Are you a “one bike” or “multi bike” person?

I’ve been observing people riding to work on my daily commute and looking at what they’re riding on. Increasingly there are some pretty cool commuting bikes, including e-bikes and stylish “upright” city bikes. But it’s interesting how many still are riding to work on what seems to be a basic mountain-bike or road bike.

I have this sneaking suspicion that most of these people also use the same bike when they go for their regular blat on the road or mountain-bike tracks outside of work. There might be reasons of economy in that thinking; most bikes aren’t that cheap to buy, so the prospect of a second (or third) bike might be a bridge too far. There may even be practical questions about where to store that extra bike or two.

Spotted at New World – don’t really look like utility shopping bikes to me…

But, given that most mountain-bikes or road bikes are lucky to have much more than a bottle cage onboard, it can make for a poor commuting option. You can usually spot these recreational beasts pressed into commuting service; there are no mudguards for a wet day or a kick-stand to hold itself upright, the rider is carrying their stuff in a backpack/satchel rather than with a panniers or a basket, and there is possibly no bell or bike-lights.

Contrast with many of my friends who seem to average about 5 or 6 bikes each in their sheds (one even had 17 I think tucked away in there…). There’s the classic utility city bike, the road bike, the mountain-bike, the downhill mountain-bike, the touring bike… these days, there’s probably also a new e-bike in there too. Or a folding bike, or a tandem, or a cargo bike…

N+1 bikesUntil now I’ve largely lived in the “one bike” camp; one trusty steed to get me where I need to go for work, meetings, etc and then also for a recreational ride as well. My go-to bike started life as a standard front-suspension mountain-bike; it’s remarkable to think I bought it 12 years ago (and even then it was an insurance replacement for my previous bike that was stolen). By the time I added a rack, panniers, bell, mudguards, kick-stand, bike lights, front carry-bag, bike-pump and city-slick tyres it was clearly kitted out for serious utility riding – heck I’ve even added some advertising for cycling on it…

However, one of the consequences of all this is that it became far less useful for actual mountain-biking. It’s still fairly OK for a flat track recreational ride but, without stripping away a lot of accessories and switching out my tyres, it’s not a very efficient beast to zoom and swoop through the tracks. So it was that I found myself buying a new mountain-bike the other week for the “not-so-serious” riding stuff. Still at the cheap end of the spectrum (I don’t go trail riding that much…) but at least it’s got hydraulic disc brakes and big fat tyres to help try to do things properly (a pity that we suddenly have no Adventure Park to play in for now…).

Was a mountain-bike – not any more…

Now I don’t really too care too much what exactly people are riding – if they are riding some kind of adequately maintained bike that’s good enough for me. But as we develop more of a cycling culture, it might be that many of us start to think about whether we should have a few more bikes for different purposes…

Do you have one “jack of all trades” bike or many bikes for different purposes?

Cycling and the Law: Things that can go on or with a Bike

In our earlier legal articles we considered what counts as a cycle and where you can legally bike. Now let’s look at what you can and can’t have on your bike (well you can take it from the earlier discussion that you can’t have a petrol motor for starters…).

{The usual disclaimers; not a lawyer, blah, blah, seek proper legal advice when necessary…}

Firstly there are a few things that you must have on your bike; generally all sensible stuff:

  1. A red or yellow rear reflector that is visible from a distance of 100 metres when light shines on it.
  2. Good brakes on the front and back wheels; these can be any effective type such as calipers, discs, back-pedal hub, etc (pre-1988 bikes only need a back wheel brake).
  3. A few additional features like lights and reflectors, if riding at night or in poor visibility (e.g. fog); discussed further later

You can argue the merits or otherwise of this law, but the one thing you need on your person when riding is a securely fastened approved bike helmet (that could include a full-face competitive riding helmet, but something like a rock-climbing helmet or construction hardhat typically doesn’t count). Note that people carried by bike (e.g. children in trailers) also need to wear a helmet. It is possible to seek a written exemption from NZ Transport Agency for having to wear a safety helmet, on the grounds of religious belief, physical disability or other reasonable reasons. Interestingly, the current law is silent on the specifics about actually securely fastening your helmet on your head, but I don’t know if you want to try that line of argument with your local cop…

