Schwalbe Marathon Racer review

The new Schwalbe Marathon Racer Evo is a top quality, versatile, and efficient option for those wanting a larger volume tyre.

Jack of all trades with a tilt towards lower rolling resistance

The Schwalbe Marathon Racer is a variant on the famous Marathon lineage that is biased towards speed (although in truth, you would never race on one!).

More rugged than Schwalbe’s Kojak slick, but also built to a higher standard, this should be a very interesting tyre if you’re looking for a capable all-rounder.

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Like many of Schwalbe’s tyres, all sorts of wheel sizes are catered to, from 16″ right through to 700C.

The default width is 1.5″ / 40mm, although 26×1.75 and 700×30/35mm options are available if you’d like to go fatter or thinner!

Compared to other tyres in this class, weight is respectable – 375g for folding 700x35c (vs 550g for a 32mm Continental Contact II or 440g for a 35mm folding Panaracer Pasela TG).

Buy Online

For all that it comes as OEM on some models of bike, the Schwalbe Marathon Racer isn’t as readily available online as some other models, whether in Evo or Performance guises.

At the time of writing, there’s a respectable discount on the 26″ size from Chain Reaction, otherwise you’ll be wanting to look at Amazon who have up to a whacking 36% off on the 700x30mm / 700x35mm / 700x40mm or the 20×1.5″ sizes (Amazon marketplace is a surprisingly good place to find bike parts… is there anything they don’t sell?)

Width/weight

Obviously narrower tyres can come in lighter – Schwalbe’s Ultremo racer weighs just over 190g. However, as we’ve seen the Schwalbe Marathon Racer is competitive within its own niche.

Because they are 1.75x wider than a racing slick, there is a lot of air in a Marathon Racer:

width relative width relative volume
Continental GP4000s 23mm 1x 1x
Specialised Armadillo 28mm 1.22x 1.48x
Schwalbe Marathon Racer 40mm 1.74x 3x

The 40mm Marathon Racer even has 30% more air volume than the 35mm Kojak – this makes a real difference when you’re hitting obstacles (potholes, kerbs, rough ground).

Rolling resistance

Standard disclaimer: for most of us, one of the significant disadvantages of a wide tyre (the aerodynamic penalty of pushing aside an extra wedge of air) doesn’t apply, unless you’re time trialling and probably reading the wrong sort of review..

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The Marathon Racer has in common with other wide tyres the floating sensation that makes them so comfortable and capable – but truth be told, rattling around on a rock hard 23mm tyre feels faster regardless of what the speedo says!

While initially fitting the Marathon Racers, I was completely certain that I’d find them slower than my old Kojaks, but if truth be told I find it difficult to tell them apart on the open road. Make no mistake – the Kojak feels more supple and in a lab I have no doubt it would come out ahead, but the Marathon Racer is fast enough that I can come close to my Strava record times on urban segments. Surprising, but there you go.

Because the Marathon Racer is now part of the top-flight Evo tier of Schwalbe tyres, it benefits from some innovations that are not present on the Kojak (improved carcass, sidewalls, and tread compound) which might account for this..

Comfort

I’m running the 700x35mm tyre on the rear of my commuter and the 700x40mm (marked 38c) on the front. Compared with the 23mm tyres I used to commute on years ago, these are worlds away in terms of their ability to eat potholes, kerbs, tram lines, small animals and general debris. At relatively high pressures they feel direct and responsive, but you can safely let some air out to give a plush and very comfortable ride.

I’d say these rate equally with Kojaks in the comfort stakes *at the same width* – the 40mm Schwalbe Marathon Racer has 30% more air than the 35mm Kojak however, and is certainly happier on rough surfaces like Edinburgh cobbles! (However, let’s not forget that compared with 23mm racing tyres, this is like arguing which of two sofas is more comfortable, compared with a pile of straw).

Reflective bands

One key difference with the Kojak is that the Schwalbe Marathon Racer is fitted with reflective sidewalls. Although sidewalls (and spoke reflectors) are arguably the least important type of safety equipment this is still a nice-to-have, and might be a clincher for you:

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Very effective indeed!

Grip

The Marathon Racer is intended for on-road use and has a cosmetic tread only. I’ve ridden on dirt and grass on these and also on complete slicks, and if pressed I might admit the Racers are a little better, but please don’t buy these if unsealed surfaces are any kind of priority. There are far more suitable tyres out there!

