Make it easier for people

This morning in Belgrave, Leicester I saw someone bouncing along on a full suspension mountain bike and it reminded of a thought from the other night when I was riding along an unlit road.

Why does the Bike industry sell so many unsuitable bikes in the UK? I guess the industry would rather I worded it “Why do people want to buy such unsuitable bikes?”

A full suspension mountain bike is a hopeless bike for Belgrave, for a city environment. You see so many of them and almost without exception they are being ridden slowly because they are so heavy and inefficient. They almost never have lights, they offer nothing to keep the rider clean and dry, they have nowhere to carry anything. Their only “virtue” is that they are sold cheaply by supermarkets and discount retailers. No wonder so many people think bikes are unreliable, slow and tiring to ride.

My thoughts the other evening were not about mountain bikes but about the advantages of hub gears, well more accurately about the advantage of having only one gear control. When you ride in the dark it is so much easier to have one gear control. There are very few gear controls that tell you by touch which gear you are in (bar end levers are the only ones I use that do this). That does not matter when you use hub gears as you simply change up or down until you can’t change gear any further. However, when you use derailleur gears with front and rear changers it is suddenly more complicated and the relationship between the two gear controls matters.

So derailleur gears are more complicated for everyone in the dark, yes skilled riders will know what gear they are in without being able to see but that is not true for most people. In fact I see many people on cheap bikes who never use the front changer, with cheap bikes it is so stiff that they don’t believe it works,  so clunky that when it does they think they have broken something and so often not properly adjusted so they scrape against the chain the whole time. These riders would be so much better off with hub gears, they can change gear when stopped or when moving. There is only one gear lever to worry about, there are no gears you are “not supposed” to use (due to extreme chain mis-alignment).

If the marketers think people want mountain bikes then at least sell them with hub gears so that they are easier to use, then they might actually get used more. If they also provided lights, mudguards and high volume road tyres then they would double their safety, speed and utility.

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  1. I work at where we work with underprivileged groups of people and people from difficult backgrounds and circumstances to help get them mobile on bikes. They come to us (through referrals) to work on and take away bikes that have been donated to us by the public. We have a rack with a variety of bikes for people to choose from when they come into the workshop and it always amazes me that people often pick out the most complicated full suspension bells and whistles ones over the less fuss, easy to maintain and generally more reliable ones. I always try to encourage them to go for the simplest ones possible, partly as we encourage them to come back and use the facilities if they need to repair them (which involves a heavier workload for us if they come back a lot), and partly to give them less hassle riding them. Also full suspension bikes are apparently more desirable to thieves.

    As for hub gears being simple, it’s not always true. We have a Pashley trike at the workshop with a Sturmey 5 speed that actually uses two shifters in combination to get the whole range of 5 gears. It is a bit of an exception to the rule and an older bike / hub though and generally I’d totally agree that hub gears are great with the one shifter for no-nonsense riding and low maintenance.

    Having been to try out the Bakfiets a few weeks ago and also ending up trying out a couple of other Dutch bikes I’m now finding it strange that we don’t have bikes so often sold in this country readily set up to be so practical with the centre stands, mudguards and comfortable geometry. I think until you experience using one and how easy it makes everything you don’t appreciate the awkwardness of a lot of bikes we ride over here.

    Having said that I live in a relatively hilly city and still insist on riding fixed gear sometimes. Only because I enjoy it though.

  2. Due to back problems I shifted to recumbent bikes 4 years ago, after having ridden bikes always and everywhere since I was 6 (yeah, guilty: I am dutch, living in Holland).
    I had to get used to derailleurs, none of my dutch bikes had them. One gear sometimes, hub gears most often (3 is enough in hilly Amsterdam). Bikes are like shoes here: everybody has them, and only a few have a fetish on them.
    Like maintenance: used to mean fixing a flat tire then. Now I am very, very attached to my recumbent and I actually grease the chain every 500 km (= once a month).
    I don’t miss the carrying capacity of my dutch bikes: Also on my recumbent I have the same bike bags as on my regular (dutch) bike. I can carry the groceries for the family for the week (the panniers where called “world travellers” 🙂 ).
    BTW: I am 42, single mom, and work 20 km from home and bike home in my work clothes…..

    • Thanks Marjory,

      I hope that we can build an infrastructure in the UK that will allow many people to follow your inspiring example.

      I too switched to recumbents for comfort a few years ago. My problems were mainly shoulders and an area unique to men :-). Over time I found my problems had been caused unfitness and a poor fitting bike. However I have many friends that have found recumbents a brilliant solution for their needs and still love our Trice recumbent trikes.

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