Dual 700c recumbent roundup

MetaBike, High Baron, Raptobike, Nazca Gaucho and Bacchetta Corsa go head-to-head in this 700c recumbent roundup…

Five high rollers go head to head

Low bikes may still be the most popular, but the days when “recumbent” had to mean “small, odd-sized wheels” are long gone.

While there are plenty of reasons to go for a small wheeled bike, almost everyone now makes a recumbent running “full size” 700c hoops. These bikes are increasingly making an favourable impression, especially on the long distance circuit.

On this page, five bikes from the Edinburgh-based showroom of Laid-Back-Bikes compete: from Nazca, MetaBike, Optima, RaptoBike and US manufacturer Bacchetta. (There are other 700c bikes. When I’ve ridden them, maybe I’ll do another article…)

Let’s take a look… roll over the labels below the image with your mouse to flip the photo (for some reason you sometimes need to refresh the page if using Chrome):

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  • RaptoBike Midracer
  • High Baron
  • MetaBike
  • Gaucho 28″
  • Corsa 700c

 

Where once you had a stark choice between small wheels or the extreme height of a US-style stick bike, there are now options to suit a much wider range of riders.

David Gardiner at Laid-Back-Bikes specialises in all of these models (each one is a Laid Back demo which I have reviewed in depth), and I recommend interested parties get in touch with him to discuss your individual circumstances.

Let the comparison commence!

Overview

Raptobike Midracer

Combining big wheels with a low seat height and trademark versatility, including the ability to take discs and big tyres, pannier racks, or carbon aero wheels and a highly reclined seat, there’s something for everyone here.

Front wheel drive on 700c!

Click for in-depth review

Nazca Gaucho


Built to the same robust standard as other Nazca bikes, and with the same comfort factor thanks to the rear shock, the Gaucho 28 gets you up high (but not too high!) and rolling easily over rough roads.

Thin slicks and caliper brakes only.

Click for in-depth review

Metabike

MetaBikes caused a flurry of excitement with their short-wheelbase, braced aluminium frame (there’s now also a carbon option).

Stiff for great efficiency, light enough to be popular with the climbers, yet versatile enough to take MTB tyres and disc brakes and ride off road…

[in depth review to follow shortly]

Optima High Baron


The classic Baron lowracer got a 700c front wheel in this update, merging the best features of stretched low bikes with the advantages of full-size wheels.

Rides like a dream but not the most adaptable…

Click for in-depth review

Bacchetta Corsa


The archetypal stick bike – light, stiff, very high and relatively hard to handle. Not easy on the eye, but may be friendly to a tight budget.

It could hardly be a 700c bike comparison without one stick bike, after all 🙂

Click for in-depth review

Versatility

When it comes to options, two of these bikes stand head and shoulders above the rest: the RaptoBike Midracer and the MetaBike.

The MetaBike can be equipped with disc wheels and 26″ or 29er MTB tyres (there’s clearance for my 2.1″ knobblies in the carbon disc fork), or with caliper brakes for 26″, 650-, and 700C road wheels.

The RaptoBike Midracer can only accommodate a 700x25mm tyre to the rear, but can go much larger at the front (and if you drop down to 26″ or 650- size, both ends can be very chunky). As well as caliper and disc brakes, both ends will accommodate cantilever / v-brakes.

Both the MetaBike and RaptoBike Midracer will take a standard pannier rack in addition to seat-based bag solutions.

In contrast, the Corsa, High Baron and Gaucho only support caliper brakes and take relatively narrow 700c wheels only (although if you *never* want full size wheels, you can buy a 650C Corsa or a Gaucho for 26″ or 24″).

The High Baron and Gaucho won’t take a pannier rack easily (update: you can order a Gaucho with rack mount braze-ons as an option). You can at least fit the Corsa with specialist pannier racks that hang between the wheels.

Efficiency

The Gaucho’s rear suspension makes it an outlier in terms of overall efficiency. I don’t want to pretend that I have any meaningful measurement of this, but it is noticeable to me when I ride a suspended bike over a rigid one. (I still completed Paris-Brest-Paris comfortably on the Gaucho, overtaking countless riders up and down hill).

The Raptobike, meanwhile, is very stiff but the chain is directed through such a large angle that I can’t help but assume that a small proportion of power is being skimmed off the top. (But is it a significant amount? This is an assumption that I’m desperate to examine with a second power meter, if anyone wants to lend me one!)

Simple factors can be more complex than you might think – for instance, even the supended Gaucho’s drivechain is straighter than the Bacchetta Corsa. Despite received wisdom it seems that Euro frames may (at least sometimes) have a straighter drivetrain after all.

The Corsa is noticeably at home on the open road, rolling easily – partly redeeming a bike that I found so bad in traffic that it’s the only one I wouldn’t consider commuting on (and I commuted for years on a lowracer). Subjectively, I can’t help but feel the giant-size open cockpit is compromising performance a little.

Both the High Baron and MetaBike deliver in spades on the efficiency front. The Baron is lower and more stretched out, has triangulated rear stays and a huge internal gusset welded into the bend of the frame. The MetaBike has fat tubes and the distinctive triangulation at the head tube gives it legendary stiffness, while the drivetrain has one fewer idler on the return side of the chain (three VS four on the Baron, including the idlers in the rear mech).

