Perpetual Motion Moulton

The bike is a Pashley-Moulton TSR8 (road test forthcoming). The image was created using Autopano Pro to stitch together a set of seven photos taken in quick succession.

Brompton S-Type Cockpit Mods

Stock bars and grips : cramped and uncomfortable

The Problem
The Brompton S-Type folding bike comes outfitted with a low, narrow, mountain-type flat bar for better aerodynamics and lighter weight than their other models. It’s a popular configuration, but people frequently complain about the minimalist, 105mm-wide, factory-supplied handgrips. After riding my Brompton for a couple of months, I too have found the stock grips to be uncomfortably narrow and lacking in support. Normally I’d just replace the stock grips with a pair of my favorite 130mm-wide Ergon GP-1 grips, but on the S-Type there’s not enough room on the narrow bar for a full-width handgrip, shift lever, and brake lever.

The Solution
One possible solution was to keep the stock bar and cut down a pair of standard 130mm grips to the Brompton 105mm width. I tried this with a pair of size-L Ergon GP-1s, but found it to be an unsatisfactory solution. The Ergons did provide more lateral support, but my hands were still cramped and confined along the width of the bar.

Stock bars, modified Ergon grips : more comfortable, but still cramped

Ultimately, resolving the issue required replacing the stock handlebar with a Race Face Air Alloy mountain bike flat bar (any standard 25.4mm mountain bike flat bar would work equally well). Installation was simply a matter of replacing the bar and trimming with a tubing cutter to the minimum width required to accommodate the full-width Ergon grips, brake levers, and shifter; this ended up being approximately 515mm (35mm wider than the stock Brompton bar).

Wider bars, full-width Ergon grips : roomy and comfortable

The new bar/grip combo is a dramatic improvement over the minimalist stock set-up. The full-width Ergon grips provide substantially more shock absorption and support, and the brake lever and shifter are in a more ergonomically correct position in relation to the grips. The overall width is only slightly wider than stock and doesn’t affect the fold at all. Brompton would be doing their customers a big favor by supplying a wider bar and better grips as standard equipment in the future.

Multi-Modal BART

A video on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) website highlights their policy of allowing folding bikes on their trains at any hour of the day, including peak commute times (full size bikes are not allowed on BART trains during rush hour due to overcrowding). Of course, I’d prefer an increase in service to accommodate all cyclists at all hours, but it’s nice to see folders promoted as an alternative.

Slow Rides

“The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! The need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.” ~Guttorm Flí¸istad

The Slow Food movement, and other associated Slow initiatives, aim to combat “time poverty”, and other ills brought on by our increasingly hectic “fast food” culture, by promoting simpler, slower-paced, self-sustaining lifestyle alternatives. We’re not participating members of any Slow organization, but we’re all for the ideas of slowing down, keeping it simple, and taking time to smell the roses.

One way we do this is with what we call a Slow Ride. A Slow Ride is much like any other bike ride, but with its priorities on straight. On a Slow Ride, we set a purposely slower than normal pace, possibly stop to shoot some photos and/or observe the local flora and fauna, work in an errand if need be, and maybe even take the time to enjoy a picnic (gasp!). A Slow Ride is directed more by the pace and enjoyment of the associated activities and less by the concerns of Serious Cycling. Taking a Slow Ride doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll negate getting a workout, it’s just that the focus is more on the overall experience and less on performance. As a matter of fact, often times when we take a Slow Ride we’ll end up out-and-about and on the bike much longer than if we set out to cover a specific distance and “log some miles”. A Slow Ride is considered successful if we catch a glimpse of a wild animal, or the angle of the light is just right to capture a particularly beautiful photo. The success of a Slow Ride is not predicated upon besting our elapsed time over a measured route or passing a roadie in team kit.

We find these Slow Rides to be wonderfully calming and restorative; they very effectively peel away the layers of stress accumulated over the work week. So if you’re feeling a little over burdened, you might try slowing down a little and taking a Slow Ride with a good friend; you might be surprised at what a change of pace can do for you.

Gallery: John’s Xtracycle Cruzbike

I have been peak oil aware for a number of years and have seen the wisdom of cargo-hauling bikes for a long time, and the xtracycle “Free Radical” system seems like the best overall way to add a trailer and heavy duty hauling capacity there is. The Cruzbike is unusual (front wheel drive) but it eliminates the long-chain that robs most recumbents of some efficiency. The combination seems to work pretty well. —John

The Bicycle: Toy or Tool?

