Tag Archives: mudguards

Britain has all the wrong sorts of bikes

In my earlier post “So many beautiful road bikes but” I was commenting on the number of “proper” road bikes I saw while driving to Rothley and back. Earlier this evening I cycled towards Leicester (Harrison Road Methodist Church) on my new road bike.

Suffolk

 

This time I saw several families cycling together, probably on their way back from Watermead or Abbey Park.

Sadly, the day’s experiences reinforced my view that one of the biggest problems facing the growth of riding bikes as transport in the UK.

We are riding the wrong bikes!

Road Bikes are the Wrong Bikes

Yesterday, I was a good example of that. I rode 3.5 miles to an evening service on my new road bike. It was completely unnecessary and not at all suitable (my excuse was that I just wanted to ride my new bike). It meant I needed to change from cycling shoes with clips when I got there, it meant that when I was too warm cycling there I had nowhere to put my jacket, it was too fast a bike to feel appropriate on footways shared (legally) with pedestrians, it’s speed means that British cycling infrastructure feels too slow (tempting you towards a dual network where fast cyclists use the road and the rest use the crap provided at as little cost as possible), it meant I had to watch for debris including glass and the lower handlebars make it harder to watch for bad drivers. Oh and despite the much higher riding speed by the time you have swapped your shoes four times (each end of each ride) you have used up all the time you saved (and if I hadn’t ridden in my “work” clothes including clerical shirt it would have taken even longer).

The more people we see on fast road bikes the harder it is to campaign for a safe, convenient segregated infrastructure. The addition to speed that makes car drivers so dangerous also infects cyclists. So we read of commuter cyclists who thrive on adrenaline and who use their commutes for race training. We see the barely disguised race bikes sold as being ideal for commuters. We breed cyclists who are unhappy with a gentle pace in your work clothes sharing a segregated infrastructure with school children riding to school.

This high speed view of “commuter” cyclists fostered by the “sport” image of bike that they ride is actually a false picture of speed. Look at this article (inc video) of a 5 km commute by bike in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Or the video in this post showing longer routes between towns. The Dutch make commuting using a bike fast by making it direct and non-stop not by making people ride super fast sports bikes in lycra. Then the commuters don’t need special clothing, they don’t need to shower or change when they get to work and they can use the same routes as school children, elderly people going shopping, students going clubbing etc.

For cycling in Britain our obsession with using sports bike for transport is holding us back from demanding the infrastructure to make cycling a safe, convenient, pleasant choice for all people.

Mountain Bikes are the wrong bikes

On the other hand, when you see people riding bikes to the shops or out with the children they are also generally riding the wrong sorts of bikes. We frequently see people riding from the supermarket on a full suspension mountain bike with plastic bags hanging from the handlebars. Or out for a short ride in the park with their children also while riding a full suspension mountain bike. A Dutch style bike (maybe with 8 gears instead of 3 for the hillier parts of the UK) would be so much more convenient, comfortable, faster and lower maintenance. When you are struggling with shopping on a bike with no rack, no basket, nowhere to carry things it is no wonder you ride on the pavement.

Mountain bikes as generally sold are useless for general transport:

  • no way to carry things
  • no mudguards to keep you dry and clean
  • no chainguard to keep your clothes clean
  • knobbly tyres to slow you down
  • no lights
  • full suspension makes them very heavy (and difficult to fit racks to)

We need modern, clean, low maintenance practical bikes in the UK for commuters and for everyone else. Bikes like this Workcycles GR8

WorkCycles GR8

When commuters, shoppers etc ride bikes like this, then maybe we will be encouraged to ask for real Dutch cycle infrastructure that is safe, convenient and segregated. Then we will be able to see cycling as transport return to normality.

Oh and as well as that our bike rides to work, the shops etc will all become a lot nicer!

Bike for Life plus one

I’ll start with the confession. My Bike for Life is now Bike for Life plus one. Yes I have bought another bike 🙂

However, this should not be understood as a failure of my Bike for Life either as a project or the specifics of my Shand Cycles Stoater Plus. In fact quite the opposite!

My Shand is so delightful to ride (while being the most incredibly reliable, low maintenance and practical form of transport ever) that it has kindled more love and enjoyment of just riding my bike. Hence, for the first time in my life, I have joined a cycling club. The Syston Syclers are new this year and have their “Sygnature” rides on Saturdays which suits me very well.