I’m not sure how significant return idlers can possibly be, but at gunpoint I’d probably give the edge to the MetaBike overall, although I think the aero difference between two riders could easily swamp the difference between the two bikes.

You can get a good idea of the height and length differences between the two bikes from the following photo:

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Handling

Every recumbent handles differently, and not always in a good way.

Even between these five superficially similar 700C bikes there are major contrasts, and while I believe you can learn to master any bike, that doesn’t make things equal. Plenty of people have shoes that don’t properly fit them too.

That said, I’d be the first to admit that some aspects of bike handling are subjective, so I want to be clear that I’m obviously drawing on my personal preferences here.

The weakest bike by a country mile is the Bacchetta Corsa. The open cockpit interferes with tight manouvering – the excitement of stabbing your thigh into your handlebars while carving round a bollard is… considerable. The huge height of the bike really made it awkward in stop-go traffic and had me scrabbling at the ground with the tip of my shoe on multiple occasions: I’ve written specifically about stick bike seat height issues as a result.

giantstick

On the open road, the only time I would worry about the Corsa is slow speed climbing, for fear of kicking the bars, while slow speed hill starts might well be impossible. You can get a mini-Corsa on smaller wheels that would presumably help, but then it wouldn’t be eligible for a big-wheel roundup, catch 22…

Both the Gaucho and Raptobike have a much more civilised demeanour and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either. The Gaucho’s suspended rear end gives it a very ‘planted’ feel and you shouldn’t underestimate how nice that is when you’re pouring on the miles. I finished Paris-Brest-Paris on the Gaucho with no injuries or discomfort whatsoever (although I did fall asleep while descending the Roc, and found myself bouncing along the verge, still upright!)

The Raptobike does present the danger of mangling your clothes and/or inner thigh on the power idler, and that might be significant for some (I found it contributed to knee issues over great distances). It’s a very direct-feeling bike, otherwise.

The MetaBike is possibly the biggest disappointment I’ve had in recumbent handling.

Having read so much about these bikes taking the BentRider forum by storm, I had pretty much convinced myself I was going to buy the Laid-Back demo the moment it arrived (I’d spent the best part of a year doing trials and hadn’t found anything to replace my RaptoBike lowracer).

Unfortunately I found the MetaBike sharp to a fault – even sharper than my upright DF racer. It just wasn’t a reassuring bike to ride, for me, and this killed the enjoyment that riding such a stiff frame should bring (and believe me, I really wanted to like it!).

With the collapse of Challenge killing off the hugely-anticipated Chamsin SL, I was considering buying a MetaBike regardless and just adjusting my expectations, but at the last minute the High Baron came into the picture. (Challenge are theoretically still in business, but no sign of a Chamsin SL.)

For me, the Baron has almost flawless handling. It corners so assuredly at high speed that it frankly embarrasses most other bikes, while the rock solid cockpit gives you the confidence to pour on the power. Despite being low and stretched out, it still manoeuvres well around tight obstacles, and of course it’s effortless to dab.

Unfortunately there’s a real issue with the Baron’s brakes, especially at the rear. It’s very difficult to get them set up to work satisfactorily, and indeed I still put up with poor braking in exchange for the bike’ great performance otherwise.

Another Scottish randonneur demonstrates that some people will make the opposite judgement (indeed, DarkerSider went on to complete London-Edinburgh-London rather nicely on his MetaBike!)

Weight

Unless your own bodyweight is extremely low (say < 160lbs / 70kg), weight shouldn't determine your choice between any of these five bikes. It simply won't be a defining factor in their performance. Since I know you are interested despite my good advice, the Corsa and Metabike lead the pack in terms of how light you can go with unlimited cash. The High Baron trails a little behind, followed by the RaptoBike Midracer and finally the Gaucho. If you need further reassurance, I wrote up a comparison between the High Baron and CA2.0 in weight terms and suggest that, while the difference is real, it’s no big shakes:

Say I was to climb solidly with my long-lost twin for an hour – the version of me on the CA2.0 would nose ahead by around 0.13 miles, or 208 meters. To combat this, the version of me riding the High Baron would need to average 254W instead of 250W (unfortunately this is not much above the 1% quoted accuracy of most power meters, so let’s not take the test to extremes).

Of course, there are reasons besides performance to enjoy a light bike… just don’t overplay it to the point that you buy a bike which is compromised for your needs under the impression that a pound or two will make any real difference to your performance on it.

Conclusion

I made my choice and am now the proud owner of a red Baron… however, that’s not to say that I would recommend the Baron to absolutely everyone.

Perhaps this is a bit of a cop-out, but I really think that a range of riders would make different (valid) choices if they tried these bikes out back to back. Your intended use and personal preferences mean a lot, they’re just hard to score with a single number (unlike the ubiquitous but insignificant weight reading!)

The best thing you can do is get in touch with an experienced dealer who can talk you through your options, and potentially arrange demos.

In this case all five bikes came through Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes. Get in touch with David Gardiner and he’ll be pleased to help with any enquiries.

Readers may note that, as ever, I haven’t included cost as a basis for comparison. That’s not to say that all these bikes cost the same, but I prefer to avoid misleading specifics, especially to an international audience…

ICE trike polar attempt…

ICE Trikes unveil a custom 3×26″ fat trike designed to take on the South Pole itself…

Purpose-built 3×559 “fat trike”

Pretty awesome press release from ICE today revealing a £20k custom trike designed to make an attempt on the South Pole shortly….

icepolar-feat

It’s geared low enough to climb 1:3 grades and looks to be running three 26″ wheels with fat bike tyres.