Nice idea, not sure whether it would fly in NZ... (c/ Rick Smith)

Nice idea, not sure whether it would fly in NZ… (c/ Rick Smith)

When cycling at night or when visibility is poor (and we can get some pretty decent fog in Chch…), your bike must also have the following items:

    • One or more steady or flashing rear-facing red lights that can be seen at night from a distance of 100 metres (NB: soon proposed to be 200m).
    • One or two white or yellow front headlights that can be seen at night from a distance of 100 metres. Only one of these headlights may flash.
    • Pedal retro-reflectors on the front and back ends of each pedal; alternatively, you need to wear some reflective material (other than this situation, there is no other mandatory requirement to wear high-visibility clothing when cycling, although it can’t hurt sometimes…).

What about other kinds of lighting, like head-mounted lights, wheel-mounted pattern lights, and pedal lights? As we’ve mentioned before, many of these things actually fall foul of the Vehicle Lighting Rule, which doesn’t allow side-facing lights or any lights that “dazzle, confuse or distract other drivers or other road users.”  I’m particularly wary of some of the ultra-bright bike lights now available, especially head-mounted ones. As it stands, the vehicle lighting rules are not well set up to cater for cycle lighting, and actual practice by people out on the street tends to be ahead of what the current law allows (e.g. people were using flashing lights and two headlights long before they were made legal here).

That covers what you must have on your bike; what are the things that are optional to have on a bike? The list includes many useful items, like:

A space-maker flag

A space-maker flag

    • mudguards
    • carriers, with or without panniers
    • locks, either attached to the bike or carried separately
    • bell or horn to warn other path users
    • clip-in pedals for use with shoes with cleats, or pedals fitted with toe straps
    • side and front reflectors (front reflectors cannot be red)
    • safety flags or those handy “Space-maker” side flags
    • rear-view mirrors
    • kick stands
    • training wheels
    • and if you’re really feeling keen, you can throw in a holder for your water bottle, coffee cup, wine bottle or even beers!

You can also have a trailer attached to your bike, but you can’t tow or be towed by another vehicle. That same rule would also seem to technically prevent you from holding one bike while riding another…

Can you “dub” (i.e. carry) someone on a bike? Sadly, no, not unless there is a seat specifically designed for them (which typically restricts most people to carrying small kids only unless you have a cargo bike).

Hitching a ride in Vancouver - but illegal here

Hitching a ride in Vancouver – but illegal here

If you are carrying large items on your bike remember that, under the Rules, your load can only extend up to 0.5m out each side and up to 1.0m out each end of your bike. Then you might be able to get away with carrying this

Finally, it’s important to appreciate that while many of these requirements are described in the NZ Road Code and Code for Cyclists, these are only a summary of the actual legislation (such as the Road User Rule, Vehicle Dimensions & Mass Rule, and Vehicle Lighting Rule). There are little nuances that haven’t been fully captured in the Road Code interpretation so, if in doubt, check the underlying Rules.

Do you have any questions about cycling law in NZ? Let us know!

Guest Bike Review: The Mighty Pilen

This review from guest blogger Stephen first appeared on his blog:

The mighty Pilen: a review

I now own a Pilen Lyx. It’s a big, robust city bicycle, designed by Swedes, made with modern components, but decidedly old school.

For some years now I’ve been gravitating towards old-fashioned bicycles intended for commuting at low speeds in your work clothes. I like the upright posture: you can see more, and you’re more visible to drivers. I don’t mind the weight: yes, it’s harder to get going, but once you’re going, who cares? I find the ride quality of classic style steel frames and curvy front forks delightful.

When I first reached this conclusion I started out with a customised Linus. Since then I have also acquired an elderly single speed Rudge of uncertain age and a 1950s 3-speed Raleigh Sport. The Rudge is fun but ramshackle, and now awaits conversion and stripping down to path racer style. The Raleigh is a joyous ride, but is in such good nick with its original paint that I don’t want to ride it every day, especially not when it might get wet. And the Linus has been great as my main commuting bike, yet after almost 6 years it’s showing a lot of wear and the issues with build quality are becoming apparent: the paint is soft, the chrome is thin, and maybe wedging an 8 speed Nexus into the rear forks was ambitious (the back wheel has a distinct tendency to slip forward in the dropouts over time no matter how tight the nuts).