What I have, unsurprisingly, found is that a fully equipped Bike for Life is fine for the slower groups. So I have been one of the ride leaders for the steady paced 30 mile rides where we average around 12mph. The next group up which is now moving to 45 miles and around a 14mph average is rather harder work. On those rides many of the practical, comfortable, low maintenance features of my Bike for Life make it more difficult to keep up with everyone else on road bikes.

If I could be bothered to adapt my Bike for Life it is perfectly suitable for keeping up with these rides. But I would need to save weight and windage by removing

  • steel mudguards (with leather mudflaps),
  • front low rider racks,
  • front handlebar bag rack,
  • rear rack,
  • huge bell

I’d also move to faster tyres than 40mm Marathon Plus and possibly drop handlebars instead of my comfy Jones Loop H-Bar.

Of course that is not practical on a regular basis. So with a big 50th birthday this year, with permission, I started looking.

If money were no object then I’d have gone with a custom Shand Skinnymalinky (custom in order to have hydraulic disc brakes) with the electronic Shimano DI2 gears. That would have given me another beautiful British steel frame but aimed at fast day rides.

I looked at a number of bikes. The Genesis Equilibrium Disc is very nice. I also looked at the Charge Plug (4 and 5) and lots more.

In the end, thanks to a very knowledgeable and helpful lady at Edinburgh Cycle Cooperative in Manchester I looked at and fell in love with a Whyte Suffolk.

SuffolkIt is a British brand even if not manufactured here. It is an aluminium frame which was not my preferred choice (mainly due to higher environmental cost). But it looks great, has unique cable operated hydraulic disc brakes, Shimano 105 gear/brake levers and rear derailleur. It also comes with 28mm tyres with room for bigger and they also have a matching mudguard set.

So I now have three bikes for use each week:

  • Bike for Life: Everyday transport, Leisure, Family rides, Touring
  • Whyte Suffolk: Club rides, fast unladen day rides, exercise
  • Bullitt Cargobike: Shopping, Transporting stuff for work

Surplus to requirements (open to good offers) Giant Full Suspension mountain bike.

 

Why I love my Bike for Life when it is 11pm and I’ve 10 miles to home with strong headwind and heavy rain

It is a long title “Why I love my Bike for Life when it is 11pm and I’ve 10 miles to home with strong headwind and heavy rain” but I feel I need to explain why I had a grin on my face as the rain got a lot heavier as I was riding through Burton on the Wolds last night.

It seemed to me that when you are out riding in bad weather late at night 3 things allow you to grin and enjoy it.

  1. You need to be wearing the right clothes and have the right food and drink at hand.
  2. You need to be confident that your bike can cope and it not going to let you down in any way.
  3. and it really helps if you know that when you get home you don’t need to worry about cleaning the bike or doing any work on it because of the conditions you are riding through.

This is the route last night:

So for me last night I was able to grin because

1. Clothes/Food/Drink

On the top half I was wearing a thermal t-shirt (don’t know the brand, it is old but still effective), a very old short sleeve cycling top and a new Dare 2 Be shell long sleeve top. It was all warm and kept me feeling dry.

On the lower half I was wearing a cheap pair of old cycling shorts and a pair of winter cycling tights from Altura (at least 5 years old). Again very comfortable and warm.

On my feet I was wearing Shimano MW81 Gore-Tex Winter Mountain Bike Boots, these keep my feet dry upto a few hours of riding in heavy rain and usually warm after that. That is helped by the full mudguards and mudflaps which mean I don’t get much water splash onto my feet.

trail42-packflaskTo drink I had just finished some great hot filter coffee (Cameroon Hosnia from tankcoffee) which has been kept warm in a Trail42 Pack Flask. I’ve only had this since Saturday when I used it for the ParkRun support ride. This time I did make sure the coffee was really hot, using the microwave, before putting it in and it was still a good temperature after nearly 2 hours.

Plus also a bottle of water and a couple of energy gels which I ended up not needing.

2. Confidence in the Bike

At that time of night I find it impossible to enjoy the ride, however comfortable I am, if I having any nagging doubts about the Bike. I find it easy to let nagging doubts drag me down and so in the past instead of enjoying the ride I would be worrying:

  • are my lights going to last to the end of the ride
  • am I going to get a puncture
  • am I going to damage a wheel in a pothole hidden by a puddle
  • are my brakes good enough or do I need to slow down on the downhills
  • am I so tired that I will run out of gears uphill against this headwind

I am sure that you are not like me and don’t let these things cross your mind or get you down. But they have spoilt rides for me in the past. If you have to stop to fix the bike or walk home or call home for a lift then you quickly switch from being warm and comfortable to cold and wet.

