Monday, 21 November 2011

I make no apologies for the length of the following post. It's the text of an email I sent to Confused.com, in response to one of the shoddiest PRs I have ever seen, which, ironically, was accompanied by quite a good video about a motorised commuter who tried cycle commuting for a week.

I'd recommend reading cofused.com's PR, watching the video, then setting your blood pressure to "simmer" ...

Here is the link:

http://www.confused.com/press/releases/cyclo-paths-and-two-wheel-tantrums

Maybe if enough people read the page, it'll crash their web site - justice, I'd say!

"Hello

This is probably just one of many tens or possibly hundreds of mails that you'll get from both sides of this debate, so I'll not expect a response to it, but I would like to make a few points ... perhaps having seen fit to enter the debate, confused.com might like to publish a digest of reaction from those touched by it?

First, I'll set my stall out - I am a cyclist and have ridden on the road for 35 years or more, covering 12,000 plus miles a year on a bicycle in training for and participation in, road racing events, for at least 10 of those years. That's more annual mileage than the "average" motorist clocks up, even in these car-hungry days. Annually now, I suppose I ride more like 8,000 miles a year, not for "training" as such, but for the pleasure of maintaining something like good physical condition - so I still ride around the average annual mileage that most drivers cover in a car. I'm also a motorist, licencing a car. Note "licencing", not "taxing" ... one error in your PR that needs correction.

Most adult cyclists are, incidentally, also motorists - so it's not quite all "them'n'us".

In the course of running Velotech Cycling Ltd, and providing the services it offers, I drive my own vehicle and others under basically normal travel circumstances (i.e. excluding what we do in race convoys and the like) upwards of 40,000 miles a year predominantly in the UK, but also in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands - so I see a lot of road, a lot of cyclists, in a lot of countries, from both the saddle and from behind the wheel.

The essential problem I'm afraid, is that many drivers in the UK (by no means all - I think your article is unnecessarily inflammatory on this point) see motor vehicles as having some inherent hegemony over the road. What must be understood is that this is a misconception both in law and in reason.

In other countries, the laws vary, as does the general view of cyclists, but even in the Netherlands, where there is far higher population density than here, the general European attitude is one of greater tolerance. In terms of the other countries that I have direct experience of, only in Switzerland are cyclists licensed & registered and only in Switzerland do they pay any form of permit fee to use the road ... and if motorists here think they have it rough, they should try life under Swiss rules of car or especially goods vehicle ownership, operation and taxation.

In the UK, private motorists pay "car tax" or, more accurately "vehicle excise duty (VED)". This is also true of commercial operators. This has not been a tax levied for the maintenance of the roads since 1937. Roads are paid for by general taxation, to which everyone who buys anything bar raw foodstuffs, children's clothing and some safety equipment is inherently contributing via VAT. Even then it can be argued that they still are as VAT is levied on raw materials, fuel, delivery charges and the like - so cyclists are already taxed, even if they are unemployed and not paying income tax or any form of National Insurance, or are being paid at below the threshold of those particular payments.

This is an important point in two ways - if the amount of VED paid has any influence over a "right" of usage, then older cars that cover less miles might have less right on the road than more recent, bigger cars that do more miles, more fuel-efficient and cleaner cars might have less right than less efficient and dirtier ones, HGVs would beat everyone hands down ... but that's not the case & it would be unlikely to win support that it should be made so by the motoring fraternity.

The second way in which the "Motorists pay tax, cyclists don't" argument comes unglued is different, but related - because pedestrians, horse-riders and cyclists are free in law to use the roads without paying VED, motorists are not ... but the roads themselves have no relation to VED other than where the revenues raised can be considered as "general taxation". Following this argument through, if the payment of a marginally higher rate of general taxation (be it direct or indirect - say, as in the note above, via VAT for instance) can be considered as conferring extra "rights" in some way, then someone earning £200k a year and paying perhaps three times as much tax or more as someone earning £60k a year should have 3 times or more as much "right" to use the roads, the NHS, education services ... everything that is paid for out of general taxation. That is contrary to the whole idea of redistribution of wealth ... and so the vast majority wouldn't subscribe to it as a sensible view, if not least because the vast majority (in fact, all bar one) would therefore be "behind" someone paying more tax in the "queue".