Really looking forward to hearing how this works out…

See White Ice Cycle for all the details!

Azub Origami review

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ recumbent with a really neat, fast and tool-free fold…

Sprightly folding recumbent

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ model from Czech manufacturer Azub.

As the name suggests, the twist is the ability to fold up the Origami into a compact layout, something that many would welcome considering how awkward your average recumbent is to move about, being six feet long and all…

origami2

This model appeared briefly in the Edinburgh showroom of Laid-Back-Bikes and I took the opportunity to poke it around a bit… I didn’t take the bike for more than a quick spin however as it was already earmarked for a keen customer.

The build is robust and definitely catering for the utility / commuting market rather than the long distance or speed crowd (although I daresay you could do quite a daily mileage on it if you chose). The general finishing of the frame is of a high standard, the cable routing is good and aesthetically it has a crisp, pleasing look:

origami10

The bars are neat and comfortable, with good quality cabling and trigger shifters for the Alfine hub and front mech. The tiller is a folding one – this is an essential part of the overall fold so you have to put up with the inevitable bit of flex there (but on the other hand, it means you can dismount without turning the bars, as well as folding the bike tight):

origami11

A sturdy twin-leg kickstand keeps the bike stable while you fold and unfold it – it’s also just a generally handy thing for a utility bike to have – no chance of falling over while loading panniers or sitting propped against a wall!

origami4

At the rear there’s a sturdy pannier rack. You can also see the telescopic pole that supports the back of the seat (and sets the seat angle) in this pic:

origami6

The fold

The rear dropout has a split metal bracket attached which forms half of the clever part of the folding mechanism (as an aside, this will also protect the mech from impact if you drop the bike on its right side, something I’ve had the pleasure of doing to all too many bikes):

origami3

One side of the front wheel skewer features a flat plate that mates with the rear dropout plate when the bike is folded, preventing it falling apart:

origami7

See below for detail of the wheel mating system. This keeps the bike tight when it’s being moved about, and is very effective indeed (as well as fast!):

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Hinge detail: it’s quite a burly affair so no fear of it coming apart while you’re riding about. Note also the very bling red anodised QR skewers that adjust the bike:

origami12

 

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The fold is pretty fast and slick, and importantly tool free; although not without hazard to the paintwork as you swing the seat about (care or practice required!)

I haven’t seen anything to compare with this in the two wheel world – simple and easy enough that you might actually do it on a daily basis (and since you don’t have to carry around the seat separately, I can even see the argument that this is better than the ICE flat fold):

origami14

You *might* get this on a train past a suspicious conductor… certainly it would be much easier to get into a variety of smaller types of car!

There’s a strap which keeps the bars tucked sideways against the side of the frame, so they don’t flap around either.

origami15

Ride Quality

After all that time spent discussing the fold… how does it ride?

The Origami’s relatively short wheelbase makes it very manoeuvrable and the steering is well balanced – you can use one finger to corner and direct the bike around potholes and the like (more than one finger might be an advantage should you prefer to ride through them).

The wide gearing shifted quickly and without fuss. I’m not totally convinced about the longevity of any hub gear (long story…) but that’s hardly a recumbent-specific issue. This model was just fine when I put it to the test.

Speed-wise it occupies a similar part of the spectrum to the Bromptons of the upright folding world – it won’t set you on fire (or perhaps: if you’re on fire, you might not be able to ride fast enough to put it out!) but it’s not offensively slow for a utility bike by any means.

I found the ride to be comfortable enough, if not plush – but take that with a pinch of salt as I didn’t ride for many miles at a time as you’d need to to expose that sort of issue (possibly you wouldn’t either?)

At the end of the day you’ve probably got some pretty specific requirements if you want a folding bike and the Azub’s excellent fold does put it at the top of the leaderboard in that respect. The pleasing handling is a bonus 🙂

origami9

Shimano R078 / R088 road shoes review

Great entry-level road shoes which accept both SPD and SPD-SL / Look style cleats. Stiff, light, and doesn’t break the bank…

Entry-level road shoes: with or without ratchet buckle.

I wear recessed-cleat SPD cycling shoes for at least 90% of my rides, but when I wear rigid road shoes, I really feel the difference. Only their inherent clumsiness when you’re not clipped in and spinning, combined with poor longevity, prevents me from wearing them for everything.

Shimano’s entry-level R078 / R088 shoes are very similar, the principal difference being the top strap, which is velcro on the R078 and has a micro-ratchet mechanism on the R088. The cheaper shoe is more reliable but you’ll get a consistent fit, and easier adjustment, from the more expensive model… so long as you don’t break a ratchet!

shimano-r088-shoe-review6

At the time of writing, Chain Reaction are doing a very nice 33% discount on the R078, and a 33% discount on the R088 too.

Wiggle have the R078 at 26% off and the R088 at 20% off.

Compatibility

Both three hole (SPD-SL, Look) and two hole (regular SPD) cleats are supported.

This is great if you want a stiff shoe but are happy with the performance of regular double-sided SPD pedals – in particular, you’ll get huge mileage out of metal SPD cleats on these exposed soles where the plastic road ones will break every so often.

