It was with unbridled joy that I climbed back on board Resurrectio for a dreamy ride down into town and along the waterfront yesterday evening. You know, one of those rides were the wind always seems to be behind you and you just want to keep on rolling. I left the house with the intention of maybe riding down to the Pier Head to take in the sights; the Three Graces glowing in the evening sun, the sleek Isle of Man-bound catamaran, rolling gently on the current, the photographers setting up long exposure shots as the sun set. But I just had the urge to carry on, brisk but never hurried. I cycled through Albert Dock and along Otterspool promenade, blissfully traffic-free, all the way to Aigburth before cutting home through Wavertree; all in all, a ride of about 15 miles, by my crude reckoning.
The ride also gave me a chance to take some snaps of my convalescence handicrafts.
Here’s my twined and shellacked bar-tape trim – hemp twine and two coats of amber shellac.
Here’s my twined kickstand – looks nice, in a rustic sort of way, and protects my cranks from knocks.
How about my gear-cable keepers? Much nicer that wrapping the cable inside the tape for a few turns, to my eye.
And here’s my twined aluminium water bottle. This took a lot of hemp twine and a fair old amount of shellac. Grips nicely in the bottle cage and turns an overtly sporty looking item into something altogether more nostalgic.
Here’s a picture of the whole ensemble, glowing in the evening sun (that dipped below the Welsh hills across the Mersey just a few moments later).
And finally, here’s a picture that follow up on my recent Carradice Camper Longflap review, to illustrate its usefulness and load carrying ability. Today I was faced with the prospect of carrying laptop, charger, two video cameras, digital SLR, lunch, commuting gear/tools and a large heavy duty tripod back into work. The quitter in me was reluctantly saying ‘take the car’ but then I thought “Wait a minute…”
So it was; camera bag on back, laptop, lunch and commuting gear in the Carradice, tripod trapped and strapped under the generous lid. All this and there was no need to deploy the Longflap. Once underway I didn’t notice it was there (just had to remember not to squeeze between tight gaps on the way to the station!
Feels good to be back on the (newly beautified) bike.
The sorry lack of posts over the last few days have been due to one inexorable truth – it’s been No-Bicycling Week here at theverydaycyclist HQ. No it’s not some new government initiative – a stinking cold has rendered the bike a sorry spectator instead of principal protagonist in the drama of daily life.
What makes things worse is that last week’s miserable, wet and windy weather has been replaced with still air, clear skies and 17 degree temperatures. The temptation to ride is great, but I know that riding the bicycle today will set my recovery back two days (the stairs in work were a tall order yesterday).
However, I can use this enforced downtime to carry out some essential maintenance. Resurrectio hasn’t had a good wash and relube in a while, and that bar tape could do with a fresh coat of shellac.
Also on the agenda is some more craftsy stuff – I’ve got some leftover cloth tape, that’ll be just enough to wrap the right hand chain-stay to replace the frankly hideous, yet functional, Lizard Skinz neoprene chainstay protector. I’ll wrap and then shellac the chainstay and it’ll end up looking just like the handlebars above.
I may finish it off with some twining (if I can find some decent hemp twine). If I’ve got enough, I’ll also tape, twine and shellac my kickstand so it doesn’t gouge my left hand crank. A little like this.
So, when my body gives me the green light for riding, Resurrectio will be ready (and a little more beautiful). Hopefully, in this way, I can beat the no-bicycling blues.
Also, when I’m recovered, I’ll have my rather excellent tweed Walz cap to enjoy on those wonderful autumnal rides on the bike path.
I’ve owned a Carradice Camper Longflap saddle bag for almost 18 months now, so I thought it was about time to share my experiences of this capacious, rugged and unashamedly traditional item of bicycle luggage.
Carradice is one of Britain’s longest established cycling-related companies, based in a small factory at Nelson, in the heart of Lancashire. A small production team churn out traditional canvas bike luggage which is shipped around the world to discerning bicyclists. Carradice produces other, modern offerings in Cordura and PVC, but it’s the classic range of canvas bags that is Carrdice’s stock-in-trade.
The Carradice Camper is a saddlebag in the traditional sense – a capacious bag that sits laterally across the bike, attached to the saddle loops of a traditional saddle (e.g. a Brooks) and to the seatpost (Carradice also markets a number of alternative ways of attaching its bags to bikes without saddle-loop equipped seats – The SQR system and the Bagman). The traditional saddlebag differs from current trend for panniers, slung low on a front or rear carrier, or a rack top bag. Take a look at archive pictures of tourists and day riders and you’ll see wall to wall saddlebags from makers like Carradice, Karrimor and Brooks.