Like Kojaks, the Marathon Racer allows a more positive connection with the road due to their width and lower pressure than does a narrow racing slick. However, it additionally benefits from the RoadStar Triple Compound which optimises grip (and wear) by intelligently choosing an appropriate type of rubber for different areas of the tyre’s cross-section – in a nutshell, hard wearing in the centre and tacky on the edges for cornering performance.

Flat resistance

The Schwalbe Marathon Racer features the top-level HD Speed Guard high density vectran breaker strip, a considerably more advanced level of puncture protection than the Kojak’s Raceguard and one it shares with tyres like the Ultremo ZX or Marathon Supreme, both of which have a good reputation in the puncture stakes.

Mine are looking very good so far, but I’ll update this if and when I encounter problems (I commute a substantial distance on a disused railway path covered in glass, putting any tyre through its paces).

Durability

Tread thickness is directly linked to rolling resistance, so to reduce the latter, the Marathon Racer also has less of the former!

That said, it has more tread depth than the Kojaks (which give me a few thousand miles each) and is perhaps the best tyre for those wanting a compromise between durability and speed. Touring-biased versions of the Marathon line will offer vastly increased mileage at the expense of weight and ride quality…

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ICE Adventure FS from Laid-Back-Bikes: great terrain for Marathon Racers!

Like most light road tyres, I’m happy to take the Marathon Racer on hardpack or well-trodden dirt paths (like the Union Canal towpath), but I wouldn’t use it to ride on green roads or anything more adventurous where a stray rock could trash the sidewall.

Weight

A wider tyre simply must be heavier than a narrow one, that much is obvious – so if you’re an outright weight weenie, you probably haven’t read down this far 😉

It’s not too bad, with the 700×35 Marathon Racer losing out to a 700×28 Durano by around 100g, but as noted above, it’s significantly lighter than some competing models.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t say that the Schwalbe Marathon Racers are a favourite of mine, although I still have them fitted to my commuter and am riding on them for many miles each day.

To me, they fall between two stools: if you want a wide fast tyre, go and buy yourself a Kojak and stop worrying. If you want a tyre for all round riding and speed is not a priority, go and buy yourself a Marathon Greenguard and stop worrying. 🙂

In fairness, the Marathon Racer is a significant step up from the regular Marathon in terms of speed, so if you really don’t want a complete slick, these are probably the next best thing. They do benefit from a great quality carcass and puncture protection, and do offer significantly more air volume, which shouldn’t be underestimated (plus, of course, the reflective sidewalls).

All in all, a smart ‘jack of all trades’ with a slant towards speed. Get yours now.

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Vital Statistics

Note: On a 17mm rim the 700x35c measures 32.5mm while the 700x38c measures 37.5mm

Folding version:

ETRTO (mm) Imperial (“) Pressure (bar) Pressure (psi) Weight (g)
40-406 20 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 300
40-559 26 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 390
47-559 26 x 1 3/4 3-5 45-75 485
35-622 700x35c 4.5-6.5 67-97 375
40-622 700x38c 4-6 60-90 435

Wire version:

ETRTO (mm) Imperial (“) Pressure (bar) Pressure (psi) Weight (g)
40-305 16 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 255
40-355 18 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 295
40-406 20 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 340
40-559 26 x 1 1/2 4-6 60-90 465
47-559 26 x 1 3/4 3-5 45-75 575
30-622 700x30c 4.5-7 67-105 395
35-622 700x35c 4.5-6.5 67-97 465
40-622 700x40c 4-6 60-90 495

 

 

CB’s Giant e-bike

CB: “I love my e-bike – for me it is the perfect commute machine – easy, speedy, and it gives me much more confidence, especially in traffic”

I mentioned recently on the CityCyclingEdinburgh forum that I’d welcome anyone who’d like to share their bike and experiences and wouldn’t mind being ‘featured’ in a post here.

New member ‘CB’ kindly took me up on the offer with her excellent “cycling conversion” story…

I never liked cycling. I didn’t get a bike when I was a kid (multiple reasons) and only barely managed to learn to ride a 2 wheeler by age 10. Since I was so much less competent than any of my friends, even riding a borrowed bike was no fun – they all left me behind.

Grew up (well, got older, anyroads).