If your riding involves a bit of hopping on and off the bike (mixed mode commutes, or long audax / sportives) then you should definitely bear this in mind. Pushing hard onto the small SPD cleats doesn’t feel any different to me.

shimano-r088-shoe-review3
The light coloured material along the middle of the shoe is after-market reflective tape, so I look even more bizarre while riding laid-back at night.

Fit and sizing

Shimano shoes are built on a narrower last, particularly in comparison with US manufacturers, so be careful of sizing if you’re coming from Specialised or similar.

Happily, you can buy the R088 in a special wide fit if you have that need – but don’t go crazy. I’ve got “normal” UK feet and wear normal shoes (but my better half would want the wide ones). Check the size charts!

It’s pretty tricky to offer fitting advice online, so here are a few of my sizings for your interest:

  • Shimano R088: size 42
  • Shimano MT33: size 42
  • dhb R1 (road shoe): size 42
  • dhb T1 (commuter shoe): size 44 (loose for winter)
  • Mizuno Wave (running shoe): size 41
  • Scarpa Manta (mountain boot): size 43

Make of that what you will!

Materials and construction

The Shimano R078 / R088 are made of synthetic leather, which means they’re durable and don’t need much in the way of care and attention. That said, if you go for the white option, be aware they they’ll soon become grey unless you’re quite exacting with the cleaning regime!

The soles are fibreglass, and designed to be quite stiff but not absolutely rigid (either carbon or fibreglass could be made completely rigid – the graduation between glass and carbon shoes in the cycling market is party a question of weight and partly to provide an up-sell path).

While flexible shoes are tiring on your feet, it’s not clear to me that there’s a meaningful increase in efficiency going from rigid to super-rigid and hyper-rigid outsoles. Once your feet aren’t a limiting factor and you’re comfortable, you should be set for top performance, physiologically.

Mine weigh in at around 580g for the pair. This is one area where spending an extra £100-200 could get you some savings, with absolutely minimal road shoes going as low as 300g.

(It’s unlikely you’ll notice the difference, but it’s much cheaper than upgrading your entire groupset for a similar drop in weight…)

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The sole has rubber at each end to make it slightly easier to walk off the bike, or put your toes down at junctions. This works pretty well until it wears away (after a year or two you’ll probably be thinking of sticking some glue on to boost the effect).

Ventilation

There’s a reasonable cross-section of mesh on the uppers of the Shimano R078 / R088, and there’s also a cut-out in the centre of the sole just behind your toes, which is echoed in the manufacturer-supplied insole.

While I don’t normally notice it, a similar hole in the insole of the shoes I wore during the 1200km of Paris-Brest-Paris became pretty frustrating and I duct-taped over it to try and soothe my irritated feet (with variable success).

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On the whole I find these a pretty good performer in hot weather. Even though it’s rarely hot in the UK, it’s more important to have a shoe that’s cool since you can easily add an overshoe, thicker socks, or both as required.

Conclusion

Both models of shoe are solid entry-level performers from Shimano.

They’re pretty light compared with a conventional SPD shoe, and very noticeably stiffer, cooler, and nicer to put down the power with.

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The ratchet tightening system on the SH-R088 adds £10 to the asking price, and having broken one of my ratchets (above) I do think they represent a weak point on the shoe, although they help get a tight, consistent fit.

The ability to use both three-hole and two-hole cleat systems is great if you’re looking for a rigid shoe to combine with conventional SPD pedals and only a bit of walking about – this is how I currently have them set up, after a couple of dissatisfactory episodes with Look Keos.

You do need to be a little careful of the sizing, but probably no moreso than any other time you buy shoes – at least you can send them back for free if you buy from Wiggle / CRC!

Again, at the time of writing, Chain Reaction are doing a very nice 33% discount on the R078, and a 33% discount on the R088 too.

Wiggle have the R078 at 26% off and the R088 at 20% off.

Happy spinning!

dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet review

Cheap, virtually the same weight as an energy gel and a great performer – everyone should have one…

Stay warm and comfortable with this midget gem

If you’re not into windproof gear, you really should be.

I still remember the revelation of my first outing – all the warmth of a waterproof as the thermometer plummets, but without the unpleasant clamminess that even the fastest-breathing fabrics still suffer from.

The dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet is a snip at £30 RRP, but right now you can get a 40% discount, making it an absolute steal. Mine weighs 72g, which compares well with an energy gel at just over 60g…

There is a ladies’ version too, also on sale.

dbh-ultralight-windproof-gilet8

If it rains, you’ll certainly get a bit damp, but probably no moreso than if you’d been sweating into an eVent or Goretex jacket for an hour. The majority of rides are, in this part of the UK at least, generally dry affairs, and on all of those you’ll be enjoying significantly greater comfort.

Look mum, no arms!

To state the obvious, being a gilet your arms are not protected. Don’t discount it.

In the mild UK climate, if you like to ride at pace then outside of deep winter you’re likely to be too hot without the cooling of the wind on at least some part of your body.

It’s mid November and I often find myself riding with this gilet unzipped, even at 7:30am as I’m heading into the office. If it’s cold enough for frost then the full sleeve windproof comes out, but otherwise the best balance of comfort is a decent pair of fleece gloves, a standard long-sleeve jersey and this windproof gilet.

Cut, sizing

The cut of dhb’s Windproof Ultralight gilet is ‘slim fit’, which is the middle road for dhb clothing (the other options being ‘performance fit’ and ‘comfort fit’). I have ~44″ chest, which puts me slap between Large and Extra Large according to the sizing guide.

