light commercial, heavy domestic

Cargo bikes are glamourous, practical and fun. Mike Burrows’ 8Freight is to be mass-produced. Are you ready for the era of the aviation-grade wheelbarrow?

“Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?”

Berthold Brecht

Link to oldwall
before

Persistent readers will have noticed a quietening in the last month. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been out pounding the roads of Herts’n’Essex, meeting north-easterly snow flurries nose-first, in a diligent programme of revision for the big test in July. The truth is the time’s been taken by a construction project. The realisation of a state-of-the-art shed. This edifice is going up in the manner that Hadrian built ‘his’ wall. I say what I want and teams of skilled craft-workers execute those crazy whims.

Link to gate
raw material – ready for crushing – to make soil for the roof garden

 

There is – however – a double prejudice in favour of not paying expert trades-folk to queue in white vans, reducing costs and motor-traffic, so I’m often the one who flies to the builder’s yard to pick up missing materials.

newgate
after – plus delivery

Admire the new full-height raw, western, red cedar doors that make the back garden entrance look like the gateway to a small fortified chateau. Admire also  the logistical elegance of a just-in-time delivery of 15 metres of tanalised softwood. Of course tonnes of sand or ballast, pallet-loads of bricks, arrive on the back of a flat-bed lorry with integrated crane, that swings them across the foot-way and onto the site but – for loads up to a 100 kilograms – the  aviation-grade wheelbarrow can often do the job quicker with less complication.

In my previous neighbourhood freight cycles – while not as commonplace as in Christiania – are normal enough to make them unremarkable. Moving five kilometres North means I now spend more time replying to interested passers-by that…

  • …I didn’t make it myself.
  • …I can’t remember exactly, somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500.

Naive interrogators are sometimes surprised, disappointed, to hear that such a simple contrivance can cost so much. To soften the blow I explain that all bikes are expensive, especially ones specified for residents of the rich world, where people are heavy and bikes light, and that the balance is – unless you pay yourself a management fee – it would take some kind of heavy use, and heroic mileage, to make the running costs more than £100 a year. Which might be the weekly toll of a light commercial motor-vehicle?

If you asked me three weeks ago if I owned a gas-strut – a structural component that incorporates an oil-damped, gas spring, the kind of thing used to support the heavy rear door of a hatchback car – I’d probably have answered:- “No”.

gasstrut

The one I’ve possessed for seven years has been obscured – and almost forgotten – under the tray of a cargo bike where it holds the two-legged prop-stand up, in flight, and down, at rest. Distracted with the building work I’d hardly minuted that the big bike was growing slowly more prone to topple-over when parked without the brake on. When the stand started flopping down under gravity when the bike hit a bump even I was forced to pay attention.

The machine with the gas-strut is an 8freight designed and built – in semi-‘Hadrian’ style –  by the Wizard of Rackheath whose many valuable epigrams include:-

“If string will do the job use string.”

mikeburrows
Mike Burrows’ split-level shed has a gallery

…so it’s no surprise that it wasn’t hard to rig up an adequate ‘African repair’ using a length of dead inner-tube to augment the gas-ram’s push with a little pull.

rubberpstand

I was tempted for a moment to continue with this rubber solution but am supposed to be a professional, and try to meet the ‘normal’ World half-way by not looking too much like – what was called in the last Century – a ‘new-age-traveller’. When I rang the great man for advice he put a replacement in the post the same day.

Completion of the shed will end an awkward interregnum during which I’ve had no convenient place to park my bikes, hang tools and work on cycles. During this period half the fleet has been out of service due to lack of easy access and the rest more than usually neglected and misused.

When I washed the area around the old gas-strut, in preparation for replacement, it immediately began to push less feebly. The shiny replacement holds the prop-stand firmly where it needs to stay.

newstrut
new strut, now get rid of that unsightly rubber

Mike has offered to get the old one re-gassed, which will provide me with a spare to file in the new shed, in case I live long enough for another gas-strut failure. In my new space-rocket-laboratory environment even the freight bike will be parked under cover and on a much more business-like washing schedule so loss of oomph in the gas-strut department may be more than another seven years hence. The whole incident can probably be spun to reinforce the patter about cargo bikes being cheap to run.

In this period in history load carrying cycles tend to draw a crowd. Add promotional signage and many small/medium businesses could probably justify booking the running costs under ‘marketing’. The only transport cost is the operators time. And rich people like us are supposed to find ways of getting out of breath.