While I was fortunate and didn’t get a single puncture on my 2012 LEJoG I also knew that Jane was available in the car not far away from me with full tools, parts and even a spare bike. Even so my Trek Pilot didn’t leave me feeling as relaxed about finishing a ride as my Bike for Life does.

The confidence comes from:

  • The Schmidt Hub Dynamo that you know has been so carefully engineered to last and last.
  • LED front and rear lights powered by the dynamo. The only maintenance they have needed since new is to wipe the lens clean.
  • The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres, 35mm front, 40mm rear. Incredibly puncture resistant and big enough volume to not worry about pinch flats on unexpected potholes etc. So far I’ve had no punctures ever on a Marathon Plus.
  • The wheels are handbuilt, they have stayed true for the first 4,000 miles. As I use disk brakes the rim has not been worn at all and it wouldn’t matter if they got a bit buckled on this ride as it won’t affect the brakes.
  • There is nothing better than hydraulic disc brakes for inspiring confidence that they will get you home. You can stop reliably and controllable right to the limit of the tyres grip no matter what the weather. These are Hope Tech E4’s and they have been superb from day 1. I wore out a complete set of new Swissstop brake pads on my Trek in the first half of LEJoG (and I mean fully worn out). I wrote about this in A bike for life: Cascading decisions.
  • As the Trek had got older I used to worry about the Carbon fork a little, you read scare stories about forks breaking. This is one of the many reasons why the frame and forks of my Bike for Life are all steel (although it is a very fancy steel that Shand Cycles use). So the whole frame inspires confidence that it is not going to suddenly fail.
  • One of the beauties of the Rohloff 14 speed hub gear is that I have a mountain bike range of gears (wider than a road bike). It is brilliant because, however tired you are you are, all you do is twist and there is another gear available. It is very rare that I get to use first gear (I certainly didn’t last night) which is great. That feeling when you are in first gear and struggling up a hill against a headwind is a horrible one and one I have never had with the Rohloff.
  • h10_loopbar_alFinally, the Jones Loop H-Bar is also great in these conditions. You can put your hands close together on either side of the loop (depending on how tired you are) getting a much more aerodynamic position than you would expect on a fairly upright bike. I find this makes a huge difference in strong headwinds and is much more comfortable than riding in the drops of my Trek was. This really helps remove the impact of a headwind on my morale.

3. The Bike after the ride.

The combination of Gates Belt drive and the Rohloff means that when you finish a ride in horrible conditions you can simply leave the bike alone. There is no chain to go rusty, there are no derailleurs that are going to have been clogged up. No wheel rims or brake pads to clean or check. Again compare that to the state of my Trek after LEJoG.

It is so nice to ride your bike without having to think about the maintenance you will have to do afterwards. There will be no guilt because you simply put it away and lock it up. Late at night that is a very good feeling which again keeps the grin on your face.

Summary

I love my bike and it means I can be 10  miles from home with a strong headwind, heavy rain at 11pm with a great big grin on my face 🙂

A British Budget Bike for Life: The Paper Bicycle

I rabbit on and on about the need for practical bikes or Bikes that defy categorisation typified by my expensive but fantastic Bike for Life, hence my search for a Budget Bike for Life. My friend Dave reminded me of a potential solution: The Paper Bicycle and it is British!

Paper Bicycle

The design, the pricing and the specification are all fantastic!

It makes an excellent Bike for Life.

Total price for a complete specified bike is almost exactly £1,000 and that is complete with:

  • 8 speed hub gears
  • front and year hub brakes
  • hub dynamo and front and rear LED lights
  • fully enclosed chain
  • steel step thru frame
  • stainless steel mudguards
  • kickstand
  • strong rear rack
  • big air tyres for comfort, speed and reliability

This should be way up your list of potential bikes if you want something that is going to be:

  • reliable
  • extremely low maintenance
  • comfortable
  • completely practical: carry stuff, ride it in any clothes, get on and off easily and stay clean
  • faster than a Dutch bike and many mountain bikes (unless they have been adapted for road use)

Every bike shop should have these in stock to provide a real alternative to the unsuitable bikes they normally sell for town and city use.