So to turn to your two leader points in the article:

# A quarter of drivers say cyclists should pay road tax
# More than one in eight cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist

I think we've dealt with the first one pretty comprehensively above.

The second one - you don't quote a statistic to define whether the cyclists or the motorists were found to be in breach of road use law or good practice at the time of the incident - so it is a meaningless statement in the context of the debate, other than serving to make it clear that a level of mutual respect needs to exist & the current level, for at least one in eight cyclists, whether the failure was on their side or that of the motorist, is insufficient.

To quote from your PR further -

A survey of 1,000 motorists and 1,000 cyclists carried out by Confused.com identifies what sends cyclists into a ‘two-wheel tantrum’ and turns car drivers ‘cyclo-pathic’:
72% of drivers have experienced one or more of the following incidents involving a cyclist during the last two years, broken down as follows:

* A cyclist caused me to swerve in my car [31%]
* A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late [22%]
* A cyclist caused an accident which I was involved in [5%]
* Someone I know was involved in an accident involving a cyclist [11%]
* A cyclist went through red lights [39%]
* Cyclists riding on the pavement or in an area with a 'no cycling' sign [26%]

To deal with them in order -

* a cyclist might "cause you to swerve your car" ... if (s)he did something unexpected - but then by any reasonable argument, in the event of a collision with a cyclist, the likelihood is that the motorist will come off a good deal better than the cyclist so a duty of care exists on the motorist to bear in mind the vulnerability of the other road user and to act accordingly - in many cases, meaning that the motorist should slow down and wait. Leads us neatly into point 2:
* "A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late" - sorry, that just doesn't stand up. In a 30 mph zone, for instance, a car traveling at 30 mph takes 2 minutes to do a mile. A cyclist at a (fairly typical) 12mph takes 5 minutes. So even if a motorist sat behind a cyclist for a whole mile, the difference in arrival times between the two journey times is three minutes. So what these respondents meant was, I didn't allow myself anything like adequate time for my journey and cyclists make a convenient scapegoat ...
* Point 3 is an interesting statistic if you add it to your "one in 8 cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist" ... we don't of course know what form the accidents in question took ...
* The same points could be made about your fourth statistic.
* Cyclists and red lights - no debate from most cyclists that I know and ride with - it's stupid and it only weakens the credibility of the cycling fraternity - in addition to which & most importantly it's illegal, so we shouldn't do it, in just the same way as motorists should not speed - two wrongs don't make a right.
* Cyclists on the pavement is a red herring in the context of this debate - if they are on the pavement (which is actually illegal anyway & cyclists are prosecuted for it from time to time) a motorist would struggle to collide with one, be delayed by one or be otherwise affected by one, unless he or she of course was not driving at the time - unless the cyclist in question were to leave the pavement into the path of the car - in which case the cyclist might well be at fault.


46% of drivers say that they are sometimes annoyed by cyclists being on the road and they have suggested some ways to handle them (drivers were permitted to choose more than one solution):

A quarter (25%) of these drivers are keen to see cyclists pay road tax meanwhile 14% of angry drivers want to see cyclists displaying number plates on their bikes.
>>Neither of these measures would actually affect the relative positions of the two groups of road users - in fact, motorists might be further inconvenienced - if cyclists were asked to pay a fee to use the roads, many would just pay the fee (status quo ante retained) and those that didn't might well take to making the same journey by bus or car, so increasing the very congestion about which the motorists making the suggestion are complaining about. This is about envy, not reason.

Getting cyclists to pass a version of the driving test before they can ride on the road is a popular idea with 44% of annoyed motorists
>> Well, since a good number of motorists don't appear to know the rules of the road, the width of their own vehicles or indeed whether they pay tax or VED or not, I can't see how this would help much as it's clearly not helping the motoring fraternity :-)

while 43% say that they would like to see cyclists taking out a form of insurance in case they cause a collision.
>> Many of us do, and for myself and practically every cyclist I know who has, via our memberships of an assortment of associations and federations, I have never had cause to use it. It's a red herring again - it's along the same lines as "if we make it cost them, there will be fewer of them" - well, that's as maybe, but those same journeys are in most cases still going to be made, increasing traffic loadings and so slowing traffic down.

Catching those who cycle through red lights was seen as the top solution with 59% of car drivers saying they’d like to see cyclists caught for doing this.
>> I agree with 'em.