Somewhen in the mid 1980’s there was a bus strike in Edinburgh. At the time I was living in Morningside and working in Leith. Borrowed a bike to get to work. Man’s road bike with drop handlebars – never been on one before. Fell off somewhere along Melville Drive in the rush hour, bringing all traffic to a halt. Decided I REALLY didn’t like cycling.

Grew older still. Got married. Husband decided to take up cycling to work as we were hard up (new baby, he had new job in Roslin, living on Causewayside). He became a proper cycling enthusiast. I was still totally uninterested.

Grew even older. Spent many years driving to/from work in various places, mostly in East Lothian. Got fed up with it.

Got a new job, much closer to home. Husband suggested again that I try a bike. I protested that arriving sweaty wasn’t going to be a good start to my working day. He suggested an e-bike. Had no idea about them. He said, go for a test ride.

So…

Went for a test ride. Got on, with much trepidation. Set off round the block. Apparently, when I got back, I had a grin from ear to ear. “I want one” I said. So he bought me one.

Giant e-bike

To be honest, neither of us was sure whether I would actually stick to using it. I got it in July and started using it every day to pop up to the shops, or just to get some fresh air between the showers. When term restarted, I cycled in on my first morning commute very nervously. Colleagues were intrigued, some positively supportive. Next day the pupils were back. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions – a few made cheeky comments of course, but a couple said “Cool bike, Miss” and asked about what it was like to ride.

Kept on cycling every day. Got some nice big panniers so carrying marking home wasn’t a problem. And of course, stopping off on the way home at the local shops for fresh bread, milk, fruit, veg etc was easy-peasy on my bike – with the car it had never been possible as nowhere to park.

In fact the cycling was becoming such fun that I wanted to do more at the weekends, so bought a 2nd hand MTB which could go on the bike rack to take away with us for weekends in our campervan. During the late summer/autumn had several weekends up in the Trossachs and highlands, and managed several days out doing 20km or so on the MTB – yes, I know, small potatoes to those of you who rattle off 50 mile treks, but this is a middle-aged, formerly non-cycling old biddy, so I consider it a success story.

Since buying the e-bike in July, I’ve only used the car 4 times to get to work – either because I had to take in extra equipment, or because I had agreed to car-share with a colleague to go to a meeting after school on the other side of town.

I love my e-bike – for me it is the perfect commute machine – easy, speedy, and it gives me much more confidence, especially in traffic, because I know it has the acceleration to get me out of trouble if I need it, where I don’t have the fitness (yet!?) to manage so well on a regular bike. And because I started to enjoy cycling on it, I’ve also developed a love of cycling on my MTB in the countryside.

Would I recommend it to others? – you bet!

(My emphasis). A fantastic story and one a lot of us can relate to (I was the world’s least likely overweight computer science graduate to ever get on a bike…)

I followed up with a quick question about charging this bike up. It is a big inconvenience?

Charging up is no problem – once the battery got conditioned – first couple of weeks it needed charging every 2-3 days, but now it will do me a full week of commuting plus shopping no problem, and in the winter when it has mostly just been a commute there and back, with no extra joy-riding (!) it has sometimes lasted a fortnight between charges – I’m only travelling a couple of miles each way.

A charge takes 4-5 hours so just plug in overnight in the garage. When the weather is VERY cold, I take the battery off the bike and keep it indoors so it is warmer, as it seems to be more efficient that way. Just clip it back onto the bike when I want to cycle.

Thanks CB – great to hear of a lasting “conversion”, and I hope you and the bike carry on in style for many miles to come 🙂

Gorebridge – Peebles – Innerleithen

Fifty miles of near-deserted tarmac to the south of Edinburgh, with just a couple of busier bits, and plenty of cake!

Superb quiet-roads route within spitting distance of Edinburgh

Last weekend saw us celebrate mid-February’s unseasonably superb weather (no gloves! suncream!) with a cracking ~50 mile circular from Gorebridge to Peebles and back via Innerleithen. Often rolling, it doesn’t feel particularly hilly – although the total ascent is around 3,000′.

Note: there is a short (2.5 mile) stretch of the A703 Peebles-Edinburgh road, which is OK – well used by cyclists, all things considered – albiet not pleasant. This leaves almost exactly 50 miles of deserted road to enjoy, but if it’s not your thing, I can’t find any ready alternative for this part of the route.

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Above: smooth empty roads between Temple and the A703… perfect!