More good news is that the 8Frieght now has it’s own URL.

Screenshot from 2013-04-05 00:20:37

This is no doing of Mike’s who doesn’t have a computer and may be the last great technical innovator in the World who uses a fax machine?   www.8freight.com is published by collaborators who plan to have the Wizard’s load carrier mass-produced in East Asia. They’ve also incited him to knock up a ‘luxury’ hi-spec. model, the Black10.

black10

The disc-brakes are definitely a step up from the Trommelbremsen on the 8Freight, particularly if you live in West Dorset, but ten sprockets and narrow drive-chain on a wheelbarrow? That’s too pretentious even for me.

and the winner is…

Thanks to all who entered. The winner was praised for it’s clear economy and optimistic embracing of the inevitable.

So whatever happened to the ‘Pssst’ readers competition announced in November? Don’t tell me you’d forgotten?

The winning entry is over on the new touring strand ‘White Line Fever’ which will also host news and information on the Dunwich Dynamo – edition XXI rolls out on 20/07/2013 – and London-Fes slated for October 2014.

Thanks to all who entered. The winner was praised for it’s clear economy and optimistic embracing of the inevitable.

The runner-up – or ‘first loser’ – is jaunty and exotic but not really a puncture story, more a sorry tale of rim failure, and nobody wants to reward bad management. Remember kids always check the wear on your rims before setting off for China.

Read and enjoy at your leisure but – for readers in the northern hemisphere – spring is coming in so Jesse Edwin suggests you might like to go for a little ride first.

‘cycling struggles’

Three network infrastructure can be a useful part of any exit strategy from motor-dependance but some people’s expectation of its ability to solve emotional problems about what people feel expected and entitled to do may be over-optimistic?

I’ve been reading the series ‘Cycling Struggles’ on the weblog of Dave Horton a sociologist based in Lancaster. Despite the gloomy title these accounts of testimony, from people of various backgrounds, on their attitudes to cycling, are useful.

In an area flooded with projection, hearsay and simple-minded theory – they present real people considering real problems and weighing up real solutions. In particular they clarify that those who are frightened of cycling, or the idea of cycling, are drawn from the same population that creates the threat; a useful antidote to lazy assumptions, that everyone who doesn’t cycle has taken an active decision not to, and that the factors informing any decision are the same for everyone.

Here’s my own anecdotal contribution to the genre. An account of a true conversation from the streets of London. A strange story which highlights the complexity of human motivation.

‘cycling struggles’ - Tavistock Place WC1

Tavistock Place WC1

We met in the basement garage of a grand office block near Holborn Circus, EC1. I checked his machine which was in good order. He’d recently started commuting – 5 kilometres throught the districts of Holborn, Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia and Marylebone – to Marylebone Station where he parked his bike overnight and caught a homeward train into the Chiltern Hills.

He was a strongly built, white man, in early middle age, smartly dressed in business clothes. I didn’t ask his job-description but guess it was salaried employment, legal or financial. He’d requested the meeting for guidance on riding from Holborn to Marylebone which he’d been doing for a couple of weeks. He told me he rode among the mighty Chilterns – on his other bike – at the weekends.

It was a dark Winter’s evening. We ran through the basics, how to choose where to ride on the road, passing junctions, overtaking parked cars. The guy was an easy student. His basic cycling skills were sound. As a qualified car-driver he understood the rules of traffic. He appeared socially confident.

We worked North and West taking it in turns to go ahead. The strange moment came as we moved into the university district of Bloomsbury, WC1 in the southern part of the London Borough of Camden.

As we turned on to Tavistock Place – where you have the option to travel on a narrow two-way, green-tarmac cycle-track on the North side of the road – my client exclaimed enthusiastically. “I like this bit.”

When I cautioned him not to ‘switch off’, that there was still potential danger, from turning traffic at every junction. I was shocked by his reply.

“Oh yeah” he said with a chuckle “I know it’s more dangerous, but I like it.” He continued to recount near-misses he’d witnessed – between turning motor-traffic and cycle-traffic on the side-path – in the few days he’d been riding the route.

I was too bemused to ask why he particularly liked riding on the green tarmac when he thought it held more danger than the rest of the route. And anyway he was paying me money to help him, not to interrogate the apparent contradictions of his feelings. Here was a person near the top of the pile. A man, white, English, prosperous, comfortable, at the peak of his powers, not the kind of person you’d expect to be willing to submit to extra perceived danger to avoid the risk of social conflict?

