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).

A rational premium for bike-friendly housing?

Rationally, if we intended to live in a house for just ten years it would be worth spending up to an extra £24,000…

In “how I saved a house deposit cycling to work” I showed that being able to keep a second car off the road has saved us £9500 over the last four years, or £2375pa. (That’s based on our real bank account balance).

Let’s imagine that there’s no difference in terms of health or enjoyment and stick with the financial figures. Rationally, if we intended to live in a house for just ten years it would be worth spending up to an extra £24,000 to secure one which allowed us to ride to work.

That would have to include the costs of borrowing extra money and ignores the opportunity cost of investing the money in the house (after all, we could use it to become loan sharks instead) but it’s still a hefty amount of cash when Scotland’s average home costs less than £200,000.

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Image courtesy Andrew_Writer

Say you want to settle down and have kids which means you’re going to be around for the next twenty years- it would make sense to spend up to £50,000 more on a house which is bike-friendly than one which isn’t.

Being rational, it’s safe to say that many people are making such decisions – although of course you could look at it as a way of getting more house for the same money rather than a requirement to physically spend more. I have no doubt people do both.

Of course, rational cyclists being willing to pay significantly more money to live on a good cycle route can be used as an easy justification for the construction of more cycle routes too. Let’s imagine the £600,000 cost of the Quality Bike Corridor had delivered an excellent commuter route instead of a shocking waste of effort painting lanes under parked cars. That £600k would potentially have benefited local residents to the tune of £2,000 per annum, per household. (Even giving up a bus pass is worth £6000 per decade on your house value).

If just 300 households were able to give up a car as a result of the provision of a Dutch-class segregated cycle route at that price, it would deliver a return on investment *in the first year*.

Even better, the money people stop spending on cars when the council builds a segregated cycle facility feeds directly into the economy – perhaps largely the local economy. Is this why cities that do build world-class facilities see such a dramatic rise in the turnover of local business?

You may find talk of inflated house prices improbable, but there’s good evidence from the school catchment system that parents have been paying up to £200,000 more for comparable properties with better schools (the average is apparently around a 20% premium, although that article is a few years old).

Because there’s no firm line separating “people close enough to use this cycle facility” from “people not allowed to use this cycle facility”, you wouldn’t expect a sharp, easily detectable price jump in the same way that catchments have. However, there must be a good masters or PhD. thesis in measuring the effect.

Houses identical to ours (with bigger gardens) go for six figures less in Fife than they do here. We’re also buying into a good school catchment, but our budget definitely included a “cycling premium”.

Doesn’t yours?

Donkey Lane and traffic jams

Why do people sit in traffic on the Calder Road when there’s an existing segregated cycle route from Currie to the Gyle?

When ‘almost’ is not much good at all…

Not far from our new house lies the curiously named “Donkey Lane”, a cycle path linking Currie with the Riccarton campus, Hermiston Gait and the Gyle, not to mention the west end and Lothian Road (via the canal).

Donkey Lane allows you to avoid the sort of daily rush hour traffic which I’ve attached in video for contrast. While you read this article, you may want to play that in a second window alongside (or if you really have the patience… it’s embedded below)

Now, back to Donkey Lane:

donkeylane1
The adjacent residential street, recently and extensively resurfaced…

Considering the huge queues that pile up every day along the A70 and down at the Calder roundabout, you’d think that this would be a popular facility- it takes me an hour to drive to our swanky office on the shore, yet I can bike it in roughly half an hour…

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Unfortunately most people don’t get any further than this – the entrance.

In reality, almost nobody uses Donkey Lane. So at least we aren’t alone there.

We house-shopped based on good school catchments with a linear segregated cycle route into town, so it’s a surprise to admit that we are driving more (vastly more) than when we lived in the south of Edinburgh in a flat which more or less pre-dated our interest in cycling.

Or is it?

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Donkey Lane is a public right of way but is in private ownership, and self-evidently receives no significant maintenance. In summer it’s horrendously overgrown, and for the other eleven months of the year it’s clearly a sort of linear swamp which can only attract the most dedicated masochist.

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There’s a serious upside to using these paths – it’s unusual for even one car to overtake me cycling between Currie and Leith, eleven miles away. And I’m saving 30 minutes each way over driving!

Unfortunately, after initial enthusiasm I have to confess that getting covered head-to-toe in mud and destroying hubs like they’re going out of fashion (despite full SKS guards) can get a little tiring.