Here’s the overview map: a simple route to navigate, heading counter-clockwise for no particular reason. Very quiet roads and plenty of opportunity for cake!

gorebridge-map8

Leg one: Gorebridge – A703 (10 miles)

A landslip near Temple has closed the minor road for the duration (although it’s easily bypassed by car or bike by heading through the village instead) making the first section of the ride even more super deserted than would otherwise be the case.

gorebridge-loop-map1

Apart from the dip down to the river at Temple proper, this whole section is very gentle with no major gradients. The road surface is generally excellent, having been recently relaid for large stretches of the route.

Leg two: A703 (2.5 miles)

Unfortunately, there’s no ready alternative to the A703 if you want to head in either direction from the end of the minor road.

Outside of peak times, this road is relatively lightly trafficed; I recommend planning the direction of your overall ride so that you would be going south in the morning (while people are driving north into Edinburgh to shop), or would be riding north later on (at the time that they’re all driving home).

gorebridge-loop-map2

Ten minutes of gritted teeth will see you to the exit at the village of Eddlestone.

In future years, if the railbed between Peebles and Penicuik is ever transformed into a cycle route, this section would be the cherry on the cake…

Leg three: Eddlestone – A72 (5 miles)

From the picturesque village of Eddlestone a minor road heads south-west, meeting the A72 a couple of miles west of Peebles.

gorebridge-photo2

A fair climb but steady, you will be rewarded for your efforts with a fantastic zoom downhill on a narrow, winding road.

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There is some farm traffic on the ascent, with accompanying mud, but otherwise this section is a dream to ride.

Leg four: Eddlestone – Peebles (? miles)

If you don’t mind a bit more traffic and want an easy life, you can just proceed along the A72 directly to Peebles.

The alternative is to cross the river and enjoy the superb road around Cademuir Hill, bringing you in to the quiet south of the town on a lovely stretch of road.

There are two bridges facilitating this access. The closest is the (signposted) cycle route “border loop 82”, which crosses on a footbridge immediately south of your current location. The other option is to proceed along the A72 for a short distance before crossing on a standard minor road.

See below (border loop 82 is highlighted):

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The dedicated “Border Loop 82” route might appeal to you, but be warned that it is not suitable for most bikes, as the surface is horrendously muddy, while the path itself is narrow and poorly maintained, when it doesn’t widen into a bog:

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After confirming with some locals that this really was supposed to be a cycle route, we pressed on rather than turning back to the A72 (which I would do in future). I’m not sure my poor bike will ever be the same again, even after I removed the wheel to clear the mud and let it rotate freely:

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Leg five: Peebles – Innerleithen (8.6 miles)

However you get to Peebles, you face a choice. You can either ‘enjoy’ the ferociously busy High Street or ignore the whole town and head to picturesque Innerleithen for refreshments instead. This was the option we went for!

Below, see the end of the loop around Cademuir Hill before riding along the quiet B7062 to Innerleithen. This is another really nice stretch of road, very light traffic and just lumpy enough to keep your interest.
 

gorebridge-loop-map5

In no time at all you will arrive at the superb Whistle Stop Cafe in Innerleithen, which does a fantastic made-to-order BLT and a fearsome selection of baking in cyclist-sized portions!

Dig in, you’ve earned it…

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Leg six: Innerleithen – Gorebridge (17.7 miles)

Suitably refreshed, you now make your way north from Innerleithen up the spectacular B7007. Carrying only a little traffic, it’s a pair of climbs which are not steep but long long long – enough that you’ll feel the effort if chasing other riders is the name of the game…

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The prevailing wind from the southwest makes it a good bet that you’ll enjoy going north on this road more than going south, but either will work when the day is as nice as this!

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As you finish descending, avoid the default option of joining the A7 with the B7007. Instead, turn left for Middleton (now following the NCN1 signage) and you can either cross the A7 towards Borthwick Castle, keep on the west side of it until you hit the crossroads, or pop onto the A7 for literally a few hundred meters to finish.

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What a fantastic afternoon out!

Why the government must not cut fuel duty

If fuel duty is cut, the money has to come from all our pockets instead. If fuel prices are high, we can use more efficient cars or drive less. We can’t choose to pay less tax.