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Knowing that returns are free and hating flappy gear, I ordered a medium (!).

Surprisingly, the fit across the shoulders/chest is fine (there’s still a little spare material I can pinch). However, the Windproof Ultralight is cut very short in the body in comparison with my other outer layers. If I have anything bulky in my jersey pockets at all, it tends to sit at the top of the pockets rather than underneath.

This isn’t really a problem in terms of warmth or function, but it does look just a wee bit odd, I think.

If you go for a bigger size I presume you get a longer body, but the downside is that it might start flapping. Tough choice.

Materials and construction

The nylon is very thin – not quite thin enough to read your jersey beneath, though. To the hand it is pleasingly silky, not plastic and nasty as one might fear.

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Despite the bargain basement price, the stitching is competent and still holding up despite two years use, including trail centre riding at the 7stanes. While it will shrug off normal use, a tumble would certainly not do it much good.

The neck is lined with a thin fleece material which makes it very pleasant against the skin, and this extends down the first few inches of the zip as a storm flap, with a curl at the front forming a welcome zip park. Otherwise, there is no storm flap (if you needed one, your arms would already have given the day up as a bad job).

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The chest is lightly logoed with a reflective print and there are two tiny reflective tabs to the rear – this being one area where the gilet could be significantly improved at minimal cost to dhb:

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The zip itself is sprung, which is a really nice touch – it will stay wherever you put it and not rattle. My main criticism is that the physical zip tab is too small, not at all easy with gloves. You can remedy this with a little loop of chord, but it’s a shame it’s not just a bit bigger to begin with:

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Conclusion

Taking up almost no room and weighing almost nothing (72g) the dhb Windproof Ultralight Gilet is a great way to add at least a full season’s worth of warmth to your wardrobe.

Worn over a short sleeve jersey (perhaps with arm warmers) it will see you well into the nippy sides of autumn and spring. Over a long sleeve jersey of thicker material, you may find this is all you need on mild winter days.

If it rains the fabric wets out quickly, but the flipside is total comfort for the 95% of the time it isn’t raining.

The cut may not be perfect depending on your build, and some might wish to pay more for features like a second set of pockets instead of using their jersey ones.

Ultimately, for under £20 delivered, it’s an absolute bargain of a garment, and one that I can recommend without reservation. (Ladies option here).

Have pavement cyclists got it right?

Six Five cyclists mown down in thirteen nine days. Are unlit red light jumping pavement cyclists actually on the right track?

Unrelated news: sixth law-abiding cyclist mown down in just thirteen days

I started writing this as a response to the interminable ‘Rubbish Cycling’ thread on CCE, but it got long enough (and relevant enough) that I didn’t want it to disappear after another nine complaint posts went up…

Here’s the comment that I was replying to:

Anyway – I personally take it as given that the (majority of) unlit, RLJing and dedicated pavement-cycling students are not being willfully antisocial or criminal; rather that they honestly just can’t figure out by themselves the potential consequences without it being pointed out to them.

While I appreciate that this is a very generous way of looking at the citizens in question, I also think it’s so wide of the mark as to be, well, completely opposite to the true situation.

The significant thing about Edinburgh’s annual influx of students is that it creates a large number of completely new cyclists. Their behaviour has little, I submit, to do with the fact that those cyclists happen to be students.

I can only back this up anecdotally, as someone who is now involved in actively encouraging people to bike to work.

I’ve “buddied up” with at least one colleague who wouldn’t consider descending from the pavement to ride on the road *with me behind them* on the short stretch of 20mph street between Ardmillan Terrace and the canal. (For this, establishment Edinburgh cyclists gave a written opinion that they should give up, and go back to a car-based commute from Livingston to Leith).

The common thread here is that when people approach cycling from first principles, they aren’t necessarily willing to expose themselves to all the inherent risks. They aren’t willing to do so *despite* legislation to the contrary, and not because they need to be reminded or have anything pointed out to them.

80-90% of cyclists, including students, have passed the driving test

It’s naive to suggest they aren’t completely aware of the law.

Cyclist who are not dogmatic ride on the pavement out of a finely judged (and in my opinion not inaccurate) estimation that it will significantly improve their life expectancy. The issue of pedestrians understandably objecting to this invasion of their territory is an externality that cannot be said to weigh in on your life expectancy, so it’s understandable that the pragmatic will ignore it.

I don’t ignore it because I’m powerful enough (in my own head… and because I have a headcam) that I feel confident going head to head with huge motorised vehicles on the roads. I sometimes like to think that it’s because I wouldn’t want to be known around the neighbourhood as a pavement cyclist, but to be honest that isn’t true. I’ve known neighbours considerably older than I who rode on the pavements in my time and didn’t particularly think less of them.

Someone riding unlit is not even making a statement that they don’t believe lights help drivers to see them. What they’re saying is that they believe the chance of being run down is so high with or without lights that they aren’t going to play the game at all.

Was anyone bereaved ever consoled by the thought: “at least they weren’t riding on the pavement”?

Establishment cyclists often express confusion at people who have one or other light missing, or if they have two, so poorly aimed as to be useless. I suspect it’s because they have picked up lights for some reason unrelated to safety in their own minds (a gift, as an alternative to a police ticket, whatever).

Because they don’t believe they are relevant to their safety, their application is understandably haphazard – how are your legally required, can’t-be-replaced-by-ankle-bands SPD pedal reflectors, by the way?

