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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

What a tool.

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by Mick Allan

It started millions of years ago when our ancestor first used a stick to prise the remnants of dinner from her teeth. For cyclists it starts at the moment we make our first adjustment to a bicycle.

As a young beginner cyclist I remember watching in wonder as my uncle Jack wielded his tools to make a pile of scrap  into a rideable bike for me. I got proficient at mending punctures and tightening the seat clamp every ten miles and I never looked back. Being self sufficient, having the ability to get myself home after a mechanical breakdown became a big part of the enjoyment I derived from cycling. Later I became a cycle retailer and for a while the workshop manager of a busy London shop. And when I started it was with the same sense of wonder that I watched the experienced mechanics use the pro tools – treating the boxed Campagnolo frame finishing tools with the sort of reverence and respect usually reserved for religious relics.

The line between on-the-road tools, the ones you take along for roadside repairs, and workshop tools is sometimes a blurred one. The most useful tool of all time – for everything – is, for me, The Nest, a set of Allen keys which fold out of a moulded handle in the manner of a Swiss Army knife. I don’t know if they were the first but Cannondale made the first one I remember buying. Soon others followed with similar products. It helped that the cycle industry introduced decent universal fastenings. For the road you pack the tools you’re most likely to require. And this brings us to the issue that keeps the weight weenies awake at night. You can’t pack every tool that you’re ever likely to need, your bike would weigh a ton, so you choose which tools to bring according to the results of a complex equation which takes in to account: tool weight, tool multi-functionality, the likelyhood of mechanical failure, the length of the ride and your confidence in your bike’s mechanical integrity.

This is my (now retired) weight weenie tool kit: chain pup and mini 62.5, 4, 5, 6mm Allen keys, Phillips head driver (Topeak Mini6), chain rivet extractor (Finishline Chainpup with the handle filed off), patches (glueless Park Tools patches) and tyre lever (Lezyne). I’ve had it a very long time and I’ve never had to use it, because my bikes never break down! Modern tyres don’t go flat and I’ve never broken a chain. These days, for everyday adjustments I carry a Park Tools Allen key nest in my bag. Simple.

teeny tool

Lots of companies have spent an awful lot of time and effort to give us road-side bicycle tools we want to buy. US company CoolTool were amongst the first to realise that there was a vast market for lightweight, combination tools. Topeak have gone on to dominate the market.

And in to this environment comes Full Windsor, a London England based company who started out making a rather nifty clip-on bicycle mudguard. This is one of those tools that bike nerds pick up and coo over. It’s a lovely thing, very tactile. It’s essentially a steel ring spanner and the tip of its handle has been formed to make a tyre lever (and plastic coated to protect the surface of alu rims). It comes in a fancy carrying case made of leather and recycled inner tubes. It feels good in the hand and it has a some nice angles which indicate that it’s been designed with a great deal of thought and consideration. It’s the perfect tool for the single-speed/fixed-wheel riders out there. As a simple spanner which doubles up as a tyre lever it does a fantastic job. But … I wish it stopped there, because then there’s a square cut-out in the side of it which is intended to function as a spoke wrench. It doesn’t. And the pouch is full of little compartments, each of which contains a different hex driver bit, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm plus a couple of screw driver heads and a driver extension. These are intended to be used with a hex socket in the side of the handle. And if you like you can rest them in couple of little magnetised nesting positions inside the handle. I don’t know why you would. You have to ask; is this tool better than a generic spanner with an Allen key set and plastic tyre lever? It looks nice enough but there’s no real functional advantage. And as a cyclist, as a bike mechanic, and as a tool geek  that irks me a bit. It’s all a bit fussy.

I admire Full Windsor for getting out there and doing it. It’s not easy to start up a new business in a saturated market and during a global economic turndown. And good luck to them. I suspect that they’ll sell a lot of these things. But. And it might be just me, I suspect that most of them will end up on the bench or in the toolbox at home. A good tool, but not one that I’d take on the road.