A plea to George Osborne from “the squeezed middle”

Hysteria in the local rag today with “Petrol crisis: Pump prices near record levels” painting a particularly bleak picture of the state of the nation, as “…prices across Edinburgh and the Lothians crash through the £1.40-a-litre barrier…”

fuel1

From the horse’s mouth:

“You’ve got families and businesses at breaking point. You’ve got fuel hitting record levels and the economy’s on its knees.

“Our plea to the government is simply this – cutting fuel duty substantially is the easiest and quickest way to give the economy the kick it needs to get it growing.”

FairFuelUK via Scotsman.com

As you can imagine, I’ve got more than a few things to say about that…

Hands off the market, George!

Speaking as a motorist and concerned citizen, I don’t think there’s anything fair at all about cutting fuel duty. All that means is that instead of charging gas-guzzlers for their bad habits, all the rest of us find their taxes aren’t going as far as they used to.

Whenever the government cuts tax on fuel, the money has to come from all our pockets instead, in the form of general taxation.

If fuel prices are high, we can use more efficient cars, drive less, use companies that deliver smarter. We can’t choose to pay less tax.

Is that somehow fair, FairFuelUK?

You want our old people and hard working families who rely less on their cars to pay for the ones that think they can’t do without? Not in my name.

As a member of the “squeezed middle”, I like high fuel prices. It means fewer people sitting stationary in traffic jams, belching fumes into the air. It means there’s a big incentive for companies, councils and the government to get smarter and more efficient with the way they transport things.

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In short, it provides a competitive market where companies (and consumers) are rewarded for doing the right thing, and penalised if they stick to their old fuel-wasting ways.

In a very real way rising fuel duty revenues take some of the strain off my income tax, NI, VAT (etc) payments, letting the government spend that money on schools and the NHS. I can’t even shed crocodile tears for people who insist on driving a few miles across town at 10mph and are now paying for the privilege of spraying families on the pavement with diesel particulates.

Make sure the market can be efficient, George

Just about the only thing that struck a chord with me was the comment by Central Taxis director Tony Kenmuir, who said that a 5p rise at the pump cuts £1,200 from the annual income of a taxi driver.

This is news to me. I don’t routinely travel by taxi but always assumed that prices went up according to inflation, fuel, and other costs like insurance.

For a concerned citizen such as I, it’s very bad news when fuel duty goes up but the costs aren’t passed directly on to the end consumer. If it gets more expensive to ship New Zealand lamb, I want it to cost more on the shelf (and buy local instead). If it costs more to get a taxi because the fuel costs a fortune, I’ll do less of that too.

trailer-washingYou might not want to do this, but that doesn’t mean I should have to subsidise your inefficient lifestyle either!

The cost of delivering to supermarkets and depots should be passed on to customers as directly as possible; competitive companies already do this by striving to improve the efficiency of their logistics operations.

Let’s not stifle that by meddling with the market and cutting fuel duty in a misguided attempt to make things better. The economy is not dying because of the cost of moving things around (if it was, fuel wouldn’t have plunged to 75p/litre at the start of the recession).

I want it expensive and I want it passed on: that way I can choose to avoid it.

Thanks, George.

Bakfiets: first impressions

Designed from the ground up to transport as many as three children in comfort and safety, everything about the Bakfiets feels burly and well designed…

Often imitated, say hello to the reference cargo bike…

A special order through Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes, this fine Bakfiets cargo bicycle turned up last weekend and caused a bit of a stir in idle Marchmont. (Although yes, you could argue that each delivery causes its own stir!)

Bakfiets cargo bike in Edinburgh

Brought in for a customer to transport their children around Edinburgh in style (and probably the kitchen sink too), I was keen to take a closer look at what is unquestionably a benchmark vehicle.

Designed from the ground up to transport as many as three children in comfort and safety, everything about the Bakfiets feels burly and well designed – reassuring when you consider the use and abuse it must withstand.

The interior comes equipped with a bench (doubling as a locker) as standard, with the possibility of fitting a further bench in front, a baby or toddler seat, room for your shopping, whatever.

A sturdy canopy protects the contents from wind and rain (it can be separately rolled back between the rider and cargo, so you can easily get at the contents!)

Bakfiets cargo bike in Edinburgh

You can just see the massive kickstand in the photo above – it keeps the bike completely stable at rest, and even better, you can put it up and down just by kicking it (usually “kick” stand is a misnomer, especially for loaded bikes).

