B’ding

I love cartoons. As a child the adult I admired most was Hanna Barbera, and only realised much later she was two clever fellers. What family hasn’t used the humane example of Marge Simpson to resolve generational or gender conflict?Is there any contemporary drama that comes closer to the bizarre texture of modern life than the magnificent South Park?

I love cartoons. As a child the adult I admired most was Hanna Barbera, and only realised much later she was two clever fellers.
What family hasn’t used the humane example of Marge Simpson to resolve generational or gender conflict?

Is there any contemporary drama that comes closer to the bizarre texture of modern life than the magnificent South Park?

Reader Oliver Schick alerted me to this…

…which is clearly a spoof. Health and Safety is only useful as a way of  systematising common-sense – but what are the public-liability implications of an accidental release? Nor does the film show how long it takes to pack the parachute?

Bravo ‘Michael Wallis’ – surely an alias of Professor Pat Pending – for pulling off such an audacious stunt.

The device manifestly has a future in ambush-marketing.

Q. Why are religious fanatics like butterflies?

A. Because they’re in sects.

Something for the weekend?

If you live in the UK, next weekend is the best of the year. True we all lose an hour in bed, and have to live until October to get it back, but this time next week the sky will still be open at 19:30.

If you live in the UK, next weekend is the best of the year. True we all lose an hour in bed, and have to live until October to get it back, but this time next week the sky will still be open at 19:30.
I usually celebrate the momentous day by riding the Start-of-Summertime a nice 200km out-and-home from the North East Hertfordshire new town of Stevenage to Lavenham in Suffolk.

Lavenham, once an important wool town, is now so rich on tourism it has a public toilet made of stainless steel, well worth cycling 100 kms to enjoy. I washed my face there a few years ago and emerged to find a couple of middle-aged, white blokes with beer-bellies liking the look of my parked-up Burrows funny bike. Which looked like this…

…only a bit battered.

Once I’d answered some of their technical questions we talked about travel. It turned out they’d also come from Stevenage, by road; and lived there.

“Stevenage will soon be very famous” one proudly told me.

I guessed they weren’t talking about the comprehensive network of cycle paths.

“Stevenage will soon be very famous, all over the World, because of Lewis Hamilton.”

At the time the brown lad with the Scottish family name was just drifting into the national consciousness. The boyish glee with which these geezers were enjoying the idea that such a prodigy could emerge from their home town was heart-warming. Perhaps one day Stevenage will be known as Hamiltongrad, Hamiltonville or just Hamilton, or will have a Lewis Hamilton Boulevarde on which the speed limit is ‘minimum 190kph’?

I wanted a picture to show what Lewis looks like now and found this.

a double identity for tax purposes?

Do all polite, multi-millionaire boys look the same?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

I won’t be riding SoS this year. My pre-season has been next to nothing, so instead I’ll be grovelling out into West Herts to pick up some brake levers I left in a shed.

To avoid getting up too early(minus sixty minutes) I’ll try and combine my sneak into the mighty Chilterns with this one. See you there?

your chance to make history

The first social ride in the modern era – perhaps the first ever – to highlight the problem of community severance out in the great doughnut of inaccessibility. I never dreamed such a thing could happen so soon. Roll on bicycle paradise. Too good to miss.

If you prefer the Start of Summertime you can set your alarm – as you subtract the hour – and jump an early morning train – full of wall-eyed night-clubbers – to Stevenage at Kings Cross or Finsbury Park.

They take entries on the line.

Any time you ride your bike, own the road, make it look easy, fun and aspirational, you’re taking important political action to preserve civilised human organisation. And don’t forget to check the stainless steel toilets in Lavenham, they really are of architectural interest.

BSO record low

A post on theBSO problem attracted the attention of former rickshaw entrepreneur Jason – cycling is his middle name – Patient, who contributes this happy story… Whilst browsing for kiddy helmets on the cycling section of the TESCO website last March I noticed the attached ‘MTB’ on offer at £58 including delivery.

A post on the BSO problem attracted the attention of former rickshaw entrepreneur Jason – cycling is his middle name – Patient, who contributes this happy story…

Whilst browsing for kiddy helmets on the cycling section of the TESCO website last March I noticed the attached ‘MTB’ on offer at £58 including delivery.


I just was curious to find out if a supermarket ‘BSO’, (Bicycle Shaped Object) could be assembled to be a half decent bike. The attached is the result. Rides fine, and I’m really happy with it.
I’ve added accessories such as the subtle pink mudguards which had been in my loft for over a decade and the rack too.

cyclingly……………Jase

If you haven’t heard of Tesco – a grocery company started from a stall in Well Street Market, Hackney E9 – they are the Microsoft of grocery vendors. Microsoft are the Shimano of personal computers. Shimano make reels for fishing rods.