Look at the superbly strong rack.

If this had been available with this specification when I bought Jane’s City Bike, it would definitely have been chosen over her Ridgeback (excellent though that has been – after I added all the missing bits).

A Budget Bike for Life?

Following my last post A Bike that defies categorisation I started to wonder whether a budget bike for life was possible. So I have started to look around and build a specification.

As I looked, at least for the moment I had to rule out a Gates Belt Drive. I couldn’t find a budget steel frame with support for a coupler in the seat stay. That will have to come in the future. So a chain and chainguard is needed instead.

This is what I have so far, it comes out at around £1,500 at retail prices including shipping.

roadrat-gritstone

  • Frame: Cotic Roadrat with Fork £300
  • Rear Wheel with Alfine 8 speed hub, Mavic Disc rim £200
  • Front Wheel with Alfine Dynamo hub, Mavic Disc rim £100
  • Alfine Chainset £55
  • KMC 8 Speed chain £10
  • On-One Mary Handlebar + stem £25
  • Headset £60
  • 2 x Avid BB7 cable disc brakes £130
  • 2 x Brake Lever £15
  • 2 x Ergon GP1 Grips £25
  • Quality Brake Cables £10
  • Front and rear LED Dynamo Lights £170
  • Rear Rack £35
  • Flat Pedals £25
  • Carbon Fibre Seat post + clamp £60
  • Saddle £30
  • 2 x Full Length SKS Mudguards £35
  • 2 x Inner Tubes £8
  • 2 x Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres 700c x 35mm £46
  • SKS Chainboard £15

That sounds to me like a pretty nice reliable workhorse bike that will be good for reliable transport in all weathers. It won’t be as quick as a “road bike” but from my experience it will be possible to commute up to about 10 miles each way in ordinary clothes (especially if you are willing to change your shirt when you arrive at work). It will be able to handle shopping, towing kids in trailers or a childseat. It will be able to handle most Sustrans off road routes and won’t disintegrate on poor quality cycle tracks and roads. The only routine maintenance will be to clean the chain.

H’mm, wondering how that sounds to other people? My guess is that a manufacturer would be able to sell these at the Cycle to Work Scheme magic figure of £1,000

A Bike that defies categorisation

David Arditti has written an excellent post Vole O’Speed: A post about bikes. In one part of the post he compares the category of a “Road Bike” and a “Hybrid Bike”. My Bike for Life is a Bike that defies categorisation in these ways and deliberately so.

In my opinion the categories of bikes sold in most British shops do not reflect the needs of reliable, convenient, long lasting, pleasant transport.

  • “Road Bikes” are impractical, their 23/25mm tyres do not cope with cycle tracks, potholes and daily use carrying loads. They are designed for speed, not comfort and so you rarely see anyone riding them in normal clothes. They come without mudguards (and often without the space for mudguards to be fitted), racks, lighting and pedals that can be used with normal shoes.
  • “City Bikes” are poor relations of real Dutch bikes. They frequently don’t have the features that make Dutch bikes reliable, long life, comfortable and practical. Eg chain guards, hub gears, dynamo lights, hub brakes.
  • “Mountain Bikes” are also impractical for transport in many ways. They come with knobbly tyres which while often quite puncture proof are very slow on roads. They come without racks, lights, mudguards and chain guards. They have low gears designed for climbing a mountain off-road but irrelevant for getting to the supermarket or work.
  • “Hybrid” is such a vague term that it can include what is essentially a road bike with flat handlebars (and with nearly all the disadvantages of a “road bike”) or a mountain without knobbly tyres, to a more traditional town/city bike (although typically without hub brakes or lighting).
  • “Dutch Bikes” we are starting to see a number of places selling Dutch Bikes, these are much closer to being what is needed. However, Dutch bikes are not perfect everywhere in the UK. Many designs assume fairly flat terrain (heavy and few gears) and good quality infrastructure (typified by not enough volume of air in the tyres and by a very relaxed riding position which I think works best when in a more cycle friendly environment).

It was partly in response to this that I came up with the phrase “A Bike for Life” when I started looking for a practical bike that defied these categories.