The steering is remote via a very heavy duty rod, as you can see below. In use, the bike is really very manouverable, and I was (more or less) able to trackstand it, so while ponderous, it’s much more agile than you’re probably thinking. Just don’t try to lift it up any flights of stairs!

Bakfiets cargo bike in Edinburgh

A dynamo provides full-time lighting, although bizarrely there is no standlight (a strange omission when this is a negligable part of the price of such an expensive bike). I suppose there’s no question of being missed on the roads, even just with the coachwork!

Bakfiets cargo bike in Edinburgh

Roller brakes provide stopping power in all weather – in theory. Frankly, I wasn’t overly impressed but it’s quite possible that the brakes need more than a few minutes’ use to bed in (drum brakes improve for the first wee while as the surfaces match up) and this could rapidly be fine. You’d certainly expect any hub brake on a 20″ wheel to be enjoying some serious mechanical advantage.

Best of all was the ease of finding a parking space (even easier than with my Carry Freedom Y-Frame trailer).

Add in full protection from the elements, great space from passing motorists and awesome crash safety; are you fancying this for the school run yet?

Bakfiets cargo bike in Edinburgh

The jury’s out on the practicality of such a bike in Edinburgh, given that you more or less have to store it outside like a motorbike (and, of course, the hills) but I sincerely hope to wangle some more saddle time and bring out a detailed review in due course!

Nazca Gaucho 26″

This lovely apple-green Gaucho 26″ came through the Laid-Back-Bikes showroom recently, and I was able to steal a (short!) test ride as well as a handful of pictures…

One of Nazca’s bestsellers: great handling, highly versatile

This lovely apple-green Gaucho 26″ came through the Laid-Back-Bikes showroom recently, and I was able to steal a (short!) test ride as well as a handful of pictures.

Nazca Gaucho 26

The highlight of this model are the twin 26″ wheels (robust, with a fantastic choice of tyres) which combine with the s-bend frame, delivering a relatively low ride height.

I had no problem getting my feet flat on the floor while riding, which is really key for comfort and utility when you want to ride with a load and/or on “interesting” surfaces!

Nazca Gaucho 26

This model is currently equipped with the excellent Schwalbe Kojak tyre, but there is enough clearance for a more rugged touring model, or even a light off-roader.

The open-cockpit handlebars won’t suit all tastes. To my surprise, I found the handling was quite nice, even turning relatively tightly. Perhaps my riding skills are just getting a bit better!

Nazca Gaucho 26

With wide bars like this, there’s plenty of leverage for controlling a heavy load, and the bike is equipped with an excellent rack that will take a full 30kg load from panniers and rack-top bag. You can see the frame mount points for the supplementary side racks (an extra 20kg load!) under the middle of the seat:

Nazca Gaucho 26

Another view of the same below. Note the suspension (great for your bike and good for you too, especially on our cratered roads!), the heavy-duty kickstand, and disc brakes to bring everything to a rapid stop:

Nazca Gaucho 26

Although initially skeptical, I was really won over by this charming and versatile design in the short time I spent with it. Not the lightest, or as rapid as the Fuego or the Gaucho 28″, but robust and really pleasing to ride.

Edinburgh: “Model” Cycling City

This really begs the question: who in Edinburgh Council just doesn’t get it? If someone was knocked down trying to cross Melville Drive would they take responsibility?

Great post from Wilmington’s Cow over on Blipfoto just now about how depressingly far we are from being a “model” cycling city here in Edinburgh.

So, the junction is closed for redesign, so far so normal. Except, on this busy crossing, while they put in place big yellow ‘diversion’ signs for those in cars… Pedestrians and cyclists, the people for whom this is being redesigned, have the crossing switched off, and…. Nothing. No temporary crossing, just… Nothing. On one of the busiest roads in the city…. Nothing.

The fact that it took various people on a cycling forum to complain before even a temporary crossing was put in is frankly laughable. That they put it in then don’t provide any signs that it is in use (because it’s in a different location) is just ridiculous.

Wilmington’s Cow

To be fair, I suppose we might be an exemplary model of how to have a noisy, fume-filled, car-centric cycling city, but I somehow doubt that was the original intent!

It’s frankly rediculous that Middle Meadow Walk has been cut off with no provision for the crowds of cyclists and pedestrians to get over speeding Melville Road. For those not familiar with the area, Middle Meadow Walk is a major thoroughfare connecting central Edinburgh with Marchmont and the south side, including several schools and the Sick Kids hospital.