A majority of mainstream bicycle manufacturers marketing to the U.S. audience would still have us believe bicycles are primarily intended to be used for entertainment by baby boomers with an abundance of discretionary income and leisure time. In the U.S., bikes are marketed as fashion statements, requiring replacement every couple of years for fear of looking passé. They’re marketed more as fitness machines and “healthy lifestyle enablers” than transportation. Carbon fiber frames and uber-lightweight components and wheels only feed into this consumerist, disposable bike mentality.

In the U.S., bikes are marketed as fashion statements, requiring replacement every couple of years for fear of looking passé.

Stroll down the main aisle of any large, mainstream bike shop and on one side you’ll see mostly carbon fiber and aluminum racing bikes with spindly wheels, splashy graphics, and pencil thin, high-pressure tires. On the other side you’ll see mostly mountain bikes with crazy monocoque frames of every shape and configuration, complex long-travel suspension, and bristling knobby tires. In front of the shop, you’re likely to see a line-up of brightly colored 50 lb., one-speed retro-cruisers. And if the shop is keyed in to the latest fashion trends, they may have a half-dozen pseudo fixed gear track bikes to cater to the suburban high school crowd, which seems to have bought hook-line-and-sinker into the gritty, urban courier image (it’s more than bizarre to see suburban teenagers cruising to the mall on “fixies”, though at least they’re on a bike and not in front of the television). I’d volunteer that all of these bikes are only marginally useful as anything other than toys.

If the shop happens to be located in a large urban center and is somewhat progressive, you might find a small section of “commuter” or “utility” bikes sequestered in the back near the restroom. These bikes are the ugly ducklings of the bike world (only recumbents are more disdained) and don’t garner much attention on the sales floor. They look clunky with their fat tires, fenders, racks, lights, and upright seating positions that conjure up images of your mother’s 3-speed junker. They’re heavy and they have subdued graphics, they lack curb appeal and they make an anti-fashion statement: “Look at me, I’m a clueless nerd.” Sadly, these are the bikes most people need if they’re going to use them for anything other than entertainment, but they get lost in a sea of glitz and glamour.

Since when did bikes become fashion statements, with their design and functionality being driven by marketing and image over practicality and usefulness? As recently as the late ’80’s you could walk into a bike dealer and find a balanced selection of practical bikes on the floor. Somewhere along the way to 2008, the emphasis went from building practical bikes for real people to ride everyday, to pumping out Tour De France and World Cup look-alikes to fulfill aging baby boomers’ racing fantasies.

I’d like to suggest that it’s time we start thinking about bikes as tools again. With gas prices approaching $4 per gallon, peak oil on the horizon, and the looming environmental catastrophe that is global warming on many peoples’ minds, there’s never been a better time to seriously look at bikes as a legitimate alternative to the automobile and give up this ridiculous idea we have in the U.S. that bikes are only playthings for the well-to-do.

Baby Steps

There are many perceived obstacles that keep people from riding their bikes for transportation. A few of the reasons I’ve heard include:

  • Fear of cars
  • Poor cycling infrastructure
  • Inclement weather
  • Excessive distance to essential services
  • Excessive distance to work
  • Embarrassment/stigma
  • Lack of physical conditioning
  • Fear of bike theft
  • Lack of mechanical ability

And so on…

I hesitate to call these “excuses”, because they’re real feelings and fears, and until someone is psychologically ready to ride for reasons other than recreation, these mental roadblocks are plenty powerful enough to keep them off the bike. (Of course, sometimes there are real reasons a person can’t ride a bike for transportation, including physical limitations, remote location, etc.).

I’d like to encourage people to not worry so much about the “car-free” label, and just consider doing whatever they can while staying within their comfort zone.

I think a big part of the problem is our natural tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. I see many bloggers (this one included) talking about “making a commitment” to going car-lite, if not 100% car-free. This is all well-and-good, and if someone is ready to make a big change, that’s wonderful. The problem is that an all-or-nothing approach stops some people from taking any steps at all. The anxiety of committing to such major changes, when our lives are already complicated enough, is a show stopper for many people: “Going car-free is too much to think about right now, so I’ll just keep on driving the car.

I’d like to encourage people to not worry so much about the “car-free” label, and just consider doing whatever they can while staying within their comfort zone. If a 20-mile commute is too big a step, how about a quick trip to the post office or pharmacy on the bike? Or maybe throw the bike in the trunk and ride it to pick up lunch at work one day a week. Every trip by bike, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is one less trip by car.

It’s not so much specifically what a person does, or that they make a “commitment” per se, but that they take whatever baby steps they can that fall within the realm of “doable”. By doing so, over time their confidence will increase, and as their confidence increases the benefits of utility cycling will outweigh their prior hesitations and lead to increased bike riding and reduced car use. And who knows, there’s always the possibility that one small step will eventually lead to a car-free lifestyle.

© 2011 EcoVelo™