Bespoked. The last word.

Friday, March 30th, 2012 by Mick Allan

Last year’s Bespoked was, genuinely, the best bicycle show I’d ever attended. This year was even better. The quality was outstanding, easily on a par with anything coming out of the US or EU. If you love exotic bicycles and you fail to attend the show next year you’ll be kicking yourself. After two storming years it’s into its stride now. It has momentum. You can bet that the assembled engineers, artisans and craftspeople will spend all year thinking of ways to outdo each other next year. I can’t wait.

One of the best builders who attended the show didn’t have a stand. In fact he turned up unannounced and wandered around on his own. The ‘bike’ he brought to the show was one of the most innovative and forward looking I’ve ever seen. But he left it locked up to a railing outside where passersby largely ignored it. Over the last few years Steve Parry of SP Designs has produced a small fleet of innovative small bikes largely based on Bromptons. When I worked in a Brompton dealer in Bristol he would pop in from time to time to show us his latest machine. Steve is a man seemingly possessed. His purpose in life is making the Brompton folding bike better. I should add that Brompton are not great fans of his work. He’s made ‘Bromptons’ with Titanium frames, with front and rear deraileurs, with carbon fibre forks and seat posts and ‘Bromptons’ with disc brakes. He’s made ‘Bromptons’ which weigh a fraction of the weight of the bikes which roll out of Bromptons own factory. Parry’s bikes may or may not be suitable for production. Perhaps there is no great market for hand made super folders. Whatever. They might never make it to production but it warms my heart to know that there are people like Steve out there pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of pedal power. He’s a man on a mission.

The thing he rolled up on is no less innovative than any of his previous machines, and true to form it uses Brompton components. Its an electric scooter which folds. And it’s a brilliant, brilliant thing.

SP Design Folding lecky Scooter

Here it comes....

Voila!

Folks in other parts of Europe have embraced scooters for their short distance convenience. They fill the void between walking and cycling perfectly. An electric one makes a lot of sense. I goes without saying that I want one…..

Cyclorama Welcomes Mountain Trike

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 by Mick Allan

Putting a human on a bicycle is one of the most rewarding  things one can experience. You need the ability to work out what the person needs – even if they don’t know themselves. And you need built in ‘protractor vision’ to establish the correct frame size and be able to adjust it to fit – when they don’t know what a bicycle is supposed to feel like. It’s very rewarding when someone comes back  to tell you how wonderful their bike is and how it’s changed their lives.

That pales into insignificance when you’re putting people with disabilities on to pedal powered machines. Their needs are often so varied and individual that only engineering can provide the solution. But the rewards are immense. There’s nothing like it.

Tim Morgan has spent four years turning a good idea into a wonderful new product. He has combined the very best in modern mountain bike technology with an innovative drive and steering system to create a machine which can, quite literally, reach places where no wheel chair has gone before. An awesome new product which truly extends the boundaries of what is possible.

We are delighted to welcome Mountain Trike as Cyclorama’s newest exhibitors.

Check it out here:

Mountain trike

Straw Man

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by Mick Allan

Over the weekend I remade the box with reference to the manufacturers drawings.

bakfiets dimensionsAll that talk of remaking it in carbon-fibre honeycomb sheet and boxes shaped like cabin cruisers went by the wayside. I like that this is a simple box, and I like that it’s exactly the same shape as the one it came with. There’s something honest and unpretentious about it. But the best reason for making it to the same spec as the factory original is that it permits me to use the manufacturer’s excellent rain cover.

This new box is 40% lighter than the one it replaced – which was itself a replacement of the original. The material used is a mix of 9mm and 12mm beech faced ‘water-proof and boil-proof’ ply. Why anyone would would want ‘boil-proof‘ ply I can only guess. (Actually, I can’t guess. Answers on a postcard to the usual address.)

We are joined in the office today by Dom, a return to the Cyclorama office – he was part of the team which got Cyclorama.net rolling. Good to have him back. He caught up with me on the pedal out to work and snapped the following:

Hay!

