Friday, October 22, 2010

Back Pedalling into the 21st Century!

I didn't buy the Velorbis. My plan was instead to find a decent bike shop locally and slowly upgrade the old Windsor Trail - although finding such a shop was proving easier said than done.

But then this came up:

Ridgeback Avenida 8D

Brand new it's a £700 bike but I got mine second hand - and, more importantly, from a neighbour who got it trade price himself - so I paid a LOT less. It's only about 6 months old and feels brand new.

So is the 21st century bike all that? Well the spec is pretty close to what I said was ideal: hub gears, a fairly upright riding position, low maintenance brakes, a kickstand and so on. Let's go through it bit by bit.


The Avenida has 8 speed hub gears which are gorgeous to use, with a quickfire push button gearchange. The range of gears is really wide. Start off in 2nd or 3rd and keep 1st for really steep hills as it's too low on the flat. I have very occasionally made it into 8th but it's too high for London really. And seemingly endless gearchanges in between; as many as anyone could need. I remember a 10-speed racer being the height of sophistication in the 70s, and a couple of those were usually redundant, so this is about the same - but in a trouble-free hub.

It's a bit odd, though, having that derailleur-style chain tensioner hanging down. What's the point of that? Especially as it stops me having a fully enclosed chain. Well, the Shimano site for the Alfine component set answers that question: "running a chain tensioner allows the use of an internally geared hub in a bicycle frame designed for use with derailleurs". Ahh... so that's what they mean by 'hybrid'.

It's interesting actually that it rather changes your riding style after a 3-speeder. You don't need to change the speed of your legs very much at all; you can just keep plugging away at a comfortable rhythym and change gear to suit the road. This in turn means you can be pretty fast without overstressing your knees. I'm certainly saving 5-10 minutes on my 45 minute commute. My thighs know about it, mind; which means it's great exercise but gentler on the knees.


Perhaps I'll get used to it but at the moment this is not working for me. It's described as a 'comfort' saddle but it's neither a Brooks-style leather saddle (which will wear in) nor luxuriously upholstered. First I'm going to try getting used to it; maybe change the angle slightly, too. But I may end up swapping the saddle for my existing black gel one. Visually it should suit the bike quite well; and the brown one would probably suit the old bike which is dark green.

Another feature of this bike is the seatpost suspension. I'm not entirely convinced by that either. It seems to be fully compressed when I sit on it - well, I am a big lad - so I don't really notice it smoothing out the ride much. Also when you stop at a red light and stand up for a second, instead of taking the weight off, the saddle rises, follows you and basically nuzzles up into your bum. Which is a bit disconcerting to say the least!

But perhaps there is a preload adjustment I can change to make it work better for the, er, larger gentleman.

Frame and riding position

It's a shame it apparently wasn't designed for hub gears, but apart from that the frame is lovely. It's made from aluminium and is certainly much lighter to pick up - so long as you don't have a child on board! The previous owner had it set up with quite low handlebars for a more racy riding position, but the stem is adjustable so I've raised the bars right up and back to get pretty close to a vertical riding position. Very flexible, and works a treat.

The sidestand is fine too. But I'm not sure about the 'anatomical' handlebar grips; feels a bit weird and cuts off the blood circulation in my palm. But perhaps I'm just putting too much weight on them because of the uncomfortable saddle. Time will tell with this one.

Lights and locks

This is where it again varies a bit from my dream spec. There is no built in wheel lock, which means I have to use the shackle lock when dropping MMVII off at nursery (yes, another Leco seat was the first thing I bought!). That's mildly less convenient, but probably safer.

And there's no dynamo, which was rapidly becoming a priority what with the nights fair drawin' in. Instead - and alongside a tougher lock! - I've ordered some rechargeable lights, with a tiny Li-Ion battery and a USB cable to charge them. I'll report on those in the coming weeks.


What a difference! The hub gears on my old bike were never very powerful, so I've gone from one extreme to another. These are not hub brakes as in my dream spec, but flipping disc brakes on a bicycle! The actuation is a miniaturised hydraulic system, with an oil reservoir on the handlebars and tiny pipes the size of a normal bicycle brake cable. I am speechless with admiration. They're extraordinary, and very powerful. In fact the levers are deliberately designed to only take 2 or 3 fingers, as a fistful of brake would definitely have you locking up a wheel or flying over the bars.

I don't yet know how they will be in the wet; but I might find out tomorrow.

Overall it's a really nice ride, and saving me time, so I'm very happy


Thursday, October 7, 2010


People often ask me about the child seat I use for my daughter MMVII.

Your bog standard child seat is a huge plastic structure on the back like this:

But how are you supposed to talk to them? Or keep an eye on them if they're playing up? And of course they spend the whole journey with your sweaty bum front and centre. Niiiice.

Those sort of thoughts led me to the idea of a front-mounted seat. These seem to be a fairly new development, but I like the idea because you can talk to your child, and they can see out the front. In the event of an accident, your arms are already round them. It all made sense, so for a long time I was going to go for a Weeride:

I like the idea of the sleeping platform, so it was definitely part of my master plan when I first bought a bike. But then I saw one of these:

It's a top tube seat from a company called Leco. I first saw it on a bike parked outside a trendy Bloomsbury bike shop (Bikefix on Lambs Conduit Street). It didn't have the backrest, so it was just this neat little extra saddle sprouting out of the top tube, like Zaphod Beeblebrox's second head. The neatness and minimalism of the thing appealed to me immediately.

Is it enough? Don't you really need a big plastic armchair? Well I think it depends on your child - and your attitude. MMVII was already at the stage where she was physically capable of sitting on the saddle; and I've always been pretty good at coaxing her into trying things that are slightly adventurous (often by just outwardly being confident and making out it's perfectly ordinary, while in reality hovering and watching like a hawk). Given that she's inside my arms, I don't see how a plastic chair could add much on the safety front. And the killer point for me is that it's so much more like actually riding a bike herself: she's sitting on a saddle and holding the handlebars. She even has her own bike horn, shaped liked Tinky Winky.

Another point in the Leco's favour is that it's extremely good value at just £20. Amazon did the honours. It all seems a bit daunting when you first get it out of the box: there's lots of steel brackets and bits, but try putting them together and they do all make sense. In fact it's quite simple. There's a clamp to go round the top tube - actually several different sized clamps to fit all sorts of bikes - with a bit of rubber inside to grip. On top of that is a standard saddle mount and the little saddle itself.

Then there's another clamp with a footbar, which goes on the lower frame tube (higher up it than you think, but probably not as high as in this picture!). Just make sure you've got the right size clamps for your bike, use your child to measure it all up, then bolt it all on as tight as you can.

Talking of which, there is one problem. The nuts that come with it are special 'locking' ones that contain some sort of sticky substance. Clearly they're designed to be done up once and then the stickiness helps hold them tight. Mine weren't quite right when I first did them, and now I've adjusted them they won't stay tight. I'm going to have to get new bolts. Ho hum.

It also comes with the backrest and the strap, and I did include them when I put it together. But to be honest - given MMVII isn't likely to fall asleep or try to climb off in transit - I'm not entirely sure what good they do. If anything that backrest seems likely to hurt one or the other of us in the event of an accident. So next time I'm spannering it might well go for a Burton.

MMVII totally loves it. We commute to nursery on it, and at the weekend, no matter what mood she's in, the offer of a ride on Daddy's bike is guaranteed to cheer her up. And therefore Daddy, too.