Almost one third of motorists (31%) feel that cycling on the pavement (which the Highway Code states is illegal) should be stopped.
>> see the earlier point with regard to this issue ..

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of cyclists have been beeped at or sworn at by a motorist and more than one in eight have been knocked off their bike by a motorist. Over the last 2 years cyclists had the following unpleasant experiences:

* 13% have been knocked off their bike by a motorist
* 24% have been sworn at or beeped at by a motorist
* 14% say they have been run off the road by a motorist
* 11% were hit by a car door being opened
* 4% were CHASED by a motorist
* Luckily for half of those interviewed they had not experienced any of those incidents

I can sympathise with the above - on average, whilst I have "only" been knocked off once every ten years over the last 35 (thankfully never in a way that has caused significant injury), I get sworn at, abused or beeped most days (as does my wife who rides as much as I do - probably more often in her case), I have been run off the road a couple of times, the last time I was knocked off was a car door being opened and I have twice been physically assulted by a motorist, in fact once, having been run off the road by the same, particularly disagreeable, individual.

I've been lucky - I have several friends who have been knocked off and suffered significant injuries, and one team-mate killed by a motorist ...

I think the guy from Sustrans has the right attitude - it is all about mutual respect - and that is something that needs to be instilled from birth - not just within the narrow confines of the motorist vs cyclist debate, but across the board.

As a motorist I try to be courteous and accommodating to all road users, and appreciative of the hazards that they face ... as a cyclist I expect the same - I don't expect to be treated as a hazard - cyclists are not "hazards", "obstacles" or "delays" they are people, to whom the motoring (and all other fraternities) owe the same duty of care and the same respect as they would expect themselves were circumstances reversed. It is for that reason that all road traffic should be & remain integrated - don't even start me on segregation & cycle paths or we'll start having the "HGVs shouldn't be on the same roads as cars / motorbikes" debate ....

Regards, etc"

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sorry, bitching about UCI again, but they have reached new heights (or plumbed new depths) ...

OK, I recognise this really isn't that interesting on the face of it - but I have a bee in my bonnet, and when that happens I need to let of steam ...

But hang on a minute - yes, it IS that interesting, as what the UCI is currently trying to put into place will have a long-term effect on the price that every consumer pays for every item of cycling kit that they buy ...

How so, I hear you all ask (well, at least one person did - I heard him ... or maybe her ...)

UCI is seeking to impose homologation onto the cycles, the equipment and the clothing that is used in cycle competition (see entries passim).

Part of this homologation, long term, will involve manufacturers having independant tests done on all items that they want to be useable in UCI-sanctioned events. The key thing here is independant testing ... in-house testing for conformity to, say, the new CEN standards will not be acceptable according to Julien Carron, who heads the UCI's new technical commission.

So, year on year, every time a manufacturer produces a new part, if they want it to be legal on the road, track, cyclo-cross or mountain bike circuit, where the events being participated in are governed by the rules of the UCI, they'll have to first, comply with the current interpretation of the UCI's rules (and that can be pretty fluid - Julien Carron on at least three occasions during this video shot by Carlton Reid, has to freestyle his way out of a consideration that clearly hasn't been fully thought through in the frame approval regulations). Second, they then have to do some in-house testing - well, OK, they don't have to, but it'd be wise to do so - and last they have to go "outside" to a third party, whose tests according to M. Carron, "may have to equal or exceed" the existing test protocols (although UCI hasn't figured out yet what these tests will be).

And who, dear reader, is going to foot the bill for this? You are - as part of the retail price of whatever you buy ... because the factory-gate price of an item will include a component of the cost of this testing, whether what you are actually buying is the item tested or not. And that component will then be marked up successively through the supply chain, and right at the end, will of course also have VAT added to it.

And does any of this make any kind of sense at all?

Not really, no.

