Alps cycling report (abridged)

A few words on a long weekend in the Alps…

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Flew into Geneva for four days solo riding in the Alps.

Went up several cols: Roselend, Iseran, Vars, Agnes, Izoard, Sarenne – and drove over Galibier and Croix de Fer (very busy with motorists due to the closure of the Lautaret). Visited two ski stations: Alp D’Huez and Chamrousse.

It was hot and hilly (climbed almost 16,000m and put 14,997kJ through the PowerTap). Managed to climb Alp D’Huez in 58:30 which was pleasing given how bad my fitness is this year.

It is amazing to ride uphill for hours at a time – and the descending is even better! Highly recommended to anyone who has the chance to go…

Longer report with more pics to follow soon!

My massive cycling pay rise

How cycling to work has boosted my true hourly wage by over 22%

A couple of years back I wrote an article comparing the costs of different modes of commute in Edinburgh.

I was recently given a sniff of a rival job with a five figure pay rise, but it would have meant a similar length of time commuting (bike or car) with a far inferior route. I’m one of those annoying people who enjoys their job, but even if I’d been interested, it would actually have been a pay cut in true wage terms. Can you imagine trying to explain that to a recruiter?

The true wage

Take the number of hours in your contract and your salary net of tax and you have your nominal hourly wage – but that’s only half the story.

For a fair comparison you really need to account for the costs associated with a job (having to run two cars for the commute, for instance) and also the time you spend off the clock needs to be added to the hours that you’re chained to the desk (commuting, answering email out of hours, and so on).

The resulting figure is your true hourly wage, and my premise is that if you can get yourself to the point where you have a fun, healthy bike commute without traffic trouble, you can give your true wage a massive boost.

My “motor bloater” persona

In “how I saved a house deposit cycling to work” I calculated that the cost of running our actual car was just over £2100 a year. For my current commute of 5500 miles a year, fuel would add another £900 or so, taking us to a nice round £3k if I needed to buy another car so I could drive to work.

If I did drive then a gym membership would be essential. The majority of Scots might be bloaters, but I don’t want to be one of them! The Edinburgh Leisure option doesn’t break the bank at £560pa and is what I used to have.

I’m lucky to have no need for office clothes despite working for a high power multinational and I generally resist the expensive lunch options, so I’m going to be generous and zero those costs off against the clothes and lunch I’d be spending on anyway (even a Greggs and Starbucks add up – £5 each working day is over £1100pa). Childcare would be the other major factor for many readers, but I’m not paying for it, so I won’t include it.

On the odd day that I do have to drive to work, I leave at least 50 minutes before I need to be at my desk, and allow an hour to drive home. I take an hour’s lunch (unpaid) which I’d certainly rather spend elsewhere, if it wasn’t for the core hours on either side. In total that’s almost three hours a day travelling to/from/sitting unpaid at the office on top of the time I have to be there to work (which is thankfully quite a lot fewer hours than the industry average – one of the reasons I’m a big fan of my current job).

On this basis my true hourly wage is somewhere around £14/hour.

Now, in real life

However, the reality is that we don’t need to run a second car, and I gave up my Edinburgh Leisure membership years ago. I’m still on the same £800 commuter that I built up three years ago, and might have spent a couple of hundred on chains and clothes, so let’s be pessimistic and write that all off now, making it £350pa of direct extra cycling costs. I’m already better off than my motor-bloater persona to the tune of over £3k a year…

My commute is almost entirely pleasant – we splashed the cash on a house that is directly connected to a couple of Edinburgh’s few long-distance segregated cycleways, so I can sometimes manage a whole week of rush hour commuting without being overtaken at all.

Including time to get changed, I have to allow 90 minutes per day to commute by bike, but since I try to get an hour’s exercise on days when I’m not working, I’m only going to add 30 minutes’ worth to the time cost of the job (it’s probably fair to include some of my commuting time, as I doubt I would choose to bike 22 miles a day if I had an independent income – a third is pretty much an arbitrary proportion though).

In summary then, cycling to work saves me over £3k a year in costs and also an hour a day, or 225 hours a year. Calculated with these numbers, my true hourly wage has jumped to over £17 an hour.