When making the new box I did tweak a couple of details: I generated my own curve for the back of the box and also made it possible to stow the seat board by folding it up on a piano hinge. This feature opens up the full load area for cargo and also allows larger passengers to sit on the floor of the box, which makes it more comfortable and improves handling by lowering their centre of gravity.

Seat up

Just a couple more of coats of Top Oil and that’s it done.

There’s a growing collection of imgs on Cyclorama’s Facebook page.

Of Hubs and Gears and Things

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Mick Allan

So I’ve never really been a fan of hub gears. My earliest encounters were with Sturmey Archer 3 speeds. My mum’s Raleigh Twenty had one which would, when you least expected it, drop out of second into neutral until the pain in my groin eventually prompted me to learn how to adjust it. When I started into the trade the only bikes which featured them were those at the utilitarian end of the shop. They made sense on Bromptons, which were then very few and far between, and other folders, shoppers and roadsters. But I was into Mountain Bikes and Road Bikes and Human Powered Vehicles, and competition and lightness. So the inability to remove and replace a wheel in a few minutes was, and remained, my #1 objection to internal hub gears.

Sturmey guts

And this is still my main objection. I believe that working on bikes should be as easy and straightforward as possible. Removing the rear wheel from a derailleur bike is a matter of unhooking the brakes, opening up the quick release lever and banging it out. An experienced mechanic can do it in the time than it took to read that last sentence. The removal of a hub-gear equipped wheel on the other hand requires spanners. And a great deal more time. Add in the complexity of the stuff which often accompanies a hub-gear such as hub brakes, a fully enclosed chain case, chain-tugs, skirt guards and a job which might take five minutes on a derallieur bike can stretch to half a morning. Dutch cycle mechanics often replace a rear tube without touching the RH side of the wheel – by bending the frame away far enough to get the old tube out and the new one in. There’s even a tool for it. But it’s not a technique that many UK mechanics are familiar with.

So I’ve always avoided them. But I’ve had my coaster equipped one speed cruiser for a while – which has no quick releases. Then my Africa bike came along with a 1 spd coaster which I swapped out for a 3 spd to save my knees – so step by step I found myself the proud owner of a hub geared bike. It kinda snuck up on me.

rohloff gutsMy big objection – the time it takes to replace a tube – has been rendered irrelevant by modern technology. I now run puncture ‘proof’ tyres on all my bikes and augment their abilities with a dose of Stan’s No Tubes sealant. So I never get punctures. So I rarely need to remove a wheel. So there. Objection over-ruled.

Her Indoors has a tandem equipped with the awesome and legendary Rohloff 14 spd hub, which is faultless in operation. Pictured here > With all the engineering precision of a Swiss watch, it’s impossible – even for a died-in-the-wool de-railer head like me – not to be impressed.

And then I got to test riding a prototype Nijland Cargo/Kids Box trike with a new Sturmey Archer 5 spd. Get this: it’s a 5 spd in the usual way, controlled by a Grip Shift style rotating shifter. And it has a coaster brake. Oh, and it has reverse. Reverse! There are few applications for such a hub so hats off to SA for making it. What a difference a backwards gear makes when manoeuvring a big rig like the Nijland trike. Three-point turns become second nature. It makes life so much easier. No more jumping off to push it to and fro in a tight spot. Just pedal backwards and backwards it goes. Magic. I think it’ll become the #1 hub for makers of cargo trikes.

Sturmey Archer five speed with coater and reverse

So that was awesome.

Then we got our new family vee-hicle, the big blue bakfeits you’ve seen on these pages. Which came fitted with its original Shimano Nexus 4. I mentioned before how much use and abuse this machine has shrugged off, so credit must go to the humble Nexus which hasn’t skipped a beat in all that time. I ran it for a week or so until the NuVinci was ready and, frankly, it made me wonder why I was changing it. Four speeds doesn’t sound like enough for a bike weighing as much as my granny in her nighty. But it worked. It didn’t have a very low low, or a very high high but those four gears did the job.