What I wanted was a bike that felt like the Raleigh — upright riding posture, good handling, solid — but made with modern technology. The Pilen fits the bill. Shimano 8 speed rear hub, dynamo front hub, integrated roller brakes. Welded (beautifully so) frame. Chain guard, stainless mudguards, LED light, carrier that you could safely give your mate a double on. 28 inch wheels that smooth out the rough road surfaces of post-quake Christchurch.

A friend of mine works at Bicycle Junction in Wellington, and he told me they had a sale on. I was visiting Wellington anyway and got a test ride, and I was sold.

The Pilen Lyx bike

The Pilen Lyx bike

My one has a fancy Brooks saddle, and I got Dan to change the tires to something narrower because I don’t like fat tires. He delivered it free to Back Alley Bikes in Addington and Rufus set it up for me. There was a comical initial teething problem, where somehow the front brake lever was electrically connected to the dynamo, in such a way that when the light was on, you would get electric shocks through the brake lever, but Dan took my unlikely story seriously, sent down a new cable and light and all was well.

I’ve been riding this bike around for a few days now. I still feel good about it. I am oddly reminded of the experience of driving a large powerful car with power steering.

Here’s the verdict.

COST: $1700-ish for this model, including the Brooks saddle, free delivery to Christchurch, $50-ish assembly/setup costs.

GOOD:

  • Great ride quality. Handles smoothly, glides over bumps.
  • Beautiful paintwork (“Durablue” is a dark rich sparkly blue).
  • Super strong carrier with super strong spring-loaded trappy thingies (what are they called?)
  • Built-in lock for when you nip inside a shop for 5 minutes.
  • It’s a big bike, you sit up tall on it and you sail around, master or mistress of all you survey.
  • Lumotec LED light is bright and focused.
  • Chainguard means a chap can bike in office clothes without a trouser clip.
  • Generally solid feel and finish: it’s easy to believe the “rustproof” claims and trust it will still be good in 20 years.
  • Good solid kickstand.
  • Roller brakes are sealed and need next to no servicing.
  • 8 speed hub likewise.

BAD:

  • If you are short, this will not be a good bike for you. Big frame, big wheels, wide handlebars.
  • If your daily ride has steep hills in it, they are going to be a lot of work.
  • The front light does not have a capacitor or battery to provide current when not in motion. Considering that such lights are only US$10 more than ones without, feels a bit mingy at this price point. I am dealing with this presently by using a little Lezyne as an auxiliary light on the handlebar. I may yet cave and get a mail-order light that stays on after you stop.
  • The builtin rear light has only one LED and no obvious way to change the batteries without unscrewing the cover. Hard to understand why this isn’t dynamo driven. I foresee replacing this in due course too.
  • The brake and gear cables are fitted with plastic clips. Again, at this price and given the other fittings, you’d kind of expect shiny metal.
  • The bell is pretty but not loud, and jingles slightly as you ride which I find intensely annoying. I immediately replaced it with my favourite Crane bell.

VERDICT:

  • A lovely bike to ride for the person who wants a bomb-proof, stylish commuting bike and doesn’t care about weight. Minor niggles can be fixed easily. It will probably still be in good shape when you die of old age or the apocalypse comes, whichever arrives first.

If you want this kind of ride but don’t want to spend heaps, best start haunting TradeMe for one of those big old English bikes that come up every so often. There are plenty of them around in Canterbury that will be a good ride if you give them the love.

One real world e-bike

There is a ton of e-bike solutions coming to market that promise to help us go further and faster but I had always wondered what they were like to ride. I love riding my bike, why would I want this extra set of gear to make the experience easier?

Adding an electric motor seemed a bit too close to those folks that have petrol motors on their bikes, it’s cheating right? Nope, some of this e-bike tech is awesome and you can’t know how awesome until you get the chance to ride one.