I quizzed Jason further on the subject of his budget ride…

“The BSO is original parts apart from saddle/seatpost and knobbly tires swapped for smooth. I added rack, mudguards.
The wheels are fine. Did a first true after bedding in and that’s it.
The steel frame tubing is seamed YUK. The matt black paint finish is pretty ‘bullet proof’.

…all good, but the sorry part is…

For anyone trying to set it up from out the box who had virtually zero cycling experience it would have been a nightmare.”

 

Jason combines full time employment as regional coordinator
for a cycle training company covering Northumberland, with running his famous photo library and producing top-quality images like this one…

jason@cycling-images.co.uk

…if you need nice pictures of people on bikes I suggest you contact him. The framing alone is worth the price of a new bike.

Velorution postponed

Do you remember the fixie storm of the early Twenty-first Century? The first global bike craze of the internet era? When it was raging, at it’s height, I had a crazy dream. If the idea that riding a minimal bike is cool, could cross-over with the tendency of poor, ignorant people to buy the cheapest bike – or the cheapest thing that looks like a bike – available, then something revolutionary might happen?

Do you remember the fixie storm of the early Twenty-first Century? The first global bike craze of the internet era? When it was raging, at it’s height, I had a crazy dream. If the idea that riding a minimal bike is cool, could cross-over with the tendency of poor, ignorant people to buy the cheapest bike – or the cheapest thing that looks like a bike – available, then something revolutionary might happen?
The problem with BSO’s is not that you can’t make a serviceable bike to retail for £69.99. It’s that if the bike has to look the same as one that must cost much more, the budget gets spread too thinly, cheap icing on an inedible cake. If the bike has two wheels, air tyres, brakes, pedals, cranks, chain and single sprocket or freewheel then maybe, if you economise by making tens of thousands, they might be OK. When I saw this bike in 2010……the bTwin Vitamin, made for Decathalon, I just had to buy one; a new bike for seventy quid.

It was rideable, the headset races didn’t fit the frame too well so you couldn’t eliminate all play, if you pumped the tyres up to a practical pressure they started to lift off the rim, but the brake levers and brakes were made of metal and I rode it from Surrey Quays to West Hackney via the West End without any real trouble. If I’d kept the bike I could’ve glued the races in with two-part epoxy and maybe fitted some part-worn hand-me-down tyres, but I sold it on, my curiosity satisfied.

Earlier this year I checked with the Decathlon and found the ‘Vitamin’ is no more…

Our answer to your question :
Dear Mr Field,

Thanks for your message. Unfortunately we no longer stock the Vitamin Bike, and at present there are no plans to restock.

There is no direct replacement, but I would say that our best priced bike is the RR 5.0, which is 99.99. It is a leisure mountain bike, but many people still use it for using in town. It is certainly a good bike for the price.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.

Regards,
Paul, from your SURREY QUAYS store

…deleted presumably because it didn’t sell.

At least the suggested alternative has rigid forks but if you’re going to offer a bike for under £100 why not spend all the meager budget on essential components?

From what I know of Decathlon I presume this bike scrapes into the category ‘budget bike’? It’s not a BSO, but I can’t imagine it’s very nice to ride or will last long enough to be good value.

The fixed gear boom, it’s successor the ‘cycle-chic’ craze and their bizarre hybrid offspring ‘tweed’, all encourage alternatives to the ubiquity of the derailer. Hub gears, single-free, single-fixed are offered as options by many manufacturers today in a way they weren’t five years ago but the potential, revolutionary moment has, alas, coasted on by.

Sober cycling

Being a drunk on Saturday night can be great fun, everyone’s good looking, everything is funny. On Monday morning, when your money, your health and your loved-ones are gone, things may seem less rosy. Riding a bike is like being an alcoholic. It expands the range of experience.

“A fixed wheel is a sprocket fixed solidly to the rear hub, so that pedalling is always rigidly coupled to the drive through the chain. The merits of which is best, the fixed or the free, is hardly worth discussing now that it is so simple to have a reversible hub with a fixed sprocket on one side and a free wheel on the other.”

Cycling Manual & Year Book

17th Edition

1939-40

 

Being a drunk on Saturday night can be great fun, everyone’s good looking, everything is funny. On Monday morning, when your money, your health and your loved-ones are gone, things may seem less rosy. Riding a bike is like being an alcoholic. It expands the range of experience.

Coasting down a good road, at thirty kilometres an hour, silent and sweat-free, you’re a God. An unforeseen mechanical failure, rising headwind or long hot climb can quickly change that status to ‘grovelling beast’.

On a fixed-gear you lose the best parts of riding a bike, relaxing on a downhill, freewheeling in a massive tailwind. In exchange many of the worst problems are also missing. You don’t have to turn the pedals. The mechanics are simple. There’s nothing tricky to go wrong.