The effects will be varied across the industry, but things that I can see immediately raising their heads are:

The wide availability and use in, say, domestic calendar events that carry UCI categorisation of frames bought from respected manufacturers and then sprayed as models by retailers or wholesalers will come to an end - because say distributor "x" is buying a frame from another distributor of product "y" ... not an uncommon arrangement ... and having it sprayed in his colours. According to the rules as they are written, the only people who can apply the "UCI Approved" decal, required for competitive use in UCI-sanctioned events, are the makers of the frame. M. Carron modified this verbally (but it's not in the written rule) to say that the manufacturer may "nominate" others to respray their frames ... but that doesn't get around frames made by a company and sent down the supply chain "raw", or without paint - and how many makers in the Far East are going to know about & be bothered to approve a paint shop in Belgium, say, doing paintwork for a UK company? I'd say the chances of that happening are about one in infinity squared ....

OK, now expand that out to a commonplace item like a handlebar stem. I know of some manufacturers who buy their stems in from a third party, relabel it as their own and bring it to market - nowt wrong with that, it happens to a multitude of things in life - but how is that type approval going to feed down the supply chain? I know of one commonly sold Far Eastern stem that is own labelled by at least five manufacturers I can think of ... d'you think all of them are going to pay for homologisation? And if they do - who will pay the costs - go figure, as they say.

The net effect a few years down the line is that we'll end up with less choice, from bigger, global organisations who can afford the initial investment in the costs of testing and homologisation, and we'll pay more for it as those organistions seek a return on that investment - for no good reason other than a misguided and misinformed set of rules drawn up by a self-appointed set of officials based in Aigle, Switzerland.

What needs to happen is that UCI needs to understand better how the industry really works - so as to stop the likes of Pat McQuaid making ridiculously mis-informed statements like (to paraphrase) "many of the composite frames out there are made in two or three factories in the far east for $30 or $40" ... out by a factor of about 10, there, Pat on both the number of major makers AND the factory gate price ... and then they need to go back to the rules, simplify them (not do as they are at the moment and make them still more obscure) - but first they need to understand what it is that they are really trying to do.

To say, as UCI do, and both Pat McQuaid and Julien Carron have re-iterated in Carlton Reid's videos, here and here, that they are are trying to ensure the ascendancy of the athlete over the equipment is an untenable position. If that ideal had been followed in the past, we'd all still be punting our Draisiennes along with the soles of our feet, with no tyres, wearing plus-fours and top hats ....

Monday, 9 May 2011

UCI craziness and all that

Back in the dim mists of time, the UCI was responsible for making the rules under which we all race, and by and large, it did an OK job - alright, there were shortcomings in it's control of doping, and some of it's rules looked a bit bizarre, but at least it wasn't, as Leonnard Zinn is now pointing out, placing a tax on bike builders.

Innovation suffered, some might say, with the ban on the riding positions of Obree and Boardman, and the mad rules about frame shape which paid little regard to rider morphology showed that the rules were being written by beaurocrats not people that actually knew anything much about bicycles (and yes, I am aware that Pat McQuaid used to be a rider - check David Walsh's excellent book on Sean Kelly - "Kelly" for further info about Mr McQuaid and his doings ahead of the '76 Olympics) ...

So now we have a new situation - the UCI announced some while ago that it was getting into the business of "approving" this, that and the other - most in the industry barely noticed, but some of us did and wondered what they might be up to - and in January this year, we found out.

Here is the text of the rules:
http://www.uci.ch/templates/UCI/UCI2/layout.asp?MenuId=MTYwNzQ&LangId=1

Here's what I wrote on LinkedIn at the time:

As usual, the UCI have come up with a set of regulations designed to make life commercially more difficult, provide an income stream for the UCI, and stifle small producers' ability to innovate. You have to hand it to them, doing all of that in one document is impressive.

All that a set of regulations like this really do is to drive the manufacture of frames and forks further and further towards mass production and "innovation" that is generally a matter of marketing leading engineering, rather than the engineering supplying a solution to an acknowledged problem.

It makes it all the more difficult for small framebuilders based local to their markets whose USP against the big mass production framebuilders is the fact that they can tune their production to their local market or to the specific needs or requirements of athletes, to sell their wares. The flip side of the UCI coin, where they talk about enhanced value of a product carrying UCI type-approval is that products NOT carrying that type-approval are devalued.

There is already a problem in many markets with different "manufacturers" (many of whom in reality are simply assemblers) effectively trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes by taking an off-the shelf product, rebranding it, and selling it in some way as new and innovative ... this type of regulation will only serve to exacerbate that problem.