By chdot on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chdot/8465011188/
By chdot, on flickr

People are crossing anyway, of course, but dicing with death to do so. All for the want of a simple temporary crossing! The majestic irony of this whole situation is that the works are only in place to improve the junction for active travel, as it has a terrible layout for cyclists and pedestrians anyway.

Update: after councillors were badgered repeatedly by concerned citizens, a temporary crossing has finally been put in place… but further down the road with no diversion signs.

This really begs the question: who in Edinburgh Council just doesn’t get it? If someone was knocked down trying to cross Melville Drive would they take responsibility? After all, the alternatives are some distance away, and the park is big and dark. People aren’t just going to abort their journey because there’s a ‘crossing not in use’ sign up, especially if they’re trying to get to school or the Sick Kids.

For once you have to feel a bit of sympathy for the city’s councillors here. They can’t be expected to personally supervise every piece of works, yet they are ultimately responsible for the public’s wellbeing.

Hopefully some serious taking-to-task is going on behind the scenes, but…

This. Is. Edinburgh.

Park Tool CN10 Cable Cutter review

Wire rope cutters have blades which result in a much cleaner cut – a must-have when servicing your gear and brake cables.

Professional tool makes light work of your cable woes

Often you can get by nicely with generic tools, but not when it comes to cutting gear and brake cables/housing. For good results, you really need a purpose-built pair of wire rope cutters, and the Park Tool CN10 is a very sturdy, easily adjustable tool.

With a simple pair of side cutters, while you’ll be able to get both inner and outer to the right length, there are a couple problems: the outer housing is likely to be pretty badly crushed, and if the inner isn’t neatly round, it may not be possible to thread through the housing at all.

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

Wire rope cutters have blades which encircle the cable and so result in a much cleaner cut, one which leaves both inner and housing in usable condition.

Wiggle have got the Park Tool CN10C on offer and I highly recommend it. (Or see this collection if you’d rather view other options).

Features

As well as the cutting end (!) the Park Tool CN10C has two different crimping notches for crushing end caps onto your brake and gear cables to stop them fraying.

It’s internally-sprung, and strongly enough that it will open easily after every cut so you can work quickly with one hand free to arrange your cable and housing. There’s a simple clasp to hold it shut in storage.

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

The only nit-pick I have is that the tool doesn’t feature a spike for opening out cable housing (something I found very handy on my cheaper tool). In more fevered moments I’ve often thought a filing surface on one edge to square off brake cable housing would be nice too – but to be fair to Park Tool, they’ve built something that does a particular job, and does it well.

Buy cheap, buy twice…

After a short and unsuccessful experiment with a pair of cheaper generic cutters, I caved in and bought the Park Tool version on offer at my local bike shop.

Counting various re-cablings over the years, I’ve probably used it for the equivalent of around twenty complete bike builds, and it still cuts smoothly first time. Take a look at these photos:

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

On the left is a brake inner cut with my Park Tool CN10C, on the right one which I cut (with difficulty!) with a pair of side-cutting pliers. Outer is vastly easier to cut with the Park Tool and the result is pretty good:

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

Averaged out, that’s a cost of around £1.50 per bike (if you replace your housings once a year, £1.50 per annum per bike).

Just try getting your local bike shop to cable a new bike for £1.50 labour. 🙂

Little maintenance needed

As long as you maintain it properly (which pretty much means “keep the bolt tight”) the Park Tool cable cutters will give years of faithful service. The lower blade is threaded and the bolt is then backed up by a large locknut:

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

If you don’t keep the blades tightly aligned, the geometry of the cutting surface breaks down and poor results are all but guaranteed. Strangely, the internet has plenty of negative reviews of this tool (or its predecessors) which makes me wonder how many fail to keep to this simple rule – or are unlucky enough to buy a loose or badly QC’d copy.

Park Tool have a maintenance guide published for this tool, so I won’t repeat it here – needless to say, it’s not rocket science (and you’ll probably get a few years from it before having to worry).

Conclusion

The Park Tool CN10C cable and housing cutter isn’t the cheapest option out there, but it’s comfortable in the hand, accurate and durable – a tool that you can expect to get good use from for many years to come.

A badly crushed cable housing requires plenty of TLC before it will let the inner run freely (possibly hampering smooth shifting or brake lever return) while a mangled inner may not thread properly through the housing at all.