It’s strange that – for a brief period early in the Twenty-first Century – single-fixed carried a radical, outlaw image. Strange because riding without a freewheel is cycling at it’s most sober.

There was a man on the January edition of Critical Mass, on a single-speed bike whose frame – branded ‘Tokyo Fixed’ – was equipped with a freewheel. No harm in that – he had hand-operated rim brakes front and rear, a mellow specification – even better if he’d fitted mudguards – but his sensible personal choice indicates that the fixed-gear boom is over.

In olden days a craze would mature slowly, creeping through the land at the speed of an invasive plant; already old-hat in the big city, when people in the provinces were just catching on. In the 21st Century global-village you can read Fixed Gear Gallery just as easily in Llanelli, as Shoreditch and those candy coloured rims will look as passé in Cumbria as they do in Clapton.

Hard-court bike polo boomed in parallel with the global infatuation for 1897 specification. (The automatic freewheel, the last element of the modern bicycle, hit the streets in 1898.) Fixed gear bikes are used in old-school bike polo played on grass fields. Hard court polo has evolved rapidly and everyone now competes on freewheel bikes.

hardcourt polo: free at last

That’s what happens with bike crazes, they attract a mixed cohort at the beginning, reach a peak then dissolve into sub-sub-cultures which are absorbed back into the many roomed mansion of bicycle madness.

Bike crazes are great, they bring new blood which has a ratchet effect on cycling. Some ‘fixie’ aficionados will have moved on to long-board skating, or bee-keeping, or whatever’s getting the kids going these days, others are out training on road bikes, saving up for leather luggage to hang on their roadsters or just riding to work.

Those who came to cycling via ‘track’ bikes have two advantages over those washed in on previous waves. They’re much more likely to have some minimal, mechanical literacy. If your bike has one gear – two if you count walking – then you really need, and are likely to develop, an idea of what a ‘gear’ actually is. Neophytes on mountain bikes just tweaked the thumb-levers until the bike felt OK and stooged off to the supermarket, the cinema or the dance studio, anywhere except the mountains. Fixie victims steered clear of banked tracks in timber or concrete but needed to know how far each turn of the cranks was going to take them.

Even more important is inoculation against dogma. People fear freedom and a common response to all the mysterious, untested potential of this pioneer era of bicycle travel, is retreat into dogma and sectarianism.

If you like riding fixed, if you came to cycling via an enthusiasm for 1897 bikes, then you probably know that the day before yesterday the thing you like best was theoretically extinct – anywhere except a velodrome or a circus tent – and bound for the museum along with the Woods valve and the cotter-pin.

It’s useful to consider the opinions of others, but bicycling is much too fresh to have developed any kind of classical form. Study the principles but don’t be afraid to experiment. And don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

What causes avelopia?

If you ride a bike – and most sensible people do – you must have pondered ‘how do people without bikes manage?’ I can imagine the details of avelopes’ daily agendas – waiting for buses or trains, paying for taxis, enmeshed in the troublesome uncertainties of motor-dependence – but their emotional lives are a mystery; so much patience so little imagination.

If you ride a bike – and most sensible people do – you must have pondered ‘how do people without bikes manage?’
I can imagine the details of avelopes‘ daily agendas – waiting for buses or trains, paying for taxis, enmeshed in the troublesome uncertainties of motor-dependence – but their emotional lives are a mystery; so much patience so little imagination.

The parallel question – why don’t they ride bikes?  – generates a lot of heat in the toyland world of bicycle politics. Some ideologues like to imagine a general reason why more people don’t cycle, overlooking the fact that most English people don’t need a reason not to travel by bike, any more than they need a reason not to eat horse meat. They don’t do it because they’re normal and normal people don’t do it.

There are certainly English people who’d like to travel by bike but are unable to because of the prevailing motorcentric conditions. Children and young teenagers in particular have their autonomous movement restricted by a system that allows reckless behaviour in public space by the motor-dependent. It’s tempting to over-estimate this suppressed demand. The theory that a large section of the non-cycling public are in a precipitous pre-cycling state – only waiting for conditions to change so they can emerge like butterflies from chrysalides – is attractive because it suggests that flicking some national policy switch will release a popular wave of cycle-travel. A wave that will resolve the persistent political conflict around who owns the road and what streets are for, conflict that’s likely to intensify as we grope toward an exit strategy for motor-dependence.

Meeting thousands of people on the point of taking up cycling has taught me the limits of generalisation. Some introduce themselves by saying:- “Of course I’m never going to ride on the road – I just want to go round the park with my daughter for exercise”, others with:- “I need to learn to ride a two-wheeler because I want to get a motor-scooter.” And everyone knows motorcycles are really dangerous.