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With the council looking to add 10,000 homes or so to this side of Edinburgh in the next few years, and constant hand-wringing over road capacity, you’d think paths like these would be massively low-hanging fruit.

On an average morning I can count a hundred cyclists between Wester Hailes and Leith on the segregated path network. If they all drove, it would be like one extra car every 20 seconds!

There’s only one cyclist who I see (on a blue moon) travelling via Donkey Lane, despite Currie having no shortage of well-off, well-educated people who are (for better or worse) the sort of people who seem to be candidate cyclists today. Instead they all sit bumper to bumper on the A70…

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There’s something of a heated debate on CCE just now about plans to properly surface a couple of East Lothian’s old railways, which has naturally been opposed by the usual competing interest groups.

No doubt the same argument can be made for Edinburgh paths like Donkey Lane and the Water of Leith – but we should be clear that we’re trading a lot of extra idling diesel engines to benefit a minority who prefer their paths filthy.

Cycling is itself a minority pursuit, so I suppose it comes down to whether we want to get people out of their cars at the expense of people like riding schools, whose horses understandably prefer a natural surface.

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You only have to stand on NEPN for a few moments to be passed by dozens of people who’ve left their car at home. Here almost everyone drives despite having a choice of segregated cycleways, because getting covered in mud (and needing expensive lights to avoid rocks and roots) is a hefty disincentive.

Does having a mud surface prevent speeding riders? Well, it is on Strava at 24mph… but would you rather have a 24mph cyclist on a deserted path or a load of 40mph drivers going past your local primary school?

Would you rather queue as in the video or have 10-20% of those vehicles cycling instead?

Evidently, it’s not enough just to have a muddy chute, because people aren’t going near it.

I raised this with our councillors and two of them were good enough to obtain a response:  “Donkey Lane forms part of the Council’s long term proposals to create a ‘family friendly’ cycle network across the city and we plan to focus on its development once the shorter term priorities have been delivered”.

I’m not holding my breath, considering that it took ten years from the Land Reform Act to sort out the *signage* for cycling in the Meadows… but I am looking forward to getting back out of the car some day. 🙂

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

Continental Ultra Gatorskin review

A tyre which tries to strike that most difficult balance – tough enough puncture protection to satisfy the everyday rider, while catering for the demands of enthusiasts…

Classic rolling resistance vs puncture protection compromise

The Continental Ultra Gatorskin is a tyre which tries to strike that most difficult balance – tough enough puncture protection to satisfy the everyday rider, while catering for the demands of enthusiasts who insist on a brisk and low rolling-resistance tyre.

Available in a range of widths and with budget wire construction as well as folding kevlar beads, the Gatorskin is a strong contender as a relatively rapid commuting or training tyre.

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I personally like my tyres to be either very fast or very tough; after a few years using the Gatorskin I now tend towards either a ‘pure’ racing tyre like the GP4000s or something really tough, like a Marathon Racer.

However, I just retired a pair of Gatorskins from my wife’s commuter after three years’ use in central Edinburgh… and just one flat!

If you have one bike to do it all, they’re certainly worth a look.

(At the time of writing, Wiggle have a 25% discount while Chain Reaction are doing 30% off).

Width/weight

The Ultra Gatorskin is pretty competitive in weight terms – a 23mm wire bead version comes in at 280g, whereas the Specialised Armadillo varies (400g for the All Condition, 260g for the Elite in the same width). It’s not actually all that much heavier than the full race construction GP4000s, at 205g (23mm) – although the tyre construction makes them significantly slower.

The range of widths allows you to cater to your particular purpose, with quite a bit jump in volume between the smallest and largest sizes:

width relative width relative volume
Continental Ultra Gatorskin 23mm 1x 1x
Continental Ultra Gatorskin 32mm 1.39x 1.94x

For technical reasons, if all else is the equal a wider tyre will also roll faster. All else is very much not equal between a race and touring tyre, but it applies here: the wider casing bulges proportionally less, so the sidewall deflection is slightly closer to a perfect circle (ideal efficiency).

The 25mm size would be expected to gain around 5% over the 23mm for this reason.

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Rolling resistance

The Continental Ultra Gatorskin doesn’t quite have the buttery feel of a top race tyre, but it’s not too bad: only if you concentrate does the deadening effect of the extra protection become obvious while riding.