The Camper Longflap is the largest of Carradice’s traditional saddlebags, with a huge internal capacity of 24 litres – to put this into context, the same capacity as a single large rear pannier. At the other end of the range is the Carradice Barley, a shrunken version for lightly loaded day rides, with a 9 litre capacity. In between, there’s a huge range of different capacities available, all fashioned from thick waxed ‘cotton duck’ canvas, with leather straps, proper metal buckles and a wooden internal dowel to stiffen the top of the bag. The Camper (and indeed many of Carradice’s saddlebags) are available in two colourways – black canvas with off-white straps or olive green canvas with honey brown leather straps. Either choice looks great – especially on a classic looking bike.
To give you an idea of what will fit in the Camper Longflap here’s a list of things that I regularly taken with me with room to spare:
2 spare tubes
14 inch laptop
Laptop Power Supply
The two outer compartments make short work of the tools and spares, leaving the main compartment free for office stuff, clothing, stuff you like to keep clean. But that’s not the end of the Camper’s TARDIS-like trickery…
Hey, why the Longflap?
The Camper Longflap (and its smaller cousin, the Nelson Longflap) share a simple and cunning feature that has the ability to vastly increase its load-lugging ability. Undo two press stud fasteners on the waterproof, double thickness lid and a further section of lid plus two longer leather straps reveal themselves. This allows you to stow larger, wider loads like tents, sleeping mats, folding stools, tripods, bushels of hay etc, between the main body of the bag and the lid. This feature means that, rather like an ant, the bag can effectively carry loads much larger than itself.
Some may find that a large bag like this may need some support from below, preferring it to rest some of its weight on a rack. However, I find that having the bag suspended from the seatpost effectively eliminates its contents from road shock, meaning that I have successfully carried a laptop computer to and from work for the past eighteen months without so much as a hiccup.
Some riders switching from a pannier setup may notice that the bike’s centre of gravity feels raised, especially when riding out of the saddle. However, stay in the saddle and the load is very close to the rider and its weight seems to disappear. A positive side-effect of the bag’s placement behind the rider is that it doesn’t catch the wind, is out of the worst of the rain (provided you’re using mudguards) and is also out of the way of undergrowth when riding narrow, bramble lined trails.
18 months on, my Camper has become an integral part of my daily commuting setup. It’s just beginning to take on that vintage feel – a bit of road dirt, a slightly sun faded look and some leather strap beausage – I suspect it might start to look truly vintage at the same time as I’m due a hip replacement – suffice to say that these bags are indestructible; they get better with age and are easily repairable with a needle and cotton. You can also re-proof them with a tin of special stuff from Carradice (or some Nikwax).
I have chosen to attach my Camper Longflap to the bike using Carradice’s excellent SQR system, which attaches to the seatpost (reducing stress on the saddle and the seat clamp) and enables one to remove and reattach the bag in seconds, rather than faffing with straps. (I’ll post a separate review of this excellent device).
To sum up – 18 months in, with any other item of luggage, I’d probably be looking at a tired, ready to replace item. However the Camper and I are just at the beginning of a very long life together.
Getting around by bike is all about fresh air, freedom and a feeling of getting from A to B under your own steam. However, the utopian dream of free-spirited, low-impact travel can die a death very quickly when you hear that dreaded hissing sound from your tyres. The sinking feeling of a flat half way from home, half way to work, can be a real pain – unless you come equipped. With this in mind here’s what I carry on my bike at all times – and, without sounding too preachy, it’s what I’d suggest you carry too.
Spare Tube – make sure it’s the right size and check it regularly for air-tightness
Pump – make sure it fits the tubes on your bike
Tyre Levers – Three of them will remove even the most stubborn tyres. Plastic ones are best.
Multitool – with flat-head and cross-head screwdriver plus 2-8mm Allen Keys
Chain tool (if you know how to use it)
Pliers – handy for pulling nails/chunks of glass from tyres plus a whole raft of other uses
Puncture Kit – to be used as a last resort if your inner tube fails
Mobile Phone – the ultimate get you home accessory (store the numbers of a few local taxi firms)
Cash – If all else fails – for taxi fare home.