BSOs definitely provide a barrier to many at the decisive moment of taking up cycling. I’ve run road-side clinics in some parts of East London where all you see are unserviceable, hardly rideable  bicycle shaped objects. Products that weren’t designed to put people off cycling, but might as well have been.

I would never be bold enough to rank –  “I’d like to cycle but I bought a bike and it fell to bits in two weeks” – against other stated causes of avelopia but it certainly exists as a significant practical barrier, a reason from somebody who tried, not a justification from someone who wouldn’t dream of it.

Many (most?) English people never think about riding a bike. If they were to say:- ‘Oh my God I’ll never ride a bike!” That would be progress, at least they’d entertained the possibility. When others are passive on subjects that we care about there’s a temptation to project our feelings onto them. The fact that – in all the hot air generated, all the green ink spilled – on the mysterious subject of why more English people don’t ride bikes for travel, the BSO question receives exactly zero consideration, may confirm a suspicion that most theorising on the subject results from this projection.

Better to burn your money

If you’ve never tried to ride or work on one of these, it’s hard to imagine just how shonky they can be. Brake blocks won’t adjust to hit the rim, front derailer can’t be positioned where it won’t rub on a chainring. Inflate the tyres to a practical pressure and they lift off the rim, try and fix a loose headset and you find the target – between too loose and too tight – only exists in theory.

want to buy a cardboard box?

A significant minority of the products sold as bikes in this country – if you include machines  for children it might even be a majority – come into the category of ‘bicycle shaped object’ (BSO).

If you’ve never tried to ride or work on one of these, it’s hard to imagine just how shonky they can be. Brake blocks won’t adjust to hit the rim, front derailer can’t be positioned where it won’t rub on a chainring. Inflate the tyres to a practical pressure and they lift off the rim, try and fix a loose headset and you find the target – between too loose and too tight – only exists in theory.

The worst of these machines are usually sold part-dismantled in cardboard boxes. The box may carry a sticker, ‘this product must be assembled by a trained professional’. No trained professional will touch such a thing. The sticker is there to dodge trading standards.

The difference between a budget bike and a BSO is that the former is built to a price, but built to be ridden, the latter is only designed to sell. Once the customer’s money hits the till, or their payment clears, the BSO has fulfilled it’s function.

The fixed costs of a bicycle are the same regardless of quality, the cardboard box, the shipping from East Asia. The sale price of a BSO covers these costs and a retail margin, leaving almost nothing for the machine itself. If it’s offered for sale in the UK for £89.99 you know that, at the factory gate, bought by the container load, it costs ten dollars. If you already love cycling and know how to use a spoke-key you might get some limited short-term use from a BSO. If not it may easily break your heart.

A conspiracy theory is always over-optimistic because it assumes someone, somewhere is in control of something. If there really was a conspiracy social progress would be a simple matter of finding the conspirators and seizing control of their levers of power. The conspiracy theory can be a useful tool of analysis but it never describes what’s actually happening.

BSOs aren’t part of a conspiracy to stop people taking up cycling, but they might as well be. If you wanted to put people off cycling, selling them a heavy unserviceable lump of ship-ballast and telling them it’s a bike, would be a good way to go about it.

It’s easy to sound snobbish when explaining that cheap products are no use, but really the people who buy BSOs would be better off burning their money. They’d have enjoyed a few seconds heat and light and not be left with lump of scrap, rusting on their balcony, to remind them how troublesome cycling is.

Bikes are expensive. You can buy a new car for £7,000. Compare this to a bike for £350. How many components, and sub-components, in the car? How many in the bike? The car’s fuel pump is more complicated than the bike. How come the little saloon only costs twenty times more than the push-rod?

On a cheap car everything is twice as strong as it need be and the engine moves all the redundant weight around. A bicycle, engineered for rich people like us, is more like an aeroplane or a race-car. Everything is much closer to just-strong-enough, this kind of engineering costs money.

When you understand about bikes this is not a problem. If a cheap car lasts ten years that’s a minor miracle. Aeroplanes last for decades, old race cars are a blue-chip investment. Give a bicycle basic attention, don’t crash it and it will out-last you. When you’re gone and your descendants are riding around on it, they won’t be worrying about what you paid for it in 2012. If the service-life is measured in generations the steep purchase price starts to look like good value.

If someone flirting with the idea of cycle-travel asks you what bike they should buy? Or even how much they should spend on a bike to get value for money? It’s best to dodge the question. They’re an adult and need to make their own decisions. I suggest passing on these principles…

  • If you’re not sure whether you need a particular feature choose a bike without it.
  • Only buy a new bike from someone who offers a first check-over service – after it’s been run-in for a month or fifty miles – as part of the purchase price.

If the trader doesn’t offer you a service it probably means the bike is not serviceable.