There are endless practical problems that arise with these regulations, too - has anyone seen that interesting point about the type-approval decal being applied at the painting stage & if a frame is re-painted by anyone other than the manufacturer, the frame looses it's type-approval? Well that stuffs (if the regulations are taken "to the letter") several frame makers I know of in the UK and Europe who send their frames out to a third party for painting, and who offer a refinishing service.

How do small producers and prototypers feel about these regulations now that they have seen them "in the flesh"? We've known that they were on the cards for some time, but these rules as we now see them in final form seem to me to have been thought out with an eye too much towards mass manufacturers ...

Then, off the back of that, I had some further thoughts:

This type of regulation really annoys me because it's heavy handed, un-neccesary and smacks of commercial cynicism on a grand scale.

There is another piece of spin here that is really irritating, too - in attempting to justify this regulation, the UCI state that it is a way for a competitor to "know" before arriving at the start line that his or her machine conforms to the rules. Well, call me an old traditionalist, but it also says elsewhere in the regulations that it is the responsibility of the competitor to ensure that her / his machine conforms to the rules laid down for the event (s)he is entering ... so what if competitor trusts the decal, but the decal has been "illegally" applied (and you know it's going to happen ...)? The competitor still looses out, so the prudent competitor is going to check anyway, or their federation are ... so what's the point?

On the same basis, as the rider is responsible for anything that may be in his or her bloodstream, perhaps the UCI might like to take a more robust attitude on that score - perhaps we need UCI approved foods, or hotels, or chefs, or farms, or, or, or ....

I think that those who have commented on the application of "approval" to other components are close to the mark - the 3:1 dimension ratio rule already applies to bars, stems, seatposts ... it wouldn't surprise me if it was all just a matter of time.

The thing of it is, a lot of the debates that we have had, and I sincerely hope that we continue to have in cycle design & manufacture, have been opened up and driven by technical innovations from individuals and small niche companies that thought outside the box somewhat ... The Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans, Kestrels and Hottas who initiated debates about bicycle design would have been stifled by this regulation ... unless they were able to persuade a bigger manufacturer to back them to take a concept to the UCI.

Of course it is arguable that it was the Mosers, Obrees and Boardmans of this world who so put the UCI's nose out of joint that they started off down this route, but maybe that's special pleading from one who was excited by Moser's approach and whose nationalist pride was bolstered by Obree and Boardman :-)


Well, now I have let off steam, I'll mail this link to Carlton Reid and maybe to Leonnard Zinn, too :-)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

It's all too damn' rigid ...

I've decided I'm going to start a campaign to get us back to the days when we had some choice in the matter of "rigidity"!

What has sparked this off? Well, I am doing a Mondiale bike build for a very small, petite young lady. We can get around the problems caused by her low body mass by using a small-diameter tubed frame to some extent, but it's at the frame and forks level that the problems start ...

Virtually all the forks available in carbon use a 1 1/8" diameter steerer - there is only one half-way decent fork made in 1", the Columbus Minimal, and that only seems to exist because of the current interest in "retro" and pseudo-retro, so once these go out of production, we'll be stuffed - we'll have to go 1 1/8", or perhaps by then the powers-that-be will have decreed that we all need integrated headsets (why?) and 1 1/4 or 1 1/22 lower head races ... in the name of rigidity.

Actually this has nothing whatever to do with what we need in bicycles, and everything to do with marketing and the need to keep re-inventing the wheel to keep all of those factories in China churning out tat.

On a small frame like the one that we are building, for a light rider, 1" is fine ... she's no Thor Hushovd, she'll not be putting huge torsional loads on the frame, so building something with even a 1 1/8" head is just uneccesary, it is heavier, it uses more material and it's out of proportion to the rest of the frame ...

Then, bars and stem - can I find a decent short reach, shallow bar with a 26mm ferrule? Can I hell. Apparently we need 31.8mm ferrules now - heavier, but giving greater rigidity - lousy idea if you view a bike as a suspension system with the rider as the damping. Again, rigid front ends designed for top-end competitive use are of no flaming relevance at all to the majority of riders.

Seatpost - well, thank goodness there are still some 27.2 posts about and hopefully that may continue as Cervelo, one of the more enlightened designers around with sway in the industry have realised that oversize in this department is probably not such a good idea.