Compared with a wider tyre such as the Marathon Racer, the Ultra Gatorskin definitely retains the feel of a narrow road bike tyre. So, again it comes down to the compromise. How much of the feeling of a true road tyre are you willing to give up, and for how much puncture protection in exchange?

Comfort

To state the obvious, road tyres like this are not designed to emphasise comfort.

If anything, the Ultra Gatorskin works out a bit less comfortable even than a pure road tyre, because adding armour to a tyre makes it less supple. However, fitting these tyres in a wider size will go a long way towards providing a respectable mix of comfort and performance.

Grip

The Ultra Gatorskin doesn’t benefit from Continental’s tacky Black Chilli rubber or from fancy dual-compound construction; it sticks to the basics with a slick natural rubber tread.

Reviews of the grip of the Gatorskins are mixed. I’ve always found performance to be good, except when a road is really greasy (at which point all cheap or durable tyres will start to struggle). In exchange the rubber tread lasts a lot longer. Take your pick!

It’s important not to underestimate the advantage of a tougher (or wider) tyre when considering grip, simply because it puts you in a position of needing absolute grip less often – you don’t need to swerve for broken glass quite as much with a puncture-resistant tyre, and you don’t need to dodge potholes as much with a wide one.

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Flat resistance

The Poly X Breaker provides flat protection in the central part of the tread, while DuraSkin weave provides cut resistance for the whole carcass.

I’ve personally always been pleased with the performance of the Ultra Gatorskin in terms of flat prevention – often just one or two flats through the life of the tyre before a sudden rash of them indicates it’s reached end of useful life.

The pair pictured on this page have just finished a three year shift of daily commuting in central Edinburgh. Loads of cuts but just one flat at the end which prompted me to inspect the carcass (and decide some of the slashes in the tread were just a little big for comfort).

For the money, it’s right on the money 🙂

Durability

There’s more depth to the slick tread of the Ultra Gatorskin than is found on many road tyres, and as a consequence you can expect to enjoy higher mileages – mine have always lasted for a surprisingly long time before cumulative cut damage makes me too nervous to continue, or I get a spate of flats as a few pieces of glass penetrate all around the same time.

While I’ve never had any trouble myself, there are plenty of reports (as always) on the internet in which people recount fitting this tyre and almost immediately writing it off on a pile of glass. All I can say is, first, there’s a hefty element of luck involved; second, don’t assume that just because your tyre has a puncture belt that you can ride it over glass with impunity. It will eventually get through almost anything!

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Neither of the cuts above or below, which are typical of the damage covering this tyre after three years’ use, got through to the tube. Good work Continental!

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Conclusion

With respectable speed, respectable puncture resistance, respectable weight and a respectable price, the Gatorskin is an all-round balanced compromise and you can see why Continental are able to claim it’s the best selling 700x23c tyre in the UK.

If you want to ride fast on a supple race tyre, consider the GP4000s.
If you want to have ultimate puncture protection, you need something like the Marathon Plus.
If you want a really cheap tyre, just buy whatever’s on the best offer today.

If, like many, you want a balance of all of the above, you should definitely be taking an interest in the Continental Ultra Gatorskin.

At the time of writing, Wiggle have a 25% discount while Chain Reaction are doing 30% off.

Go get ’em…

Vital Statistics

Note: On a 15mm rim the 700x23c measures ~22mm

Wire:

ETRTO (mm) Imperial (“) Pressure (bar) Pressure (psi) Weight (g)
28-559 26 x 1.2 max. 7.5 max. 115 350
23-571 650 x 23c max. 8 max. 120 250
23-622 700x23c max. 8 max. 120 280
25-622 700x25c max. 8 max. 120 300
28-622 700x28c max. 7.5 max. 116 360
32-622 700x32c max. 7 max. 102 365
32-630 27 x 1 1/4 max. 8 max. 120 330

Folding:

ETRTO (mm) Imperial (“) Pressure (bar) Pressure (psi) Weight (g)
23-622 700x23c max. 8 max. 120 220
25-622 700x25c max. 8 max. 120 250
28-622 700x28c max. 7.5 max. 116 320
32-622 700x32c max. 7 max. 102 325

 

Bicycle snow ploughing

Another snow fall in Edinburgh, and this time I felt ready to plough a few miles of pavement between Kings Buildings and the Meadows…

Keeping (some of) Edinburgh moving…

Woke up to a reasonable dump this morning, apparently causing “chaos”. Sure enough, little sign of grit or plough in South Central Edinburgh.