The rad-weg along Tavistock Place is sub-standard. I don’t recount this story to suggest that all side-path infrastructure for pedal-cycles and low-powered vehicles creates danger. It’s also worth noting that dangerous conflict between motor-traffic using the main carriageway and traffic on this newest layer of infrastructure – slotted between the footpath and the carriageway – seems to have reduced over the years, as people have got used to the third fragmentary network in South Camden. When it first went in some people told me how much they liked it, others complained what a nuisance it was. I was happy for the first group and told those who complained about it not to use it if they didn’t like it. To stay on the carriageway and stop moaning. That way there’d be more space for riders who wanted ‘their own’ strip of road.

Three network infrastructure can be a useful part of any exit strategy from motor-dependance but some people’s expectation of its ability to solve emotional problems about what people feel expected and entitled to do may be over-optimistic?

A significant number of those killed or injured by motor-vehicles while walking are on the dedicated network of the sidewalk, pavements. A 100 millimetre kerb may make people feel safe but if the driver of a heavy motor-vehicle goes out of control it may not be much help?

Redesigning street furniture doesn’t necessarily make people more careful or considerate. That can be a quicker, cheaper, more complicated process.

pssst – sample entry

The following is a sample entry to the first OWNERS CLUB competition. It’s OK but not that memorable. I didn’t want to set the bar too high. Twenty kilometres from the end of an early season 200, near the Herfordshire-Cambridgeshire line, rolling out of Litlington to join the A505 for a short stretch, I started to feel a little jaded – a normal feeling for a fat, lazy, old bloke, at that stage of a ride, at that time of the year – as if my bike were stuck to the road.

The following is a sample entry to the first OWNERS CLUB competition. It’s OK but not that memorable. I didn’t want to set the bar too high.

ONE THORN TWO TUBES

Twenty kilometres from the end of an early season 200, near the Herfordshire-Cambridgeshire line, rolling out of Litlington to join the A505 for a short stretch, I started to feel a little jaded – a normal feeling for a fat, lazy, old bloke, at that stage of a ride, at that time of the year – as if my bike were stuck to the road.

As I prepared to swing onto the dual-carriageway there was a nasty bump as the front wheel hit a pot-hole. Within a few metres I realised I was running on the rim, the tyre had gone pop.

The hole in the road didn’t seem that big – but hey – no big deal. The name plate for the side road provided a handy leaning post while I flipped off the front-tyre. No need to remove the wheel on a pretentious Burrows bike where the hub is mounted on one side only, like a Vespa.

Pumping the old tube confirmed it was a compression puncture, a snake-bite. I installed a new one, inflated it, remounted the tyre, remounted the bike and pushed on into the frosty darkness.

Twenty minutes later, labouring up a hill I noticed my front wheel was softening, again. This time the failure was harder to trace, a tiny pinhole from a thorn trapped in the tyre. It was – I realised – the second puncture from the little vegetable item. The first compression puncture had happened because my tyre was already perforated and half empty.

A penalty of the pretentious bike is two wheels of different sizes. I’d run out of good small tubes and thought for a moment about jamming a ‘559’ in the ‘349’ cavity and trusting it to last the remaining sixteeen klicks, then remembered the old adage ‘a puncture is not an emergency’. I patched the last of my little tubes. The low temperature meant the solvent took a while to evapourate, during which time I tried to warm my feet with crazy moonlit dancing.

I was close enough to the time-limit to be watching the clock. The second stop – feeling the inside of the tyre like Hellen Keller, solitary glue sniffing, rattling my cleats on the glistening frosted tarmac – took nearly twenty minutes.

Next time you get a compression puncture from a surprisingly small impact, especially if you were finding the preceding kilometre unexpectedly hard work, double-check the snake-bite didn’t come because a previous puncture had deflated the tube to the point where it could no longer keep the rim above the road. That way you’ll limit yourself to one tube per thorn.

“I don’t want to be a speed hump”

Under current conditions there are plenty of riders, plenty of would-be riders, who don’t have the necessary combination of control skills, technical knowledge and social presence to own the road with sufficient confidence to enjoy sharing it with others using clumsier modes. Children are one obvious example of this.

A clichéd response from someone who rides but doesn’t like it, or would like to ride more but is put off by people in cars, or would like to ride but is fearful of current conditions – to the idea that a person on a bike can be an active and civilising influence on the prevailng, often brutal, road traffic environment – goes something like…

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.”

This is a sensible position that does not need to be defended.