NuVinci hub

And so, with the installation of the awesome lump of technology that is the Fallbrook Industries NuVinci CVT I’m kind of surprised to find myself on the other side of the fence as a fully fledged convert to hub gears. My objection – that it takes an age to swap a rear wheel – has been countered by the near total elimination of the need to replace a wheel by advances in tyre puncture resistance technology.

And what a hub it is. OMG as they say. As Rob did rote about in his recent review The NuVinci is a stepless, or continuously variable, transmission. There are no ‘gears’ but a range of ratios with no steps. Imagine the gears on your current bike as a flight of stairs – 3/7/21/30 – however many, and you change from one gear, or step, to the other in a jump. The NuVinci is a slope. Where your top and bottom gears are separated by a number of steps the NuVinci has no increments. It has infinity number of gears.

The manufacturers of regular bicycle transmissions work very hard to provide as many gears as they can and to make the shifting between those gears as smooth as possible, but there are always steps. Which means that an awful lot of the time you are in a gear which is less than optimal. Such a feeling is most noticable when pedaling a bike with three gears, when you’ve pedalled the bike up to speed and now find yourself riding just a bit too fast for second to be comfortable and not quite fast enough to want to shift into third. I’ve had this article in mind for a couple of weeks now and so i’ve been concentrating pretty hard on how the NV hub works in the real world, how it feels through the pedals. What I’ve discovered is that I change ‘gear’ almost constantly. A change of tack into the wind, a slight rise or drop in the road and I shift to compensate. On a second by second basis I can be in the optimal ratio for the conditions. Really amazing. I sometimes shift between one leg stroke and the next!

It’s not until you ride one of these hubs for a bit that you really get your head around the thing. I’m sure that this is the path down which we will find an effective automatic transmission. I also think it will work extremely well when combined with electric assist, and probably on Down Hill bikes too. In fact it’s so easy to use I think it would be perfect for ‘everyday’ bikes, for the kind of people who don’t want to think about gears at all.

I don’t think the industry has embraced this hub as well as it might. This is a system which is efficient, easy to use and bombproof. I suspect that they are deeply suspicious of it. Perhaps because it’s not made by SRAM or Sturmey or Shimano it’s out of the industries’ comfort zone. Who knows?

But my god, this is the future.

My only grumbles are that it weighs half a ton (though, to be fair, modern versions are lighter) and occasionally, after a second or two of free-wheeling it has a funny habit of dropping into ‘neutral’.

Oh well. Some things never change!

I am very grateful to Warlands Cycles of Oxford for the supply of the hub

and to Cycle heaven of York for building it into a wheel.

Bakfiets Update

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 by Mick Allan

Big blue bakfiets today: Dummy run with trailer. Note the posh white RaceFace Turbine racing cranks with Goldtech Ti Nitride Ti ring. You can’t see the Raceface Ti bottom bracket… ! I didn’t set out to have the blingingest bakfiets in the western hemisphere – it was the only crank and BB I had which would fit. Honest.Blue bakfiets with boxes on bridge. Boats in background.

A small ‘Doh!’ moment when I realised that I’d destroyed the box before lining up the materials for a replacement. Hmm. No problem, as you can make out, it’s possible to simply lash recycling boxes to it. Obviously it could handle more than one on the bike, I could put two sideways across the load bed – and that’s before we look at stacking options.. reckon I could get four or even six at a push.

I rode to the recycler on Saturday to recycle the drinks cartons which aren’t yet collected by our local authority, a journey notable only by how utterly normal it felt to do it by bike, if it wasn’t for the funny looks the bike gets from people. If any bike is to prove to people that it’s possible for a bicycle to replace many or even most car journeys – this is it. A shame then that it’s viewed by most people as something of a freak. We’ve a long way to go.

Cyclorama headquarters