Then we get to the real headache area - bottom brackets. BB30, BBright (a misnomer if ever there was one) and all the rest - great for OEs and bike builders who want to flop bikes together in no time flat, lousy for the end user. No standardisation yet, no concencus - all so that we can have stiffer frames and crank bb interface (which most users neither notice nor need), higher rates of wear and tear, and actually we get less choice, not more, as making the tooling for complex systems (in manufacturing terms) like these means that we loose things like 165mm cranks, 177.5 & 180mm cranks, triple chainsets - this has nothing to do with what bicycle riders might actually want, everything to do with what we are told that we want (and we believe it ...)!

I know I am in danger of becoming a cross between a grumpy old man and a luddite, but we have to start asking fundamental questions about what is needed, not about what we think we can write a clever marketing spiel for - before our choices are limited to bikes designed for 6 foot male racing cyclists or nothing ... OK for me (though I don't actually like the feel of the bike I have with oversize bars and stem), not so good if you are a small, light rider looking for comfort ...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Old meets new ...



In keeping with my new year resolution to write a blog entry daily (ahem!) and as it's a mere week since I last typed something, I thought I'd share a couple of pretty pics of what we are up to in the pimpmytoolbox workshop at present ...

We are currently working on two builds for one gentleman, a lovely Daccordi steel reno, in Oria RANF, Campag / Cinelli throughout. That's the gunsmoke fade jobbie - as the original paint, circa 1985.

For the same gentleman, we are also building up a custom Mondiale frame for the Cycle to cannes event (www.cycle2cannes.org), this frame is completely custom, down to the choice of individual tubes ... It'll be fitted up with Campag Veloce / Centaur mix, compact chainset, pimped Ergos, custom cassette (it's amazing what you can do when you are prepared to adapt things a bit). Need less to say, that's the white beastie with our trademark white and gold finish.

There will be pics (presently) of the bikes further along the production process ...

Friday, 11 February 2011

Hope Technology

It's rare, these days, to come across companies that really make what they say they make ... generally, they either offshore their manufacture to a plant that they don't own, but who "make exclusively for Company X" or who "produce specially to Company X specification" or they assemble parts made in several other factories, or, at worst, they just slap their name on some piece of generic product.

Hope, on the other hand, make everything that bears their name, in Barnoldswick, in the UK...

So, contrary to popular belief, if you have the right product, made the right way, given proper back-up by guys that really know the product inside out ('cos they make it ...), marketed correctly, you can manufacture in the UK and survive ... well, more than survive - flourish even.

I've been having conversations with Alan Wetherill of Hope for years at shows, along the lines of "I'd love to be able to offer training on Hope product, can you train me?" to which the answer has always been an enthusiastic "yes!", and then I've failed dismally to get it together to go to Hope for training (we only train on kit when we've been trained by the makers or their service agent - anyone can read a manual, right?) ...

Well, at long last I got it together, and in late January, I was very, very happy to wend my way up to Barnoldswick to Hope Technologies new HQ.

The building is fantastic, the entry hall very imposing, very plush, very minimalist ... the OCD merchant in me was liking it already! Alan gave me a guided tour of the impeccably clean and brilliantly lit production area, with it's ranks of state of the art CNC machines, and I was blown away.

I have to say, for a bloke with unashamed tool fetish, these puppies are incredible - five and six-head CNC machines running 24/7 just to keep up with demand for everything that Hope make, working from either rough forgings, aluminium extrusions or just plain billet in most cases - I felt quite weak at the knees!

The whole design & manufacture process was there to see, from SolidWorks used in the CAD phase, then to tooling, the raw materials in at one end of the building, the multiple machining stages between, anodising and finishing to the assembly, stock and despatch areas, backed up with a to-die-for workshop for servicing and warranty.

Interestingly, stock, compared to units sold, was very small - the operation is so slick, so well ordered that despite tens of thousands of hub sales per year for instance, I doubt there were more than 50 or 60 pairs on the shelf - so there is a real sense that each item is made specifically for an order, almost.

Wow, so all this, just so I can have a pair of Pro3 hubs 28 / 32 in red!

Now, I've been to a lot of factories and seen a lot of kit over the years, but I can't thank Alan enough for throwing open the doors on Hope Technology - it is a truly impressive place, making a fantastic product IN THE UK ... are you reading this David Cameron? We need companies and operations like this here, not half a world away!

