Today’s commute

image

I had a late night last night so this morning’s commute was a suitably leisurely affair. Today I chose the main road route into the city. Some days the back roads beckon but today, time was a little tight.

The roads were greasy with rain and a fine drizzle was coming down as I left the house. So it was on with the waterproofs. As you might imagine, I don’t hold with cycling-specific rain gear- Regatta’s breathable gear works well, is cheap and you don’t feel like weeping when you snag your over trousers on your chainwheel.

The last few day’s wet weather has necessitated the return of the fenders for the Peugeot, also meaning that the standard 25mm tyres have made a return. A little sad to see the cream Schwalbes back in the shed but the luxury of staying clean and dry won me over.

I arrived at the station in plenty of time to get my ticket, remove the wet weather gear and find the bike carriage on my train, which had a spare berth for the Peugeot. The day was going well.

I strapped the bike in, found a seat and slipped into train commuter mode. I love the combination of bike and train travel – you get the buzz and fresh air of the bike ride and the quiet, contemplative downtime of the train segment –  it’s where I’m writing this blog from right now.

Also making a return on the Peugeot, along with the tyres and fenders is the Nitto M18 front rack – a beautiful piece of fillet-brazed steel from Japan. I’ve used it before to mount a basket and as a saddlebag support; I have to admit to struggling to find a use for it as a standalone front rack – it really comes into its own as a support for bag or basket. It’s currently installed up front but I may switch it to the rear or remove it altogether. Function aside, it surely looks nice, lending the bike that quintessential French randonneur look – the cycling kin to those boot mounted racks on classic open topped sports cars. Has anyone out there have a Nitto from rack? How do you use yours?

The journey home has also been good thus far. The ride to the station took in the Ashton Canal towpath – the narrowboats were out in force, which is always good to see. The train I’m sitting on is quiet and my bike is snugged up with two other trusty commuter hacks in the bike space. Just the final hilly ride out of Liverpool and another day’s wandering will be done.

Review: Carradice SQR System

Product: Carradice SQR System| RRP: £26.95

The bag and SQR system in full effect - carrying around 10kgs of luggage with ease.

The humble, venerable saddlebag is, and has always been, a great way to carry moderate loads on a bike. The bag sits neatly in the slipstream of the rider, high enough to avoid being snagged on gateposts and undergrowth (if you’re riding off road) and out of the spray and grime (when you’re on the tarmac). Traditionally, saddlebags are attached to the bike by straps which thread through saddle loops on Brooks saddles with another strap which wraps around the seatpost, meaning that you don’t need a rack, keeping your bike a little leaner when you’re not toting a load.

The problem

One downside with traditional saddlebags is the faffing around involved in attaching a reattaching them. Another is that many modern saddles don’t have the necessary saddle loops to attach a saddlebag. Step up the SQR system from Carradice, which makes removing and attaching the saddlebag a two second affair and also allows a traditional saddlebag to be carried on a bike without saddlebag loops.

The solution?

A close up of the rear of the bag with SQR metal frame attached. See how the existing leather straps attach the bag to the frame.

The Carradice SQR comprises two main parts; a strong, rigid, powder-coated steel bracket to which the saddlebag is attached using it’s standard leather straps; and a tough ABS plastic bracket that attaches securely to the seatpost with two stainless steel bands. The bracket contains a spring loaded retainer which means that, once attached, the bag and bracket cannot break free.

The bracket attached to the seatpost. Two 6mm allen bolts tighten the stainless steel bands against the seatpost using the same type of tightening mechanism as a drop bar brake lever. The red button at the top operates the spring loaded retainer that keeps the frame and block firmly attached to each other. Simple, secure, strong and effective.

Two sizes of stainless steel bracket are available; the standard bracket s fit seatposts from 25mm to 32mm, while the oversized version fits post sizes 32mm plus, therefore ideal for folding bikes with large diameter seatposts.

The attaching and detaching procedure is simple. To attach, you just offer up the bottom rung of the bracket to the slot at the bottom of the seatpost bracket, pull back the red spring-loaded retainer, drop the bag into position and release the spring. Detaching, as they say in instruction manuals the world over, is the reverse of attaching. Bottom line is that it’s quick and intuitive.