Under current conditions there are plenty of riders, plenty of would-be riders, who don’t have the necessary combination of control skills, technical knowledge and social presence to own the road with sufficient confidence to enjoy sharing it with others using clumsier modes. Children are one obvious example of this.

It’s also much easier to be a civilising influence on streets whose layout makes riding a bicycle obviously advantageous. In places where the highway network is engineered to accommodate and enable motor-dependence it takes more skill, morale and operatic presence to defend a space and there are usually fewer opportunities to help others grow.

In a ‘traffic’ context active citizenship – taking the courtesy and consideration considered normal in motor-free space out into the dog-eat-dog World of motor-dependance – is an opportunity not an obligation.

There is no shame in not being able to, not wanting to, or not enjoying, riding in current conditions. Even the World’s greatest living Welsh person has been quoted thus…

“I certainly wouldn’t fancy riding across Vauxhall Cross or Elephant and Castle in rush hour…”

Nicole Cooke

Olympic Champion 2008

tougher than you’ll ever be.

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.” Is a sensible position that does not need to be defended but the position is also passive and asocial.

There is a lot of inertia in the cheap-energy economy. Motor-dependence has been a dominating social force for most of the last half Century and we are only just emerging from a period when questioning the idea – that everyone is, aspires to be, or thinks like, a motorist – put you beyond the pale of sanity.

Even in the current new era of mixed messages it’s easy for we – with a critique of motor-dependance – to become demoralised, bitter and apathetic. This may be especially true if going for a bike ride is more of an ordeal than a convenient and utilitarian outlet for frustration. More of a horror than a chance to take a rest, from cooking up grand theories of how best to enforce bicycle paradise. More of a nightmare than an opportunity to pretend, for a few jolly kilometres, that the happy day has already dawned.

Changing the World one bike ride at a time may be like trying to stop a bulldozer with a pea-shooter but if the peas are hard enough and we fire enough…

…well it can’t do any harm can it?

Ron Binns’ extended series of pessimistic prophesies  – “What won’t bring about mass cycling…” can be extended to infinity.

Nothing will make people travel by pedal cycle until they decide it’s what they want to do. Once that’s what they’ve decided nothing will stop them. Trying to reduce this circular statement of the obvious, to any kind of Newtonian equation, is like investigating the workings of a watch with a 15lb hammer.

Riding like you own the road won’t bring about mass cycling. Helping others do likewise won’t either. But it can change their World. Riding a bike on roads busy with motor-traffic can be free assertion training.

Ron denounces cycle training because it’s subjects…

“…must be taught how, as a cyclist, to adapt your behaviour to this [hostile and dangerous] environment.”

Well it wouldn’t be much use if it taught people how best to behave in circumstances other than those that currently prevail, would it? Ron’s critique of cycle training echoes the old joke about a village idiot giving a stranger directions.

“If I were you I wouldn’t start from here.”

“I don’t want to be used as traffic calming.” Is a sensible position that does not need to be defended. You can’t calm traffic without calming people. Attacking those who aspire to calm and civilise other people – just because you don’t want to and you know they are very unlikely to hit back – is neither kind nor progressive.

the magic circle

Personally I find punctures one of the many entertaining things about riding a bike. Their random character, the chance to stop where you hadn’t planned to, to demonstrate your competence and efficiency, your progress towards the distant – probably impossible – goal of ‘becoming a cyclist’. A puncture is a special message from God – or John Boyd Dunlop – “Go home and back-up your hard-drive my child. For surely if it spins and was made by men, one day it will fail.’

Personally I find punctures one of the many entertaining things about riding a bike. Their random character, the chance to stop where you hadn’t planned to, to demonstrate your competence and efficiency, your progress towards the distant – probably impossible – goal of ‘becoming a cyclist’. A puncture is a special message from God – or John Boyd Dunlop – “Go home and back-up your hard-drive my child. For surely if it spins and was made by men, one day it will fail.’
Let me make a bold prediction. There will be pneumatic tyres on suitcases within ten years.

Think about it? Wheels on luggage used to be quite a novelty now they’re everywhere. Baby carriages – once sedate appliances with leaf springs –  are now available with puncture possibility. Where will it end?

also seen in Stoke Newington Church Street

We can divide the World’s population into two categories, those who understand how to fit pneumatic tyres and those who do not. Key information is in the three digit element of the ISO number etched on your tyres ‘622’, ‘559’, ‘406’ or whatever.

