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


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