light users I have produced a B&M dynamo light nomenclature guide:

Lumotec: The front dynamo light brand name.
Toplight: The rear dynamo light brand name.
Retro, Lyt, IQ Fly, IQ Cyo etc: The model name.
Plus: Includes standlight. The light (or a portion of it) remains illuminated for a few minutes after motion stops.
Senseo: Includes automatic on/off via light sensor.
N: Includes an on/off switch, intended for use with hub dynamos.
B: Basic version, lower light output but still meeting German minimum standard.
R: Taller beam, including near-field illumination of dark patch in front of wheel.
T: Daylight running lights. In addition to the beam aimed at the road, a series of small LEDs direct light at oncoming traffic to increase cyclist visibility. During the day these lights remain lit, whilst the main beam runs at reduced power or is switched off.


B&M are of course not the only manufacturer of dynamo lights, merely the one with which I have most experience. Mr Hembrow gives high praise to the new dynamo front lamp manufactured by Philips; the Saferide (repeated elsewhere). It is my hope to test out a Saferide in the future and share my impressions here. If anyone has any questions about ‘going dynamo,’ please feel free to leave a comment and I will endeavour to help you if I can.

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.

Running and walking

I have a few friends who are enthusiastic runners. Personally I don’t see the appeal, I understand the health benefits and even the potential to feel a sense of achievement after running a certain distance or doing so faster than a rival, but it really isn’t for me.
However, what I find most peculiar about running is that it usually completely absent from transport consultations such as the Greater Manchester LTP3. There was no mention of any athletics facilities at all in the LTP3, and United Kingdom Athletics did not submit a response at all. Whilst it could be argued that running is a sports or leisure pursuit, it is in many respects similar to walking, which is considered by this kind of consultation to be (an admittedly unimportant) form of transport.
The title page from the LTP3  “Active travel” section, with a picture choice which aptly shows everything which is wrong with cycle promotion and provision in the UK.
Of course it doesn’t make sense to talk about running in the same terms as we talk about walking. Running is a popular leisure pursuit, but it is not the same as walking. Whilst some also walk for leisure or health, it is primarily considered to be a simple and effective way to get from A to B. When government talks of, “Providing for pedestrians,” they generally do not mean providing showers at work for those whose commute is a run, providing pleasant cross-country running routes or shiny new athletic facilities.
When government talks of, “Providing for cyclists,” however, they confuse cycle-sport and leisure cycling with cycling to get from A to B, an error akin to confusing runners with pedestrians. Whilst there will always be a minority of sporty cyclists who use their time travelling to work as a training ride, just as there are a few people at my place of work who use their time travelling to work as a training run, complete with performance clothing and a shower afterwards, this is not and never will be a mainstream activity. There’s nothing at all wrong with treating your ride to work as a training ride, but by confusing a minority pursuit such as this with utility cycling, which when provided for adequately, can be a mainstream mode of transport, successive governments (and some cycle campaigners) have failed to achieve any significant, meaningful gains in cycling rates. Promoting running and providing a circuitous cross-country route is not going to persuade the overwhelming majority of motorists to switch away from driving the 2 miles to work. Providing a decent walking environment and promoting walking (whilst hindering motoring) is. The same applies to cycling.
Cycle sport is probably very nearly as popular as it is going to get, and the popularity of this hobby is particularly impressive. Utility cycling by non-enthusiasts has been suppressed by years of car-centric and outright hostile street design to a level similar to that of sport-cycling, making it easy for governments and even cycling campaigns to consider cyclists as a single homogenous group. This confusion of sport cycling with the much greater potential for growth in utility cycling from A to B severely limits the potential for cycling’s growth. If we want to see any significant gains in cycling rates, we need to end this confusion of the more-nichey sport-cycling with the kind of everyday, utility cycling which can be made to appeal to the average person where the right kind of provision is made for them.