This is my buddy Stew, he went out on a limb and ordered an aftermarket e-bike kit and has used it to lessen the impact of his work commute.

stew1

With this unit he has been able to bike commute 46 kilometers, five days a week while arriving less sweaty and tired. His previous average speed of 25kph has jumped to 35kph with the pedal assist.

After 3500 kilometers ridden, he’s not ready to give it up anytime soon.

This is a mid-drive setup, that puts the weight and torque on the bottom bracket rather than the front or back forks, comprised of a drive unit, battery and control unit.

wholebike

The drive unit replaces the stock bike’s bottom bracket, chain ring and cranks.

drive-unit

The battery has a 300w output that lasts for 46-48k per charge, taking 5 hours to charge.

battery

The control unit is a display and set of input buttons that govern the level of assistance.

control

This set up cost approximately $1100 from a supplier in China. Stew says it took him one evening to dismantle and install all of the parts. The total weight added to the bike is about 6kg.

In his six months of experience with the kit, the battery has kept a constant charge life and the drive unit has operated flawlessly.

This bike is an absolute thrill to ride, I take it out for a spin whenever possible. I do not have an e-bike of my own yet but it’s now on the horizon thanks to my experience with this one.

Would you buy a pedal assist e-bike kit? Anyone try an e-bike and decide it wasn’t for them?

 

Isabelle (necessary on a bicycle?)

(c/ bicycle-riding.com)

(c/ bicycle-riding.com)

An interesting initiative is being considered by the Christchurch City Council. Following a deputation to a Community Board by a dog walker, the Council has agreed to to promote and encourage the use of bells on bicycles.

The concern is that, as cycling gets more popular with the development of the Major Cycleways, there will be more pressure on the shared pathways in the network. More use of bike bells by riders would help to warn pedestrians of their presence and encourage them to make space to pass. Already some signs and markings around Hagley Park encourage warning others when approaching.

New signs in Hagley Park already recommend warning pedestrians when approaching them

New signs in Hagley Park already recommend warning pedestrians when approaching them

I have a bell on my bike and I do find it mostly helpful when riding along busy shared pathways. A few thoughts do come to mind though:

    • Riders can get mixed reactions to ringing their bells; some pedestrians find it helpful, but some evidently can find it just as startling as no bell at all. I suspect that may have more to do with when exactly you ‘ding’; there is certainly a “sweet spot” so that you are neither too close to startle people nor too far that they don’t hear you either. Getting a bell with the right, friendly tone is pretty helpful too; some modern ones can sound a bit terse.
    • Some riders prefer to use their voice instead of a bell; personally I’ve got no real problem with a cheery “excuse me, coming through!” as an alternative warning. I’m never quite as sold on the classic cycling call “on your right!” from riders; people unfamiliar with the phrase may get confused and think they’re expected to move to the right…
    • We should make sure that we reward “good behaviour” from pedestrians who respond appropriately when hearing a bell. If I ding my bell and people in front of me make space to pass, I always make a point of shouting “thanks!” as I go past.
    • No amount of bell-ringing or calling out will help if pedestrians are “wired for sound” and listening to their favourite music or whatever. Similarly, there will always be some pedestrians who are deaf or hard of hearing. Accept that you can’t get the attention of everyone out there, and just hope that they are mostly good at keeping themselves clear of other path traffic.
    • Ultimately, if we’re experiencing significant levels of conflict on a cycle route, that suggests to me that the infrastructure isn’t quite right. As discussed previously, we already have a lot of shared paths that are clearly inadequate in width for the volumes of pedestrians and cyclists that are often present (Rolleston Ave anyone?). Most of the new cycleways are expected to be a much better width for sharing (e.g. South Hagley Park) or have completely separate facilities for each group (e.g. Matai St E). The challenge will be in ensuring that we budget to retrofit our existing pathway stocks as well, either by widening or creating parallel facilities.
No amount of bell ringing might solve some locations...

No amount of bell ringing might solve some locations…

A bike bell is a pretty cheap addition to your kit from most bike retailers. There are a variety of ringers available, including those you twist or flick. If you want something particularly stylish to match your ride (or your tastes), you could check out the pretty cool offerings from local online supplier Bells & Whistles. And if it helps to keep the peace with our fellow path users, that’s a pretty good investment.

Do you think that bike bells are a good idea?