By a “Bike for Life” I mean:

  • A bike that will last a lifetime
  • A bike that is completely practical for everyday life
  • A bike that is reliable for everyday life
  • A bike that enhances life

Lets look at the features of that make a bike for life fit these criteria:

Last a Lifetime

  • A steel frame because unlike Carbon or Aluminium it can be repaired (plus with the added bonus of a lower environmental cost)
  • Components that are chosen for long life that can be serviced and won’t break. So handbuilt wheels with big tyres, hub gears, hub dynamo lighting, disc, hub or roller brakes (that work for ages without adjustment and which don’t wear out rims)
  • Security fastening of wheels etc so that the bike can be quickly locked more securely (I use Infinity3D)

Completely Practical

You need to be able to ride all year round for normal tasks in normal clothes. This implies:

  • Hub Dynamo lighting: always there, automatic, maintenance free. I use a Schmidt hub dynamo and eDelux front light (on two bikes) and a B&M rear light (on my Bike for Life).
  • Racks: Ideally front and rear. I have chosen Stainless Steel racks from Tubus for strength and long life.
  • Either a chain guard (to keep oil off your clothes) or a belt drive (no oil in the first place). I chose the belt drive.
  • Full length mudguards, preferably with mudflaps to keep you dry.
  • A stand for easy parking.

Reliable

  • Puncture proof tyres on strong wheels. So 35/40mm tyres with loads of puncture protection (I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus).
  • Hub gears which last far longer and require far less maintenance than do derailleur gears. My (expensive) preference is for Rohloff for performance and reliability (amongst other things moving the indexing into the hub reduces gear cable problems)
  • Hub, Roller Brakes or Disc brakes (hub gears are the lowest maintenance, disc brakes the most powerful)

Enhances Life

This will be more subjective, but for me it includes:

  • The bike being great to ride, so not frustratingly slow or heavy.
  • The bike being comfortable despite the poor road conditions and infrastructure (big tyres, seat post suspension, ergo grips, Jones Loop H-Bar handlebar).
  • Supporting local manufacturing which helps with community, with our own economy and the environment. For me that included Shand Cycles, Hope, Middleburn, Brooks, Carradice, Atomic22, BridgeStreet.

Bikes for Life

I would be so happy if a shop would start selling “Bikes for Life”, by using less exotic components than I chose it should be possible to achieve the magical £1,000 Cycle to Work Scheme limit.

Breaking your own rules

Today I broke one of my own rules for making cycling the normal thing to do. I went out on a ride for work in very cycle specific clothing.

There were two reasons for this

  1. It was raining very hard, it had been doing so for hours and it was expected to continue for hours. It was also very windy.
  2. The trip out was to take a funeral service at Loughborough Crematorium.

Cultures will vary in what they expect, however, in my culture if a Methodist Minister is taking a funeral service for you then you will have expectations about what they will wear. Many ministers will wear a cassock and that has advantages in weather like this as you can take it in a waterproof bag and put it over the top of almost anything. However, I come from a “low” Church tradition and so don’t wear a cassock. So instead for me a funeral means a clerical shirt, suit and preaching gown.

Maybe it is just because I don’t have good enough waterproofs but I can’t imagine cycling 9 miles in heavy rain with big puddles across the road in a nice suit and shoes. Even if they survived I would be worrying about it all the way and it would hardly be conducive to an appropriate frame of mind for conducting a funeral.

Of course a Bullitt Cargo bike is excellent for carrying the full set of clothes and a towel plus the books etc that aere needed. I could have easily managed with panniers but not knowing how hilly the route was decided that the Bullitt was a wiser choice then my fixie which is my only other bike with full mudguards.

Anyway it all went smoothly, had a nice ride there arriving with time to get dry and change. Coming home I had the wind against me and it felt like a bit of a slog so I stopped at a nice farm tea shop in Mountsorrell for some lunch 🙂 That helped a lot and so my elapsed cycling time was under 1hr 30mins for 18 miles.

Seems to me that there are times when rules need to be broken and for my peace of mind cycling to a funeral is one time when I feel that changing on arrival makes sense.

Sadly funerals are also one time when it is frequently not possible to cycle. For example on Friday I have a funeral which starts with a service at the Methodist Church in Syston and then continues at the Crematorium in Loughborough. The way the timing of these is done leaves no time to cycle between the two and I would feel very uncomfortable trying to push timing that lets me cycle on the families. However, I recognise that this is an artefact of a society and culture that is centred around an assumption of universal access to cars. Normally I would want to challenge that assumption, however, for me a funeral is absolutely not the right time to do so.

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