Once detached, another neat feature becomes apparent when you’re carrying your bag into work/college/shops. The black metal frame incorporates a black webbing carry-handle, making bike to workplace portage a cinch.

If you’ve got more than one bike, you can buy additional seatpost brackets, meaning you can hot swap your saddlebag from bike to bike. The SQR metal frame fits all the bags in the Carradice range, from Barley (tiddly and small!) to Camper (freaking huge!) and other traditional saddlebags that are designed to fit laterally across the bike attached to the saddlebag loops.

Other solutions

The SQR isn’t the only quick release option for traditional saddlebags. Carradice also market the Bagman, which is a more traditional saddlebag support with a quick release. This also allows non-loop equipped saddles to mesh with saddlebags. However (though I’ve never used one) the attach-detach system doesn’t look quite as slick as the SQR and the rack remains in position when the bag’s not on the bike. It does however, give the bag some support at the bottom, which some riders  with low saddles, might appreciate. For me, however, with my high saddle, it’s not an issue.

The boat-cleat trick

A quirky  DIY approach using a boat cleat bought from a marine hardware shop (that I’m too chicken to try), but it might work for you! Check out the YouTube link.

Summary: A simple, tough, cleverly though out solution to a generations-old saddlebag toting problem.

Rating: theeverydaycyclist double thumbs up (that’s pretty darn good)

Link: www.carradice.co.uk

NB: This is a non-sponsored, honest to goodness, ‘I use this every day’ review – not some rehashed product press release.

How to Commute by Bike: Resisting the Urge to be ‘Epic’

There’s a stubborn, almost militant vein that seems to run through die hard commuter cyclists in the UK (and no doubt other cultures where cycling isn’t a statistically major form of transport). In contrast to our northern European counterparts, many of us (myself included) seem to treat our daily commutes as acts of individual heroism, especially when (as has been all too apparent of late) the weather takes an inclement turn.

Exhibit A - an 'epic' commuter steels his jaw to the rain

Let’s contrast the approach of the UK cyclist and his Copenhagen counterpart. Exhibit A (above) is someone who I snapped one morning during some particularly nasty Manchester weather. Note his gritted teeth, knitted brow, earnest look. There’s no doubt that, at least in his mind, this is one ‘epic’ commute – a two mile journey that Shackleton would no doubt have been proud of. Mr Epic of Manchester here is not an isolated case. On rush hour roads throughout the country, you’ll bear witness to countless other display’s of grit, fortitude and determination. Piece them together, make a slideshow, dub-over Barber’s Adagio and you’ve got yourself one tear-jerking montage sequence.

Exhibit B - How can riding in the rain look so happy and care-free? (photo from Copenhagen Cycle Chic - http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com)

Contrast this picture of grimness with the snap above, taken on a similarly rainy day in Copenhagen (pic from the excellent Copenhagen Cycle Chic). Despite similarly inclement weather, our subject is sailing along to her destination with the calm, relaxed aura of a two-wheeled Zen Buddhist. Note the altogether more pragmatic approach to weather protection! The task in hand is the same, the weather conditions are similar. So what’s the difference?

Of course the difference is obvious for anyone who knows about cycling in Copenhagen. Over there, bikes are a dominant force in the city centre. Proper facilities and a critical mass of cyclists on the roads mean that every journey is a more relaxed affair. Motorised traffic is separated from cyclists to a degree and, when they meet, the sheer volume of cyclists on the roads forces drivers to relent. These factors in turn have a soothing, calming effect on cyclists – they ride slower (no need to ‘compete’ or ‘keep pace’) – their shoulders relax. Their chosen form of transport isn’t a badge of resistance, a fight to be fought. It’s just the best way to get around.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of Sky Ride city rides this summer and have experienced an albeit artificial, fleeting microcosm of that calming, strength in numbers phenomenon. Okay, these rides are on closed roads, however, one can still experience the relaxing effect of riding amid large numbers of other riders. The imperative to ‘push on’ disappears, no matter whether you’re a pootler or a training-junkie. The urge to be ‘epic’ disappears.