There’s little point trying to tell people that they’d be better off with lights because cyclists are constantly being mown down by inattentive drivers – the whole situation has arisen precisely because they believe they might be mown down either way.

Statistically, cycling on the road is usually said to be safer than the pavement, particularly because of the increased junction / crossing risk. However, this is to completely and utterly miss the point. When you ride on the pavement, undeniably, you’re only at risk on your own terms (if you’re not crossing a side street or crossing the road, you cannot be hit).

In the road, you’re at the mercy of every single driver who is eating, shaving, txting and/or putting on makeup – while eating a bowl of cornflakes – and your life depends on the lowest denominator.

That’s the real difference!

Seceding from the law is a logical response to the rising death toll

I’m not going to draw a position on whether society as a whole is better off when someone rides on a pavement or jumps a red light but remains a cyclist, versus driving around. I don’t believe there’s much chance of persuading the audience one way or the other… (clearly it would be better if this debate wasn’t even needed – but that’s not the reality).

I’ve saved junctions and red lights until last because I think in many ways they are the clearest (but most controversial) example of people taking a decision based on safety, just not based on the law – even if it seems otherwise.

If you believe that you are not protected from death whenever a vehicle passes you in traffic, then a logical strategy is to minimise the number of overtaking movements you experience. Waiting for a green light might mean a bowel-clenching episode where you’re passed by 20-30 vehicles in close succession, any one of which could take your life.

As we’re seeing in London, such vehicles are taking lives every day.

On the other hand, jumping the light probably exposes you to only one or two vehicles making an opposing movement. The chance of being hit by them is less than being hit by the vehicles behind you (because you can actually watch what’s going on as you cycle through the red light and across the junction), at least according to your world view – but perhaps also according to the real statistics.

I don’t think the people making these kinds of calculation are cold or unaware of the feelings of others on the road. It’s just that they are faced with death, or upsetting one or two other drivers (or cyclists who feel tarnished by association) and that’s a pretty easy choice.

Under this arithmetic, it’s even easy to understand people who jump pedestrian crossings. You’re buying yourself 20-30 seconds of time without the possibility of being fatally run over, whereas if you stop, a dozen or more vehicles might charge past your elbow, and if one of them decides to turn left when they’ve put you in their “blind spot”… game over.

If your response to this is “but what about the pedestrians”, I can only suggest you rephrase it to “why aren’t they putting pedestrian comfort above their own lives?” to better understand their position.

Cyclists are far from the last to complain when they see “bad” behaviour by other cyclists.

Yet I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by not attempting to understand what makes people do these things.

It’s silly to complain about the behaviour of others and remain wilfully ignorant of the very real forces that drive them.

You might not be able to understand or empathise with cyclists who fear for their lives, but if so, you’ve only yourself to blame for your eternal frustration.

How I saved a house deposit cycling to work

In just four years I’ve saved the cost of a deposit by cycling to work (based on the national average house price and Help to Buy 95% mortgages…)

Not driving for just four years = £££ Profit!

According to official figures the country’s average house price is now just over £150,000 (£153,102 to be precise), and thanks to Help To Buy, 95% mortgages are back in fashion.

That means the average prospective buyer now has to scrape up just £8,635 by way of a deposit before they can get their feet on the housing ladder.

In the last four years alone, cycling to work has comfortably earned me that deposit, and in this article I’m going to demonstrate it with my real costs and savings.

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Image courtesy TheTruthAbout

P.S. – please don’t take this as a recommendation for extremely expensive 95% mortgages! I’m no financial adviser, but I can tell you that paying a multiple of the going rate is not good for your wallet…

Four years of motoring – the costs

Cycling to work means we’re a one car family instead of two, and I think it’s accurate enough to use the real costs of the car we do run as a proxy for the second.

I’m a man of frugal appetites when it comes to cars – a nice practical diesel estate is my weapon of choice – you can transport anything, get reasonable mileage and it will still do 100mph in a 30 zone, so it’s plenty fast enough for me.

Averaged across the last four years, the annual cost of running the car are as follows:

Depreciation £720.00
Insurance & breakdown cover £410.00
Excise duty £105
Tyres £60.00
Service & MOT £414.00
Misc repairs £415.00
Total £2124.00

These are actual billed costs (you’ll forgive me if I don’t screenshot my bank statements) with depreciation based on a worst case of the car nearing the end of its useful life now we’re over 100k on the clock. (Yes, I’m also intrigued that service and MOT is so close to the cost of all other repairs put together…)

To this we need to add the cost of fuel.

I’ve averaged out my commute distance at 75 miles a week and I work 46 weeks a year, for a total of 3450 per annum. At around 35MPG and 135p at the pumps that’s another £600 a year.

True cost of driving to work for four years: £10,896

Four years of cycling – the costs

With a healthy disposable income I don’t like to think of my total spend on bikes, but fortunately I have a dedicated commuter which makes it pretty easy to work out, with just a couple of assumptions.

My current bike is two years old, custom built and cost me precisely £778.79 (if you were buying one yourself, I’d charge you for the labour – but you can buy a reasonable off-the-shelf bike for £800).

It was designed to be maintenance free, with drum brake, dynamo, and a hub/coaster rear wheel. This plan would have been quite successful except for my habit of destroying hub gears.