These numbers are not much used in England, where ignorance of technical matters is often worn as a badge of honour. Here people prefer to use the historic designations – ‘700c’, ’26 inches’, etc. – of a tyre’s diameter. The problem with these is they aren’t definitive. According to the late, great Sheldon Brown who – as usual – provides the most comprehensive explanation of the subject, there are seven(SEVEN) unique, non-interchangeable tyre sizes that may be marked with the diameter ’26’.

Once – in a specialist bike shop to make a distress purchase – I asked the tattooed man at the counter for “two 406 tubes please?”

“Sorry we only do BMX.” He replied.

In his defence when I explained – gently I hope – that 406 is BMX, he took it on the chin saying: “Oh yeah, I’ve seen those numbers on the boxes” and thanked me for the clarification as he took my cash and handed over the rubber.

This three digit element – ‘630’, ‘590’ ‘349’, or whatever –  is known as the BSD – a TLA* standing for  ‘bead seat diameter’. The ‘beads’ are the wires around the inside edges of the tyre. BSD is the inside diameter of the tyre and also the diameter of the circle on the rim where the tyre beads sit when in use.

The centre of the rim – the ‘well’ of the rim – will always be nearer the centre of the wheel, and a smaller circle than the bead seat.

life changing information

In order to fit a tyre on a rim you have to control the bead with tension so it stays along the shorter circle of the rim well. This generates enough slack to flip the last section of tyre bead over the rim wall.

People who think fitting tyres is hard don’t know how to do it. There’s no shame in this. Nobody is born knowing how to mount a tyre on a rim. The problem has lately been exacerbated by ‘puncture proof tyres’. Some of these are so rigid that – as well as giving a slow and uncomfortable ride – they are harder to fit.

A pneumatic tyre is already a  Faustian bargain. You get to ride on air, but will also suffer random punctures. Nasty armoured tyres raise the stakes of this gamble. They mean you are less likely to get a flat, but when you do it will be harder to get the tyre off to change the tube and more of a challenge to get it back on.

If you understood the above – and didn’t know it before – you are now on the way to joining the minority group, the people who know how to fit tyres without hurting their fingers or losing their sang-froid. This minority divides into those who can fit tyres but don’t have the conscious competence to explain to others how it’s done, those who know how they do it but want to keep that knowledge secret. If you can charge others £17.50 to undertake a simple task on their behalf, and you’re not able to do much else, why would you want to give them the secret of doing it for themselves? Others among the cognoscent are so desperate to drag the innocent down to their own tragic level of bicycle-dependence that they give the secret away freely.

Readers of the Guardian online may have noticed this item on Monday’s front page, a link to free content, moving pictures with audio commentary and written notes, from MadeGood.org.

I’m proud to be a collaborator on this project to spread knowledge of, and confidence in, the simple – not rocket-science – subject of keeping push-bikes running sweetly. This directory of instructional films will soon be enlarged. The plan is to make the library comprehensive and keep it updated.

Off course some people – especially young men with old man beards – will find plenty of weak spots in this work-in-progress. But hey, it’s free, and you have to start somewhere. Punctures are part of riding a bike, and the first twenty are the worst.

*TLA = three letter abbreviation.

cruisin’ and playin’ the radio

On Saturday 10,000 – give or take – rode from Park Lane up Piccadilly down to Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and out along the Embankment. I used the event to debut my new 24 volt sound system which performed faultlessly, with a four hour run time and at least one complaint that it was just too fffortissimo.

On Saturday 10,000 – give or take – rode from Park Lane up Piccadilly down to Trafalgar Square, along Whitehall and out along the Embankment. I used the event to debut my new 24 volt sound system which performed faultlessly, with a four hour run time and at least one complaint that it was just too fffortissimo.

Having started on cycle-mounted remote sound in the era of cassette-tapes and progressed through CD’s and mini-discs it’s great to enjoy the solid-state stability of a digital player the size of a matchbox. The new outfit fits on a Burrows 8Freight and two wheels are a lot less stress than my last system which ran on a big old Brox.

now loud light and nimble (picture from funnycyclist)

I like music on bike rides.  It mocks the cult of banging music in cars, gives the most mundane spin a cinematic quality and signals to anyone watching that this is not angry it’s FUN.

If you’re planning a rolling event, skates, boards, space-hoppers even pedal bikes, that might benefit from a sound-system that leaves nothing but silence between the notes, or are thinking of a party somewhere conveniently off-grid and don’t want a generator hum, drop me a line and we can talk.