The Quest for the Perfect Commute

For a long time I have been taking stock of my cycling situation, specifically in regards to commuting. My focus has been on finding the right bicycle, one that is portable, fun to ride but which still gets me around fast. Well, so help me oh lord but I think that I may have finally found it.

Thoughts on Foldies

Folding bikes, and I would also suggest city bikes in general, are enjoying something of a resurgent era. I live in the north of England, about thirty minutes from Manchester and I have watched with keen interest the efforts of mayor Andy Burnham as he has been attempting, and at last succeeding, to take the city bus network back into public ownership. As the country tries to remember that there are people in places other than London who would like to get to work, he has been grafting hard on this and his recent court victory is a huge step forward. The news that he is capping bus fares at £1 and £2 for children and adults respectively is great news for a city, and indeed a country, that is being strangled by car usage and corporations using public services to gouge people with extortionate fares.

All of this means that cycle commuting is becoming attractive, notwithstanding some absolute terrible biking infrastructure. For me the folding bicycle has always been problematic. Some of this is due to them being relatively expensive, Bromptons for example are absurdly priced, and some of this is because of the 16/20 inch wheels that tend to be standard. A full size foldie would, for me, negate the whole point of having one as I need something I can put in the car also. The small wheels are an issue because, where I live, wherever you cycle if heading out of town is uphill. Cycling uphill on small wheels isn’t particularly difficult but it just takes so long to do it. These bikes are anything but fast. I know that the Brompton Elite Fanbase (TM) swear by them but if I did have upwards of £1000 to splurge on yet another bike, it would not be a sixteen inch wheel, overpriced luxury machine. I have nothing against them but that amount of money is preposterous.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that a foldie is a great solution to many problems and so I spent a long time scouring the web for one, eventually coming to settle on a middling price 20 inch wheeler. My hand hovered over the checkout for many days until I suddenly spotted something beautiful…

Tern Bicycles

Tern are a company that formed after the father and son ownership team of Dahon split in a dispute, with Tern being the new business venture of the latter. They make all sorts of bikes, including the now-discontinued Tern Node D7i:

Tern Node D7i

On the Tern website they now sell the Node D8, however if one Googles the D7i then the page is still accessible. The D8 differs from the D7i in that it does not have the hub gearing and he chain is not sealed, two features that I think they ought to have kept as they are great for stopping oil getting on clothes or chain slap in general.

The D7i appears to be a rare find. I could only locate the one I bought, used, via eBay. The previous owner very kindly gave me two Tern baskets that attach to it, one front and one rear. It has 24 inch wheels as opposed to the bog standard 20 found on most foldies, and it is beautiful. The bigger wheels make for a much faster bike than my previous 20 inch wheel foldie, and it is also lighter than that bike and folds down better, faster and smaller. The caveat there is that the other one was older and cheaper, but nonetheless the D7i is way ahead. The front light is dynamo powered so I only need a rear lamp, and the bike is far easier to carry in its folded state than the old one. This might be the best bike I have ever had for commuting and general city and urban cycling.

So I appear to have raised the standard of my commute. As I have ridden it twice around the block to test it you can expect more detail on here later…

Bicycle Odyssey

I am on a bicycle odyssey right now. I have been running solidly all winter and cycling season is but a twinkle in the eye, except that it always turns up quickly. I now have four bicycles as I have just bought what I expect will be the first of many vintage cycles. It is a Wolfman road tourer, pictured below.

Wolfman Road Bicycle

It is clearly an ancient thing but I think it, like many other older bicycles, is beautiful. Let us be frank also, one bicycle is never enough. I obtained this for zipping around town so as not to have to break out my more expensive bikes for that purpose. Not only is there a substantial risk of theft in urban settings, there is also the fact that wearing out parts and risking punctures for the sake of a couple of miles is a wee little bit silly.