Pair of latex gloves or a small pack of wipes – to keep your hands clean when doing repairs
Lock – even if you don’t plan to leave the bike
All of this (with the possible exception of the lock) will fit in a small bag which should be permanently attached to the bike, so you never leave home without it. Everyone has their own variation on this ‘essential’ list so feel free to chime in with your suggestions, or to point out any frightful omissions!
“People sometimes tease me for riding a girl’s bike, but I could care less if it’s a girl’s bike. This is not just a case of a well developed Jungian anima at work. The step-through frame is downright practical for city riding and for things like getting on and off at red lights.”
Multi Modal travelling makes up the lion’s share of my cycling, usually combining the bicycle and train to get me to work. I live in Liverpool and work in Manchester – a car commute of anything between 1 to 2 hours on one of the busiest motorways in the UK, the M62. During rush hour, there’s usually a hold up of around 30 minutes at the halfway point and another slow moving queue near journey’s end. Every day there are accidents or near misses – it’s a game of Russian roulette – with ever decreasing odds. It’s a game I try to opt out of as often as possible.
By contrast, my bicycle/train commute is serene, civilised and predictable. I ride to the railway station – a leisurely journey of around 20 minutes – grab a ticket and a coffee, stow the bike in the cycle area aboard the train, then find a seat for my rail journey of around 45 minutes. In this time I can do anything I like – listen to the radio, read, blog, stare vacantly out of the window, write my to-do-list for work or make some phone calls. There’s none of the constant stress and anxiety one gets when driving to work.
Right now, I’m sitting on the train bound for a video editing training course in Nottingham. I’ve driven to Nottingham from Liverpool a couple of times before and each time, R.E.M’s song “Can’t Get There from Here” springs to mind. It’s a difficult, stressful journey combining the aforementioned M62, the busiest section of the M6 heading south from Cheshire toward the West Midlands and a nasty selection of A-roads taking you east towards Nottinghamshire. Compound these facts with today’s wet, windy, unseasonal weather and you’ve got a recipe for suffering.
So instead, today I opted to travel by train, first riding into the city in the light early morning traffic (it’s 6:59am as I write this) to find a practically empty train with two available bike spaces. I’ve got the luxury of owning a Brompton, which is great for rail travel but today I’ve chosen the full sized bicycle – because I knew in advance that the trains I’d be travelling on have good dedicated bike spaces.
In terms of clothing, today’s wet weather throws up some serious challenges. I need to be comfortable on the bike, yet look normal on the train and during my training day. There’s nothing worse than being the sweaty, Lycra-clad sore thumb, especially in a situation where you’re meeting new people and just trying to blend in. So I’ve opted for a pair of jeans, a merino wool base layer and a merino wool t shirt. This gives me an entirely normal, everyday look but with the wicking properties of wool. On the bike journey, I rode through persistent drizzle, so I wore a thin breathable and waterproof jacket, with pit zips open. I rode SLOW, always resisting the urge to push hard on the ‘false flat into a headwind’ section of the route, coasting on the downhill sections and regulating my temperature with my front zipper. As soon as I reached the shelter of the station I took the jacket off, allowing my body to cool down, while I got my tickets and my latte – by which time my body temperature had returned to normal, I was sweat-free and busy finding the (empty) bike space on the Norwich bound train.
Luggage and how to carry it – today I’ve got my usual commuting gear (lock, pump, tools and waterproof) plus lunch and a 13inch laptop. All of this sits snug and dry in my Carradice Camper Longflap saddlebag. This ancient wonder, born in a small factory in Nelson, Lancashire (and made by a lady called Priscilla – as evidenced by the handwritten signature on the label) is the best way I’ve found to carry commuting-sized loads. It mounts behind the saddle, either using the saddle loops on a Brooks saddle or, as I do, using a quick release SQR block attached to the seatpost. This neat device allows me to attach and detach the bag in seconds. The waxed cotton duck fabric is hard as nails and completely waterproof. As an added waterproofing measure, the bag itself sits behind the rider, sheltered from the worst of the rain and out of the way of road spatter (unlike a pannier bag). When I boarded the train and stowed the bike, I detached the bag in seconds and now it sits beside me on the seat where I can keep an eye on all of my gear.
Sure enough today, the MM Commuting Gods have smiled upon me (thus far) and not all MM days are this slick. I’ve had days when I’ve had to cleave a way into a standing-room-only train on a hot, rainy summer evening and stand swaying and losing my balance with every jerk of the train – all the while trying not to sully my fellow passengers with chain oil and road grime. Other days, my train has been cancelled, late or simply so full that the conductor has shaken his head and not allowed me on. However, for the most part, MM Commutes have been a calm, relaxed and very human way to get to work, and today is no exception.