I couldn’t help notice that everyone who cycles into our north Edinburgh financial nerve-centre got in on time…

Anyway, it was a good opportunity to refine my Carry Freedom Y-Frame (cheap on Chain Reaction) based snowplough, and in my own small way, I kept the bus network moving:

plough

I then popped up to King’s Buildings before ploughing the pavement into town as far as the Meadows:

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Not a bad effort for the commute. You can see I’ve got the trailer wheels slung over the bars, so when I hit the top of Middle Meadow Walk (which I ploughed twice, creating an uphill and a downhill track) I just popped the wheels on and rode to Leith in double quick fast time.

I was at my desk over 30 minutes before the working day begins. No problem! 🙂

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Snow plough: flat pack design

A quick look at my flat-pack design for a bicycle snow plough, based on the Carry Freedom Y-Frame. From cupboard to street hero in moments!

Ikea don’t make bicycle snow ploughs, but if they did…

I thought it might be worth a quick post highlighting the flat-pack nature of my bicycle snow plough, and how easy it is to assemble if the ground turns white (tool free, what’s more).

The metal core of the trailer is from my Carry Freedom Y-Frame. I have plenty of articles about this excellent device, or if you just want to know where to get your own, I enjoyed a great discount from Chain Reaction.

Anyway, here are the parts of the trailer laid out against the wall (minus the wooden trailer ‘flatbed’ which comes as stock):

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Below: I’ve permanently screwed a square section of wood onto the leading edge of one plough blade, with a hole through which one arm of the trailer ‘Y’ frame projects.

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Below: front view of the same stage. Note the four large washers and wing nuts on the ’empty’ edge of the wooden edge piece – these will be used for tool-free assembly of the overall blade structure:

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Below: the other blade has a slot cut into it for the opposing side of the ‘Y’ frame and just slots over it, like so:

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Below: poke through the bolts and fit the washers and wing nuts to secure the overall structure. You can see however that the hitch is projecting at a crazy angle and, in practice, the plough would pivot wildly around it if used like this:

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Below: so, next step: insert the stub axles from the trailer wheels through the sides of the blades and into the trailer frame. This provides four points of contact, controlling the angle of the plough (so make sure you drill in the right places!!):

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Below: in this case, you can see I’ve hung a heavy bike chain from the subframe to help stabilise the plough (because I added sharp metal edge reinforcements as an experiment, and they make it very jumpy):

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Below: all said and done though, it does work a charm. (In the picture below, the tyre tracks in the background are from cars. I haven’t been bothering to plough the road, and it would look better than that if I had!)

See also the video of the plough in (limited) action.

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Ever tried anything similar? Got any tips or tricks I should be thinking of? If so, drop me a comment at the bottom of the page 🙂

Bike snow plough video

Video showing mk2 snow plough in action – now sporting dubious metal edging protection. Still, you have to get out when it snows!

Design continues to evolve. Not enough snow though!

We’re almost at the end of winter, and it’s only snowed once since I unveiled the super duper scrap wood bicycle snow plough (mk 1) in January.

I’ve added a metal edging strip to the bottom of the plough to see whether this would improve wear (previously, it just rode on the board itself, which isn’t a very good long-term solution).

I don’t think metal strip is a great improvement, however. While it does reduce wear on the plough itself, it catches on imperfections in the surface and makes the plough jump around.

Since this reduces towing speed (and the whole thing gets pretty noisy) I don’t think I’ll persist with this line of enquiry.

I had to add my (multi-kilo) bike chain to the trailer to help hold it down, and tracking also seemed to be aversely affected, as you can see in the video.

This is probably a worst-case for performance, because the pavement is heavily cambered (you can see the flat section of the plough means it’s only really sweeping a narrow tangent, so there’s a bit of snow left to either side).

It did a pretty good job on the drive, in contrast:

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Is there a future in flat-pack bike plough technology? I like to think so! If you fancy giving this a go yourself, Chain Reaction Cycles are selling both large and small Y-Frame trailers with a decent discount.

Ever tried anything similar? Got any tips or tricks I should be thinking of? If so, drop me a comment at the bottom of the page 🙂

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:

mracer-3

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…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 🙂