I’m now on wheel #5 (fixed wheel) after destroying a Sturmey Archer 5 speed, 2 speed, SRAM Automatix and Velosteel singlespeed hub at an average of six months apiece. The cost of these hubs was £270, but I also bought a second rim and two more sets of spokes bringing the total for all rear-wheel antics up to £355.

Let’s set the refund I got on two of the hubs off against my opportunity costs for five DIY wheel builds. All other components have survived quite happily with two exceptions: I’m on my second set of replacement bar tape (£10 a pop) and my total spend on tyres and tubes is a hefty £175 (I have expensive tastes).

We’re now up to almost £1200 to keep the bike on the road for two years.

The bike I had before was actually a lot cheaper to run; I bought it for only £550 and spent almost nothing on it – two sets of tyres a year and a new chain came to around £100 (it was a well-abused fixed wheel). Since it was stolen and I self-insure, I’ll put the full cost on the tab.

SPD shoes last me around 18 months and otherwise essential commuting gear is few and far between, since I mainly get away with technical stuff I have lying around anyway, grabbing the occasional mail-order bargain.

Alas, I can also dip into my “sport” collection as required, so the boundaries are blurred. I’m going to estimate a generous £200pa on riding gear to be on the safe side.

True cost of cycling to work for four years: £2,750

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Admittedly, I totally searched for “Edinburgh Cycle Chic” for this one…

Four years of gym membership – the costs

If you’ve been keeping track, the straight difference between direct driving and cycling costs is already in the ball-park of that sacred house deposit. However, there’s one more really significant difference between life as a cycle commuter and life as a motorist, and that’s health.

I’m getting a bit of the middle aged spread now, but the first two years after I took up cycle commuting I ate a ton of cake and lost three stone (16.5kg) – more than I ever achieved with the gym membership, which I’ve long since given up.

Edinburgh Leisure membership is agreeably cheap at £29.00 a month, but that still adds up to quite a bit…

True cost of gym membership for four years: £1,392

A house deposit in just four years

So there you have it, our 5% deposit for an average house (£8,635) and you’ve got a bit left over to fund a modest trip to Ikea:

Driving cost avoided £10,896
Gym cost avoided £1,392
Cycling cost incurred £(2,750)
Total saved £9,538
Increased quality of life priceless

(With apologies for the professional in-joke).

Of course, if both members of a professional couple were able to make the same saving, you’d have a healthy 10% deposit every four years – or to put it another way, you’d pay off more than half your mortgage over a standard term, just by offsetting your motoring costs.

I don’t mind cycling in the rain, but I’d be positively ecstatic about the occasional shower in return for half the mortgage being paid off for me! Sadly, maths is no guarantee that you will convert your other half…

† this is reassuringly theoretically true

Quality Bike Corridor: more parking on the way

Proposals are being made to ‘invest’ the council’s cycling budget in allowing more parking on the Edinburgh Quality Bike Corridor…

Traffic orders will be consulted on… maybe

Thanks to Kim Harding for passing on details of proposed modifications to Edinburgh’s “Quality” Bike Corridor, the notoriously expensive on-and-off painted lanes that “run” (when not completely blocked by parked cars) for a couple of miles to the south of the city centre.

Although there are other serious problems with the route, anyone who’s attempted to cycle on the QBC more than once will be familiar with a few ‘hot spots’ where cycling on the painted lanes is prevented almost 24/7 by parked vehicles, leaving the most vulnerable of road users, well… especially vulnerable.

It now looks like the council are going to invest some extra time and money in the QBC to attempt to tackle two of these locations.

Ratcliffe Terrace:

The “paint-out” around parked vehicles at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace promised to help address safety at a critical point, and in fairness the current layout is much better than the pre-QBC configuration. Unfortunately at either end of the block of shops, the same old vehicles completely block safe use of the road.

Amusingly, even Google Streetview has caught Hua Xing red handed on the double yellows:

ratcliffe_streetview

Both ends of the parking will be extended to legalise two extra vehicles under the proposals. That is, parking will not be permitted on top of the cycle lane, but reflecting the council’s inability to keep businesses from ignoring the double yellows, the cycle lane will be moved out to protect cyclists forced into the road.

See the rollover for details:

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Hover overlay: [Existing layout] [New layout]

Informal surveys have shown that there are often several times as many vehicles parked on the QBC (legally or otherwise) compared with the number of citizens brave enough to cycle along it. On the face of it, in the absence of camera enforcement, building around some of this parking activity can only be seen as a positive step.

Mayfield Road

The second location to be modified is on Mayfield Road, where there’s another paint-out around parking spaces in front of a row of shops (just before the road splits into two lanes for the junction with West Saville Terrace):

mayfield

Unfortunately the plans for this location don’t involve any improvement for cyclists. Instead, the council are merely going to legalise parking on top of the QBC, making it even more useless than it already is.

See the rollover for details:

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Hover overlay: [Existing layout] [New layout]

This is particularly galling since money is being taken from the council’s very limited cycling budget to realise these changes, so money ring-fenced for improving cycle provision is literally being used to create parking on top of a main cycle route. Only in Edinburgh…

Next steps

According to the attached report (see below), there has been no consultation with any cycling body on these alterations. While the changes at Ratcliffe Terrace represent a welcome improvement, allowing vehicles to obstruct the QBC right at the critical few metres before the West Saville Terrace junction is a serious retrograde step.

There does not seem to have been any risk assessment made regarding cyclist safety at this busy junction.