It’s a sad fact that notions of gender appropriateness manifest themselves in the bikes we ride and the accessories we add or shun. I’ve been using a front mounted basket on my bike for a few weeks now and I’m astounded at how useful it is and pleased with myself for having the necessary thickness of skin to disregard the jibes and odd looks that I get from ‘serious cyclists’, significant others and chavs in the street. In our (UK) cycling psyche, there is a powerful, sport-focussed machismo that abounds, based on the premise that lean, stripped down bikes are essentially ‘male’ and bikes rigged for practicality and everyday use, with baskets, bells, bags, mudguards and suchlike truck are in some way ‘feminine’.
As a man, it’s hard to swim against that tide. As in fashion, there’s a cruel double standard in operation here, which allows women to ride men’s or women’s bicycles without fear of public humiliation at the hands of small children. But if a man rides a basket-adorned bike, or step-through frame, alarm bells sound deep within the phallus-shaped bastion of male-cycling aesthetics. This is a real shame, because various supposedly feminine cycle accoutrements (and indeed bike styles) are usually insanely practical – catalysts for changing public perceptions of the bicycle from toy/exercise machine into useful vehicle.
Too Butch for Baskets?
Let’s take baskets for example. Peruse the aisles of most bike shops I guarantee that no ‘gents’ bikes (even supposed ‘commuter’ models) will ever have a basket installed, and will be in the most part stripped-down ‘stealth commuters’ – usually in dark, matte colours – the entire aesthetic inspired by some sad, ironic, post-Cold-War militaristic mode. Some will have rear racks and pannier bags, which are, of course acceptable to the male psyche, with their connotations of world travel, adventure, expedition and knife-wielding, whiskery-chinned ruggedness. But no self-respecting macho cyclist would countenance a basket attached to the ‘bars. However, fitting a basket to your ‘gents’ bike will make it hugely practical – you can just throw in your rucksack and go – you can pop to the shops for manly goods like beer and cigarettes and watch them safely home in your front mounted basket. Go to a place where everyday cycling is pervasive, such as Copenhagen, Cambridge or Amsterdam and you’ll see blokes trundling around the streets on basket-equipped bikes, carrying home their work gear, gym gear, shopping – whatever, without their masculinity being compromised in the slightest.
Ring my bell?
The humble bell is another accessory which has become laden with gender associations. The ting-ting of a bell to warn fellow path users is surely one of humankind’s most civilised warning sounds. However, one could argue that the gentle ‘ahem’ of the bicycle bell is as effete as shouting ‘Cooey, coming through!’ in one’s best John Inman falsetto. I’d advise a guttural, phlegm-heavy clearing of the throat if you wish to keep your square-jawed masculinity intact; much more acceptable to the self respecting cycling man than the light, airy and inoffensive signature of the cycle bell.
Even locks aren’t safe from gender prescription. There’s a type of lock freely available on the market, which attaches to the frame and allows the rider to quickly immobilise the bike by locking the rear wheel. It’s permanently attached to the bike – you never forget it and it takes literally a second to deploy and unlock. Surely a device invaluable to both male and female cyclists the world-over? But what’s the common name for this miracle of convenience? The Nurse’s Lock – I mean, I ask you – The Nurse’s Lock. And yes, I know, as any self respecting institutional sexist will tell you, “There are plenty of male nurses” but let’s face it – the term ‘male nurse’ has enough psycho-sexual baggage for an essay of its own.
Getting Dirty Maketh the Man
No self respecting macho-bike would be complete (?) without the firm absence of a chainguard. I mean, how could a device that keeps one’s trews safe from the slings and arrows of outrageous chain oil be of any use to a man? Far better, surely to keep your man-bike lean, mean, stripped-down and utterly useless for daily travel in normal clothes? Perhaps I’m being too simplistic here. The chainguard equipped bike isn’t just the preserve of women’s utility bikes. They feature on plenty of ‘grandad bikes too’ but we’re entering into a whole new sphere of prejudice here, and I don’t want to dilute my argument.