That’s a cool 22% pay rise, and I’m enjoying it every day. The only way it could get better would be to cut down on the number of hours I spend in the office for the money, which is possible, but not straightforward.

It’s also worth noting that this is not a uniform benefit by any means. The less you earn, the bigger the impact of cutting out the car or public transport has on your bottom line. If I earned minimum wage I’d be 50% better off rather than 22% (although the utility of the comparison is limited, since the typical minimum wage earner probably doesn’t run two cars and pay over £500 for a gym membership).

Cycling Cuba’s Oriente

Three weeks in Cuba, cycling unsupported around the coast of the Oriente – Guardalavaca, Baracoa, La Farola, Santiago, Sierra Maestra…

Viva la revolución!

We’re just back from three weeks in Cuba, cycling unsupported around the coast of the Oriente- Guardalavaca, Baracoa, La Farola, Santiago, Sierra Maestra… we’ve got monster tan lines and an irrational hatred of plantain chips and everything made of guava… 😉

Rather unfortunately my camera didn’t make it. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one taking pictures, and in the true spirit of antiimperialismo I’m able to bring you a few sneak peeks while I write up more substantial reports (watch this space).

Cuba certainly lived up to its reputation as a first-rate cycling destination: perfect weather, amazing roads, friendly people… with the daily average around 40°C it was certainly an antidote to British winter blues!

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The coast road just east of Marea del Portillo, Granma

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Fixing the suspension of our intercity transport with some fence wire on the Carratera Central.
Note the five well secured (!) bikes.

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Crossing the Sierra Maestra towards San Lorenzo

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Riding into another Carribean sunset…

cuba1Crossing the pass of La Farola, between Baracoa and Guantanamo

cuba2Rush hour on a typical Cuban main road

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The amazing coast road west of Santiago…

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All that’s left of the only road on the south side of the Sierra Maestro…

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How much longer will it last? Anyone’s guess…

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

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.

“Cycling Science” book review

Approachable and visually pleasing, but too often superficial. It leaves more questions than it answers…

Approachable and visually pleasing, but sometimes a bit random, and too often superficial

I picked up a copy of “Cycling Science” by Max Glaskin not long after release. Having more than a passing interest in what makes everything tick when we ride a bike, I expected it to be just the thing, but unfortunately I was left disappointed.

Physically it’s well presented – a square hardback just shy of 200 glossy full-colour pages.

It covers a wide range of material, from the fundamentals (balance, efficiency, etc) through the materials used to construct a bike, friction and various other losses, aerodynamics, and the biology of the human body.

While there’s a lot of good stuff in there, too often I found myself frustrated by what is presented. There are too many inconsistencies or inadequacies that are not explained, and in a book of this nature, that’s just not good enough.

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It may be super shiny, but this book has too many issues for me to seriously recommend.

Here are a few examples:

  • The almost-fascinating page on cog size and efficiency presents two changing variables: the size of the cogs and the pedalling force. Which is having the effect? Who knows!
  • The section on chain lubes shows that friction is not impacted at low power under lab conditions. The book mentions that everything would change in real conditions, but doesn’t take the discussion any further than that. Useful only if you ride in lab conditions?
  • The section on tyres discusses the coefficient of friction (which is independent of contact area) and in the very next paragraph states that increasing the contact area makes for more grip. Why? Not for any reason that’s presented, that’s for sure.
  • The page on braking shows the use of both brakes gives faster deceleration than the use of the front brake alone. Since you can use the front brake to decelerate so hard that the rear wheel lifts off the ground (contributing nothing), how this can be so is a mystery to me. Probably it’s a flaw in the underlying study, but it would be nice if the conflict with theory was mentioned somewhere!
  • In the section comparing riding positions, it’s stated that Chris Boardman would have gone 33.7km in the hour if he’d ridden with conventional aerobars instead of his ‘superman’ position (which was good for 56km). That is, if Boardman rode a normal TT bike over a conventional 40km course he’d be expected to take over 70 minutes. In reality 50 minutes in closer to the mark. This leaves only questions about the page, the book, everything.

I could go on, but it seems unfair.

One possible defence might be that the references section contains the answers to all my questions (and more), but I find this unsatisfactory, doubly so given the book’s target market, which is more of the coffee table than pubmed crowd.