Park Tools CN10C cable cutter review

On the other hand, the curved blades of the CN10 all but guarantee a clean finish. Cable isn’t cheap and you won’t regret tackling it with the right tool for the job!

From the driving seat: bike lights and reflectors

When it comes to cyclist safety, what’s more effective – a light or a reflector? It’s not as easy as you might assume…

Countless British motorists have badly inflated or worn out tyres, faulty lights or dodgy brakes – a massive 40% of vehicles fail their annual MOT inspection at the first attempt.

When the owners of these cars take to the road on two wheels, it should come as small surprise that they don’t all conform to the letter (or spirit!) of the law.

In this post I present four very short videos to use as discussion points. I’ll take each one in turn before attempting to persuade you to draw the conclusion that I always arrive at following a rush hour drive on a dark winter’s night…

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

Light or reflectors?

This video features two riders, one of whom has a rear light (but is still not road legal due to a missing mandatory reflector). The other has no rear light at all. All the same, he is in little danger of going over my bonnet, as you’ll see:

While the video doesn’t completely replicate the driving experience, what I hope to get across here is how visible the unlit rider is – his reflective ankle bands were competing with the second rider’s (perfectly bright) flashing light from hundreds of yards away.

  • Not only is the motion of the leg quite compelling, unlike the second rider’s barely visible pedal reflectors you can see ankle bands all the time, even from side-on.
  • As an added bonus versus lights, the pedals are off-centre (closer to traffic) increasing the perceived width of the bike.
  • We all know that reflectors don’t work when headlights aren’t pointing at them. All the same, between 00:17 – 00:21 you can easily see the rider’s ankle bands despite him being over 45 degrees off-axis. Aren’t modern retro-reflectives efficient?

Like many people, I find it difficult to estimate the distance of a flashing light. This isn’t much of a problem in town, where you can see everything in plenty of time regardless, but it should be thought-provoking that the nominally ‘unsafe’ cyclist might even be easier to place – especially if you’re in the habit of riding outside urban areas or off the beaten track.

The human touch

Contrast the riders above with this one (encountered a few seconds further on). He has sparingly fitted just one reflective band, but on the business side where it will best compliment his light:

Compared to an abstract light -flashing or otherwise- the human motion of the rotating ankle certainly discourages a braindead pass (dehumanising the cyclist to a narrow box-like object to be passed with as little care as you’d pass a traffic cone – if that).

Where does it all go wrong?

The real point of this post was not so much to contrast lights and reflectives (interesting though that subject may be).

Let’s look at our next example, a rider who is, at face value, doing everything right. Yet he’s doing something badly wrong… can you tell what it is?

I imagine experienced riders might have been a little uncomfortable there, especially if you imagine I’m just another white van…

The issue? The rider’s road position was completely indefensive. What’s the point being lit up like a Christmas tree if you’re just going to expose yourself to injury by riding in daft places?

You can see this quite acutely at 00:05-00:10 where the cyclist is actually riding on the double yellow lines – so passive (and so almost “not-there-ish”) that I nearly overtook regardless of the junction coming up.

Spend any time on the roads with an open mind and I think it’s easy to argue that a large proportion of collisions (and possibly the explanation of the great gender disparity in injury rates) comes down to the messages that riders give out – voluntarily or otherwise – and the opportunities for error that they present to the drivers they interact with.

Don’t go taking off your lights, but even if you have them on, please don’t assume that they are particularly important. The rider with only a reflective band, riding a sensible distance from the kerb, would have been a safe bet over the “legal” rider in the third video if I was running an insurance company…

Battery powered dynamo lighting

Did you know that many dynamo bike lights can be powered quite happily by ordinary DC batteries?

It’s only recently that manufacturers have finally started producing battery-powered lights with asymmetric reflectors, so you aren’t riding along spraying half your photons up towards the International Space Station.

The Busch & Müller Ixon IQ (£70) was the first decent effort that I’m aware of, and more recently the catchily-named Philips LED Bike Light (RRP £110) and the Supernova Airstream (an eye-watering £170).

Cycling off
Cycling off by Phil and Pam, on Flickr

If you already own a decent dynamo headlight, however, or are too just cheap to pay a lot of extra money for a proprietary holder with re-manufactured lithium rechargeables inside, there is a third way.

Continue reading “Battery powered dynamo lighting”