So how has this experience translated to my daily commute? Do I approach my commute in a less do-or-die, militant, ‘epic’ fashion? Well I certainly try, although years of programming are hard to erase. On a particularly rainy commute earlier in the week, I was caught in a torrential downpour just after leaving the railway station. The immediate urge was to press on the pedals harder and get to my destination (around 3 miles away) as quickly as possible. However, another thought struck me moments later – “What would I do if I was walking right now?” The answer to which was, “Why Eddie, I’d take shelter under something large until the rain eased off, that’s what I’d do.” And so I did. Hardly a mind-bending, paradigm shifting notion, I grant you, but the amount of grim faced bike commuters who soldiered on through the deluge as I sheltered bore testament to the fact that the primal urge to take shelter has been somehow lost on UK cyclists.

As it happened, I still got pretty comprehensively drenched, but I feel I made my first tentative steps to being less epic and more aligned with those blissful, almost mythic, riders of Copenhagen.

So, faced with a deluge, what would you do? Press on with stiff upper lip or take five and take shelter?

Take our ‘Am I Epic’ Test

How to Commute by Bike: The ‘Faster Than Walking Mantra’

Let me introduce what I call the Faster Than Walking Mantra – my time-honoured technique for short-hop, ‘dressed for the day’ cycle commutes. The Faster Than Walking Mantra (herein referred to as the FTWM) helps you to overcome that deeply imprinted urge to get your daily commute over with as quickly as possible, to treat your ride to the office like a PB attempt. Why do we feel the need to commute at breakneck pace? To keep pace with cars? To feel the burn? To ‘get our adrenaline fix’? To give in to the speed-demon on your shoulder will result in that uniquely attractive ‘steaming like a racehorse look’ upon arrival at work, which will make packing a change of clothes a necessity (lose 10 minutes) and will create A DIRE NEED FOR SHOWERS IN THE WORKPLACE – the lack of which seems to be reason #1 to give up on the idea of riding to work forever.

Instead chant the FTWM. On your next commute, I urge you to try a slow, loping cadence, akin to the pedalling style of the Amsterdammer. Rather than doing battle with wind resistance, just do enough to preserve your momentum. Don’t gauge your progress against the cars passing by. Don’t pay any heed to the numbers on your cycle computer (leave it at home/cut the wires if it helps). Take solace in the fact that, for the same effort level, you’re loping past walkers at around three times their speed. Try where you can, to avoid steep hills and when you can’t, resist the urge to stomp up – even if you gear down and spin up, you’ll still beat the pedestrians on the pavement. Ditto headwinds – don’t fight them, cos they’ll win. Chant your FTW mantra (silently in your head if you prefer), adopt your best Copenhagener attitude and just keep it rolling.

Our mantra is also helped by dressing sensibly – ‘dress cooler’ is sound advice. If you’re a bit chilly when you start out, you’ve probably got it right. I see cycle commuters in full dayglo motorway-maintenance-style hi viz jackets in the height of summer, and can only wonder at how much fluid they lose on their two mile spin to work…

To put some numbers against our FTWM and give you some perspective, a car commuter in the city will be lucky to attain a 12mph average speed. The guy on the bus will be lucky to average 10. A pedestrian will be lucky to hit a dizzying 3mph. Most moderately fit people can amble along on a bicycle at around 9 mph without breaking a sweat, even warm conditions. Follow the FTWM and you can ride to work in your day clothes without arriving like a sweaty wreck, just like you would if you drove, walked or got the bus. After all, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Review: Wellgo LU987 Flat Pedals

It's all about the grip pins and the concave platform

Let’s just get something straight. This isn’t a product review in the bike-mag sense of the word. Yet in a way it’s more valid – as it’s based on long term use and the level of ‘buy-in’ that only emerges once you’ve stumped up the cash and lived with a product.

I’ve been using Wellgo’s budget flat platform pedal, the LU987, for around 18 months and feel I’m in a good position to comment on its usefulness for all kinds of cycling.

The LU987 is a large cast aluminium platform pedal, running on standard ball bearings, with around a dozen grip pins on each side. They mimic the classic Shimano DX BMX pedal from the 1980s, with a parallelogram shape and a large concave platform. The LU987 also has provision for clip on reflectors and drillings for mounting toe clips. However, I seriously doubt you’ll need the latter, for reasons I’m about to extol. The LU987 sits near the bottom of Wellgo’s flat pedal hierarchy, which includes models with removable pins, sealed cartridge bearings and other delights. However, in these cash-strapped times of ours, I think I’ve stumbled upon an everyday gem of a pedal.