Next, I was conducted to the service Department where I was brilliantly looked after by Nick Owen, who showedme the ins and outs of a full stripdown of all the current product, the things to note & be aware of, and the common mistakes people make. This kind of info is what you don't get from just reading the manual and then basing a lesson plan on it & it's what differentiates what we do at Velotech Cycling when we are training ...

So next steps are to pull some brakes apart piece by piece, compare back to the notes I made on the day, and write up the lesson plan and send it to Hope to be signed off - then off we go!

I'll keep you posted here, or keep an eye on the Velotech website at www.velotech-cycling.ltd.uk

In the interim, there is a ton of technical information available at Hope's website!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

You've Never Had it so Good?

When I started in the trade in the early 1980's, one of the most popular bikes on the market was the Peugeot Premiere 10, a ten-speed steel-framed sports bike.

The bike had (in it's standard format as we received it in the UK, anyway), CLB or Weinmann side-pull brakes, steel 700c rims, alloy hubs, Huret gears with plastic non-indexed downtube levers and a steel seatpost.

As I recall, the retail price in the mid 80s of this beast was about £110, at a time when a shop bike mechanic was earning about £65.00 a week take-home - so it was around 2 weeks' pay.

These numbers might not be bang on, but I don't think they're too far off.

If we fast-forward to today, most mechanics in the UK probably earn around £325 a week take-home. For, say, £700.00 in this day and age, not only is the choice vastly wider, but the bicycle iteslf will be so night-and day different as to defy comparison. A bike like the Premier (albeit with probably a rather less accomplished frame) might sell for about the same cash price as it's predecessor ... about 2 or 3 days' pay.

So what am I saying here - well, the retail price of bicycles is at an all-time low against earnings, and the bikes that are available to us are technically hugely advanced against their antecedents, that much is obvious.

It's at this point however, that a small, suspicious voice whispers in my ear ... "there's no such thing as a free lunch" or "it may be a gift horse, but it might be worth looking it in the mouth" ...

Virtually every part of that old Peugeot bike was made in Europe. We can say with a fair degree of certitude that almost no part of it's modern equivalent will be made in Europe. Does that matter? Well, fundamentally, I think it does, yes.

I'll grant you that I am sitting here, typing this, on a computer made in China, but in Europe, we've barely had a micro-electronics industry to give away, whereas we have most certainly had a manufacturing base encompassing a huge range of bicycle parts, amongst other things - and as we have chosen to move more and more of that industry to whichever parts of the globe have offered us the opportunity to manufacture and ship at ever lower cash prices, so we have damaged our own society, our own future prospects, and, to boot, we have created a system which encourages a greater and greater ravishing of the environment. Just because that environmental damage is in Taiwan, or China, Morocco or Korea ... to me, it doesn't make it any more acceptable.

I know this is an old saw, but to my mind, it doesn't make it any less true.

Well, whinging about it is all very well, but what to do - we are, after all, where we are.

What it seems to me we need to do, is to promote the recycling of these imports here, we need to re-learn maintenance and repair skills which the apparent cheapness of replacement products have encouraged us to forget, and we need to ask more searching questions about how and where products are made.

We need to encourage industry closer to home, and allow that industry to generate the income that permits the R and D that has allowed distant economies to overtake our own so quickly and thoroughly - and if we can't reverse it, we need to do all that we can to stem the flow of capital from West to East.

Am I an idealist? Certainly. Am I niave? I don't think so - as the use of bicycles increases at all levels of UK society for everything from utility to leisure, commuting to racing, the opportunity exists to open up access to the bicycle by promoting not just the sale of recycled bicycles (allowing those who might never otherwise have been able to afford a bicycle, or those who would be for other reasons disinclined to spend so much on a bicycle, to buy one) but the other elements that promote cycle use - maitenance classes, pressing for better driver behavious, better riding skills and an improved social image of cyclists as a community.

It's only in this way that we'll get to a situation where my Godchildren, for example, should they wish to, will have the opportunity to work actually making something, rather than just working to buy and dispose of an seemingly endless succession of disposable products ...

You know, deep down, that the way we live at the moment, with the drive to constantly consume, is wrong. The revolution has to start. The question is, are we brave enough to face up to what we need to do, and to do it?