I mean, what are you supposed to make of a statement like “elite cyclists [who use SPDs are] enjoying an 86 per cent gain in mechanical effectiveness” followed immediately by “[this] consumes disproportionately more of the rider’s resources”? What sort of measurement is being used that says pulling up on the pedals is both more efficient and less efficient?

There are ample studies showing that in real life, the pros don’t pull up with their feet anyway!

So what’s the verdict? It’s shiny, but overall it’s pretty hard to recommend.

Anyone want a lightly used copy?

Trans-Canada for Sick Kids foundation

Together with his two sons, Olmo and Ally, Angelo will be cycling thousands of miles across Canada to raise money for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation…

This summer, some customers of Laid-Back-Bikes are taking on a mighty challenge…

Together with his two sons, Olmo and Ally, Angelo will be cycling thousands of miles across Canada to raise money for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.

In the meantime, their fellow Edinburgh residents are mainly queueing up at the new drive-through Krispy Kreme doughnut parlour!

Their vehicles of choice are Rohloff-equipped Nazca Fuegos, with trailers for extra load capacity:

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David Gardiner of Laid-Back has been helping out with training, gear and maintenance tips and I thought it would be great to flag this and raise the profile of a most excellent ride: here’s their Just Giving page (you know you want to!).

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There’s also this video, shot by David recently: can you guess which one is on their first Fuego ride?

Death of the LBS?

Is it any wonder that bike shops are suffering if they won’t trade in the areas where they don’t need to worry about online competition?

On my way into work on Monday my maintenance free commuter failed me for the first time.

The bike had developed a strange tendency to drop the chain over the last week. With horizontal dropouts and burly 1/8″ drivetrain, this is something that just shouldn’t happen – I had to put it down to a loose back wheel, despite tightening it carefully on three occasions.

Then, while heading downhill (of all things) onto Picardy Place roundabout, disaster struck! The chain came off, but wait… it was dragging on the ground… it was broken in half… 🙁

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Packing away the world’s tiniest violin, the real point of this story is not this sad mechanical failure but the oddness that follows.

I’m fortunate to work not too far away from one of Edinburgh’s bike shops (I won’t name it). I’ve dropped in on my way home from work on numerous occasions, not including the time I coerced a colleague to buy a new saddle and tyres for his very reasonable 26 mile round-trip commute (he subsequently resigned – no, really).

When all’s said and done, I buy a fair amount of stuff from the big online stores, like Chain Reaction or Wiggle (regular readers probably notice that I often provide links to them from reviews). I’m not totally insensitive to the plight of the small business and the value of the local bike shop, however, and do like to patronise them when I can.

So, you may imagine my surprise when I was told that, although yes they did have a suitable SRAM chain to get me back on the road – they wouldn’t let me use their shop chain tool to fit it. Que?

Perhaps they were angling for me to pay some expensive labour charge to do a job that I can manage in two minutes flat with my eyes closed, but I didn’t hang about to find out.

I ordered a pair of chains from Chain Reaction Cycles instead (in fact, I bought them for a scandalous discount – over 50% at the time of writing). I did it while pushing the bike, so I saved a wad of cash while at least minimising the opportunity cost of the whole sorry saga.

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Is it any wonder that the small local bike shop is suffering if they won’t even trade in the one area that they really shouldn’t need to worry about mail order competition?

Some shops charge what seems like a punitive rate for bit jobs like puncture fixes, and I can understand that if you want to reduce the amount of time your staff spend working on that type of repair and not, say, a full annual service for a heck of a lot more money.

But refusing to let people use a simple and cheap shop tool for a couple of minutes and losing a sale on something with at least a 100% markup? That, I do not understand.

What do you think? Am I being a bit harsh here, or is there an obvious answer that I’m just not seeing? Drop a comment with your thoughts…

Edinburgh Commuting Costs

Have you ever tried working out the cost:benefit of getting about by bike? I highly recommend it as a fun (if slightly obsessive) activity…

Have you ever tried working out the advantages of getting about by bike, for you as an individual?

If not I highly recommend it as a fun (if slightly obsessive) activity. Although it won’t really tell you anything you don’t already know, the magnitude of savings may still be an eye opener!

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Continue reading “Edinburgh Commuting Costs”