The look on the face of the servicing technician when I asked for a tune up to get it roadworthy told me that there are not very many vintage bikes on the road in the north of England. To me that is a great shame. When I think about the health issues we have such as obesity, diabetes and the myriad problems associated with inactivity and sedentary living I find the solution to these generational challenges is plain to see. The normalisation of cycling as everyday transport would tackle so much of this with very little effort or expenditure. It is a matter of the political will to have the courage to put motorists back in their collective box and make active travel the priority. It is happening here in the UK, albeit very slowly. We all glance over at Amsterdam and Copenhagen with green eyed envy but I think that the change is coming and it is inevitable. Every time I use the roads in a car I look around, aghast at the sheer lunacy of it all. Hundreds, thousands of single people driving around in box with a sofa and two armchairs, which uses fuel that is running out, polluting an ecosystem we cannot afford to lose, and using up time that could be spent doing exercise and commuting simultaneously, and I can only reach one conclusion. This cannot go on. It simply cannot. This utter insanity of packing people into dirty, polluting metal boxes that make them lazy, fat, entitled and angry has to come to an end.

The Normalisation of Cycling

The unsustainable nature of car culture is why is think that vintage bikes are coming back with a bang. Every time we all see a child cycling to school in uniform, an adult cycling in jeans, a young lady riding in a dress with her shopping in a front mounted basket; these all serve to normalise everyday practical cycling. Yes, I wear Lycra to cycle but only because I am a sport cyclist covering great distances. The change we crave will come from a critical mass of people using their bikes as their primary mode of transport.

My motive for buying this vintage is precisely that, to play my part in the normalisation of day to day cycling. I have for years zipped around doing errands and collecting shopping on my bike, but only now have I bought some decent urban cycling kit, including the bike, and also shoes and clothing. I have been using the Wolfman and my foldie and I am cycling at a leisurely pace. I am not interested in calorie burn or raising a sweat. Just cycling for the utility and pleasure of it. I will still do my distance rides on my carbon fibre racer, but in order to normalise utility cycling I am doing my bit. Why? Well, as I said, the lunacy cannot go on. The fuel is running out, the environment needs to be pollution free, people need to get thinner and fitter, and diseases of laziness and inactivity must be beaten. Simply put: the world must change.

To see how we got here and why change is coming, I recommend you watch Bicycle, a documentary about cycling, where it began, what went wrong, and how we will put it all right in the future. In the meantime, get on your bike. Don’t race, don’t Lycra up, just take a leisurely ride and do something to normalise utility cycling. Your kids and your future are waiting to say thanks.

Thoughts on Foldies

In the midst of the COVID–19 outbreak I took stock of various things and realised that, since my current commute is fewer than two miles in distance, to use my carbon fibre racing bicycle to do that journey is bonkers. So, to cut a long story short, I did some research, a cost benefit analysis and as a result I now own a Holborn Challenge, 20″ wheel diameter, six geared folding bicycle.

I have ridden my foldie twice and it is a wildly different prospect to my racer, which is obviously going to be the case. Here and here is Strava data recorded using my Vivoactive HR watch from my first two rides. I forgot to press stop on my watch when I stopped for prolonged times so take the mileage numbers with a massive pinch of salt.

Foldies

  • You will never break any speed records on a foldie, but they are absolutely perfect for zipping around town, covering short distances, urban commuting and suchlike where there will be loads of turning, starting and stopping.
  • You cannot rest at speed like you would in ‘cruise control’ on a racer, where you are going fast but not putting in much effort because you are carrying momentum.
  • You can’t really bonk.
  • Going downhill means you freewheel. With six gears you just can’t go very fast before you start pedal spinning. A 20″ diameter doesn’t allow for much pace.
  • Aside from downhill freewheeling will slow you down quickly, so prepare to pedal all the time.
  • Different frame geometry means using different muscles, or the same ones in a different way and at different angles.
  • It turns on a sixpence, so be careful when signalling as it’s easy to drift into the road.
  • You look kind of funny as they are a novel design, but that’s okay really.

One day into riding a foldie and it’s nice to be able to go short distances at a leisurely pace. I don’t have to wear cleats or aerodynamic clothing. I clock rides using my watch rather my Garmin Edge 1000 as it is all just for fun really. I can’t mount my expensive Hope lights on it so I just bought a decent set on sale.

Using a foldie has reconnected me with leisure cycling. All cycling is pleasurable for me, however this does not go fast so I get to see the scenery a little. It’s just good fun instead of endorphins and adrenaline, and I don’t wear out my much more expensive bike on two and three mile rides here and there.