Another view of the pedal - yes I know - I could have cleaned them before I took the shot... The pins are replaceable and they accept toeclips (if you really feel the need)

Why? Well firstly, the level of grip that the pins (allied with the concave platform) provide is astonishing. Wet or dry, just team them with a rubber soled shoe of any kind and you’ve got grip that’ll make you seriously wonder why you ever entertained the idea of toe clips or SPD (clip-in) pedals. I’ve used these pedals in all weathers, on road, off road, commuting and on long cyclosportive rides and I’ve never once missed the security and (alleged) ability to ‘pull-up’ that clip in/strap down systems are purported to provide. Unlike clip-in/strap-down systems, alongside the ‘grip-aplenty’ scenario, you’ve got the ability to quickly remove your feet should you and gravity have a difference of opinion.

These pedals allow you to wear any shoes you like, saving the bother of getting in and out of cycling shoes. The ability to just jump on your bike in normal shoes is not to be underestimated. Suddenly errand running and bike commuting become a whole lot simpler.

Another reason why I’m sold on these pedals is something quite subjective and that’s ‘pedal feel’. I don’t enjoy the feeling of using stiff ‘cycling specific’ shoes on a bike – they lack feedback – in my opinion you get no sensation of grip. However, the Wellgos, in conjunction with a fairly thin, flexible soled trainer (e.g., Adidas Samba, Gazelle, Converse Chuck Taylors, etc) give masses of feedback without a hint of discomfort. This might fly in the face of the ‘you must wear stiff shoes’ maxim so dear to pedal/shoe system manufacturers, but it works for me.

Durability is also a huge plus. Like I said before, I’ve had these pedals on my all weather, all terrain, all purpose bike for 18 months and the bearings are just getting sweeter and sweeter with each ride. They’re not cartridge bearings and they’re not sealed – however, this doesn’t seem to stop them working well in spite of wet weather riding, off-roading and general neglect.

Lastly, they’re cheap – seriously cheap – I paid around £10 for mine – at the time I had a second bike (A Dahon D7 folding bike) and I got two pairs. The Wellgo’s instantly transformed the ride of the Dahon, giving me way more confidence than the slippery rubber folding jobbies that came as standard.

Any downsides? If you’re commuting in dressy shoes, you might want to sacrifice some grip and go for a rubberised pedal that won’t mar the leather soles of your brogues. Some may not appreciate the looks of the pedal on a classically-styled town bike like a Pashley, but once you try these pedals out, it’s hard to feel secure on anything else.

Availability – pretty much everywhere. If you can’t find the LU987, there are many others out there with the key features, which, to recap, are:

  • Large format
  • Grip pins
  • Concave platform

If you want to go upmarket, there are a number of options, including the DMR V12 which is a CNC machined version with super smooth cartridge bearings. However on an all-duty bike, I regard pedals as a consumable item along with chains, cassettes, tyres and tubes, and I’m happy with the real-world performance of the Wellgos.

Another ‘Essential Cycling Toolkit’ Article

Click the image to play the video (link to Vimeo)

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.

  1. Spare Tube – make sure it’s the right size and check it regularly for air-tightness
  2. Pump – make sure it fits the tubes on your bike
  3. Tyre Levers – Three of them will remove even the most stubborn tyres. Plastic ones are best.
  4. Multitool – with flat-head and cross-head screwdriver plus 2-8mm Allen Keys
  5. Chain tool (if you know how to use it)
  6. Pliers – handy for pulling nails/chunks of glass from tyres plus a whole raft of other uses
  7. Puncture Kit – to be used as a last resort if your inner tube fails
  8. Mobile Phone – the ultimate get you home accessory (store the numbers of a few local taxi firms)
  9. Cash – If all else fails – for taxi fare home.
  10. Pair of latex gloves or a small pack of wipes – to keep your hands clean when doing repairs
  11. 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!

Happy cycling!