There is not, as yet, any update from Spokes on these proposals (to be updated?). In the meantime it would seem safe to highlight your concerns with your local councillors, and ask them to pass this on.

Ultimately, a statutory consultation on the TROs will be carried out, but it would be nice to think that safety concerns could be addressed beforehand…

Original documents

Signed Del Pow Report – Ratcliffe Terrace
Appendix 1
Appendix 2

Cyclists: blinding tail lights make you less safe

You need to be visible – you don’t need to be obnoxious.

Why are we obsessed with the idea that brighter is better?

First, forgive me – put your driving hat on! Do you think the safety of your car could be improved if you drove around town at night with your high beam headlights?

Probably you’d agree that this would be counterproductive (and nobody does it).

So let’s think about the back of your car. Would you drive around town at night with your rear foglight on because you felt it made you safer? No (and again, nobody does this).

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What about traffic lights? Making them twice, five times or ten times brighter than they are? (Maybe we could recycle the bulbs from car foglights when they’re scrapped to make traffic lights really hard to miss?)

News flash, people who shoot red lights already know they’re red…

You’ve probably figured out that I’m asking why we don’t seem to apply the same logic to the back of our bikes. There, “the brighter the better” seems to be the rule of the day, and it’s interesting to wonder why.

Rise of the dynamo

From 80’s “never-readies” to the current age of laser death beams, I’d always gone with the flow and bought successively brighter and badder lights for my bikes.

That is until I decided to go for a dynamo when I got into audax a few years ago.

Instead of packing multiple 1W LEDs, in dynamo tail lights you have a design which burns a mere ~50mW (0.05W) and has some clever focusing or diffusing technology. I admit I was unsure – my commuter at the time had three separate Smart Superflash LEDs on the back.

But after countless thousands of miles in all weather and all conditions, from urban streets in rush hour and pub closing time to deserted glens, I’m more or less convinced that drivers can see dynamo tail lights.

In case this is starting to sound like a dynamo commercial… there are lots of great reasons not to use a dynamo!

It’s just that the visibility of the nice steady tail light simply isn’t one of them.

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Official product shot of a 500 lumen tail light “in a country lane at 20 metres”. Good luck judging anything as you overtake…

Obnoxious tail-lights are counterproductive for safe cycling

Despite all the obvious counterexamples, people definitely seem to think that brighter tail lights are safer.

A quick Google and you’ll find such gems as “SAVE YOUR Life, Ride Ultra BRIGHT, DAY And night” … followed up by “If you can look directly at the light, it’s not even close to being brite (sic) enough”.

Not only do I disagree, I think that running an epic tail light is actively reducing your safety on the road.

I was driving through Edinburgh recently at dusk when a rider joined the road up ahead. I was some way off, so he was perfectly safe jumping on, and he proceeded at a reasonable pace. Maybe it’s just been a while since last winter, but I found his rear light to be ferociously bright – just painful to drive behind.

Rather than wait behind as we came up towards a pinch point for a railway bridge, I found myself dropping a gear and accelerating hard to get past. I didn’t cut it too fine, but since this is my commute I know that I’d have been shaking my head.

Inevitably, I had to queue to turn right at the T-junction ahead and after maybe twenty seconds the rider had filtered past and I was being blasted by the red howitzer once more. I’m not sure of the brand – it had a regular flash going on but also an off-tempo nuclear strobe effect.

What happened to this rider with the ultra brite light on the next bit of open road?

Let’s just say that neither of the drivers in front of me wasted any time in ripping past him as he climbed the shallow gradient, even though it was tight with oncoming traffic. Neither did I, and neither did any of the cars I caught passing him in the rear-view. I’m probably the only one who felt guilty about it, too.

If this guy bought his light on the basis that it would make him safer, then he really ought to ask for his money back!

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A headlight. It is not a tail-light. There are big differences!

There is an optimum brightness for safe riding.

A tail light just needs to be bright enough that motorists notice you (and can account for your course and speed). You blatantly don’t need an atomic tail light to achieve this – just look at the huge number of cyclists who have either no lights at all or the bare minimum.

While I’d never advocate it, casualties from the practice are astonishingly low. If you pop out in your car, you’ll quickly reassure yourself at how easy it is to spot riders with even pretty pathetic tail lights.

After that you’re relying on goodwill, and who ever thought that brighter lights create goodwill?

There’s a strong argument for brighter headlights in safety terms, but tail lights aren’t headlights and there is a vital difference between them.

When you increase the power of your front light, you are incentivising other road users in a way which promotes your own safety – motorists in oncoming vehicles (and those at side streets) have to actively decide that you aren’t as big as you look, and to actively decide to put themselves into your glare when waiting for a couple of seconds puts you out of the way.

Uber tail lights also incentivise other road users, but they do not do so in a way which is beneficial for you. Drivers who find your light unpleasant are rewarded the faster they get past you, and it’s no secret that other cyclists don’t like riding behind Joe Death Star.

Conversely, do you really think that taxi drivers who cut past you in the city’s bus lanes would decide to be more responsible if only you had more photons at your disposal? They’re actually deciding based on a layman’s knowledge of bike lighting that you do or don’t deserve a legal amount of space? Really?

No, it’s simply faulty thinking to imagine that a brighter tail light will get more attention and more consideration from other road users.

You need to be visible – you don’t need to be obnoxious.