Getting the leg over
How about step-thru frames? Ride a bike without a ‘cross bar’ in the UK and you’re heading for a whole raft of gender jibes. Ironically, it would appear that a bike without that potentially manhood-wrecking top tube is a potent advertisement for latent homosexuality. However, mixte frames (mixte being a French term defining bikes for both men and women…) are insanely practical. You can get on and off without swinging your leg high over the seat – a real boon when you’ve got a childseat on the back or when you’re stabilising a heavily loaded bike. Also, as you get older, you’ll find that one day, you just can’t get your leg over that saddle anymore. So, whaddayado? Give up riding or ride a mixte? Think about it, would you buy a car that you had to climb into, rather than step into gracefully, just because you were told that it was a ‘gents’ version.
In the interests of balance (a nod to the Sheilas)
And it’s not just guys who find themselves stymied by the cycling gender divide. Women suffer too at the hands of the marketeers. Over the last decade, the spectre of ‘women’s specific’ bicycles and accessories has reared its ugly pastel coloured head. Whilst a greater choice of mass market bikes with shorter cranks, narrower bars, shorter top tubes and stems is a gold-plated GOOD THING, charging a premium for them and rendering them in hideous kindergarten colours is a cruel twist of the bike designer’s knife.
An end to the Gender Divide?
There are some bikes which have managed to straddle the gender divide – the recent rise of folding bikes, with their low stepover height and ‘unisex’ marketing has gone a long way to erode gender-based top-tube preferences. Similarly, one hopes that the new fleet of 6000 London Hire bikes, with their step-thru frames and baskets, will also help to break down some barriers. Perhaps broader seismic changes in society will come to the rescue of the practical gents bike? Ironically it may be that broader locker-room acceptance of man-bags, male grooming, hair ‘product’ and (ach) metrosexuality will bathe the utility bike in a more acceptable light? Until that halcyon day, I’ll ride my mudguard, bag and basket-equipped bike with pride – revelling in its everyday practicality, ting-tinging my bell like a country-doctor from the inter war years, caring not a jot for the maelstrom of gender-warping undercurrents eddying in my wake.
Footnote and shameless plug
As ever, it would seem, Rivendell Cycles’ founder Grant Petersen has some words of wisdom on this very topic (which convinced me to ignore the gender divide and get with the basket programme). Not altogether coincidentally, Rivendell also produce a ‘mens Mixte’ the Yves Gomez –a beautifully made, lugged steel, step-thru all-rounder bike, which is brother to their Betty Foy ‘women’s Mixte’. You can read more about such things, and whole lot more good sense here: http://www.rivbike.com
My overriding philosophy (don’t you just hate people who’ve got overriding philosophies) for a commuting bike is that it’s got to be ready to ride whenever you are.
Your commuting bike shouldn’t sit there, like that impulse buy home multigym, making you feel guilty for not doing ‘serious’ exercise. It should lean casually in your hallway, like a two wheeled 50s era Marlon Brando, casually ready to ride.
Your commuting bike should never make you dress up for a date. A proper commuting bike should take you just the way you are. You don’t need to put on special shoes or special pants before you’re ready to go.
Your bike should be ready to go at all times and in all weathers. It should have mudguards, flat pedals and bags to put things in (bags on your back are a bad idea).
Your bike should also be ready to stop whenever you feel the need. A built in wheel lock, Dutch style, is the way to go. Flip the lock, immobilise the back wheel, pocket the key and pop into the shop on the way home for those groceries. Swap out that quick release on your front wheel too. Get a security skewer or a nutted front wheel. Seriously, how much longer does it take to undo a nut as opposed to a quick release? You’re not racing are you?
Get a prop-stand. Practicality aside, there is simply no cooler sight that a bike leaning, James Deanesque, at the side of the road, and that jaunty, 10-degrees-off-vertical angle.
The elite level commuting bike will not only have all these utiluxuries. It will be a Plain Jane – it’ll dress down, blend in with the street furniture. Subdued, natural colours and no logos are the way to go. Who wants to be a billboard, when your target audience is are bike thieves?
You can buy bikes like this everywhere, but bike shops seem reluctant to sell them. There is a movement out there, but it’s glacial. Google ‘Dutch Bike’ and you’ll find loads of outlets for quality town bikes.
But, evolved as Amsterdam Black Widows are, there’s no need to go Dutch. Maybe you’ll want a bike that’s good for high days and holidays too? Base your commuting bike around a good, light touring, hybrid or all-rounder frame and you’ve got a true multipurpose bike, ready for day rides and touring, as well as the daily potter to work; highly evolved for commuting, but not too specialised that it’s not suitable for a quick getaway.