It’s a long boring story, but basically I haven’t been well for about 5 weeks or so and my bike is still at work. I have good and bad days, but generally can only manage to do one thing a day before I am exhausted and need to rest again. Anyway, enough of the boring stuff! It was a beautiful day, the other day and I needed to get a couple of things that we’d run out of from the supermarket. It’s just over a mile, but it’s a pretty boring walk and driving seemed a bit over the top, so I decided to see if I could manage riding a bike. I had to dig out my old Valetta and I must admit, after riding my Gazelle for 18 months, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with derailler gears and toe clips again; but I remembered I’d gone 13 years without riding a bike at all and managed to remember without too much trouble.
I was just making excuses because I just don’t like this bike! I retreived it out of the cellar and dusted it off a bit, it was pretty filthy, but I was in no mood (or state for that matter) to be bike cleaning. However, both tires were completely flat so I had to sort that out. I also managed, by some miracle, to locate the key for the D-lock without too much trouble.
So I set off. The first thing I noticed pushing it up the garden path (a 1 in 2 slope) was how light it was. I’d always cursed this bike as it is hardly a lightweight bike, but it is noticeably lighter than the Bloom. Then I got on and realised how tiny it felt. I felt like I’d got on a kids bike. The steering felt twitchy, although not too bad once I got going and the toe clips were second nature, luckily I had left the Valetta in a sensible gear and didn’t have to worry about changing till I was ready and confident. The next thing that really irritated me was having to ride bow legged to avoid the D-lock. It did come with a bracket to attach it to the frame, but that lasted all of a week before shearing off. Great quality from AXA there! I did manage to make it slightly more comfortable, by rotating the D-lock round for the return journey, so it was reduced to a minor inconvenience.
As I went along I was relieved to find I wasn’t finding it too hard going, but the ride is noticeably less smooth than the Bloom and the front suspension really didn’t do much to help the potholes and my wrists were really feeling it by the time I got home. Although I was taking it steady, it was pretty obvious that the Bloom wins hands down for speed, the Valetta is very sluggish, the mountain bike tires probably don’t help much here. Mind you, I was glad of that, as I’d forgotten how crap the brakes are, they probably need adjusting, but the V-brakes were never much good even when the bike was brand new. As it is, although the Valetta is 6 years old, I doubt I’ve even done 2000 miles on it. Before I go much further, I must explain that the Valetta isn’t a terrible bike, it’s not a cheap supermarket/discount store bike, but it’s not a high quality bike either, although it does say on the frame “Hand built in England” (I suspect this translates to “assembled in Britain” from foreign parts, am I being too cynical?). What I’m trying to do here is work out why it is so unsuitable for me. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never had to suffer an ill fitting bike before (apart from the RSW II which doesn’t really count, as of course an adult bike isn’t meant for a child). The Valetta was marketed as specifically proportioned for women and the frame size is for 5’4” and under, so theoretically it should fit. Anyway, I digress, back to the story.
Then the seat began to get me, it’s not a terrible seat, I’ve had worse, but by the time I’d got back I was feeling pretty rubbed. The bike forces you to lean forwards despite my best efforts to change this (more of that later) and instead of sitting on your sit bones, the most tender part of the female anatomy is taking the weight. Having experienced a much better seat, this one is like torture.
Now onto posture. One of the main reasons for buying the Bloom (apart from it’s child carrying abilities) was the upright riding position. I don’t particularly like leaning forwards or the straight bar position on mountain bikes, which puts your wrists in an awkward position. The Valetta grips themselves are quite comfy in soft rubber, but the position isn’t. I think even drop handlebars are better, as at least you get some variety in positioning.
To improve the riding position I replaced the handlebar stem with an adjustable one and the bike shop added in some spacers (which came in the colours they had lying around - hence the odd turquoise one) to give it a bit more lift. This did at least allow me to ride for an extra month when I was pregnant, but it’s hardly great, as I still end up in a very hunched position, which isn’t great after eating, or if I’m feeling bloated. Riding a bike isn’t much fun if it’s making you feel sick!
However, it is the seat position I have the greatest trouble with. Even with the seat raised to the point where I can just barely touch the ground with the tip of my toe (about my limit when you have to keep stopping for traffic lights), my knee is still quite bent at the bottom position of the crank. I’ve moved the seat back to it’s furthest position, since I took this photo, but it makes very little difference. From the rust where the paint has rubbed off, I must’ve tried this before, I think I’d had to move it forwards when I had the Bobike Maxi child seat on the back to give a bit more room for my daughter. As you can see, the ATB adapter is still on the bike.
I’ve never really understood what is meant by bicycle geometry, but reading this post by “Lovely Bicycle” has made it clearer, so I decided to do a comparison of the Valetta and Bloom. They both have 26” wheels so it was a fairly simple job to get them approximately the same scale. The Bloom photo is from the Gazelle website as it’s much easier to see what’s going on without the childseats in the way. Lining them up on the centre point of the front chainring it’s fairly obvious that the seat post on the Bloom is inclined much further back. Although I’ve moved the seat back on the Valetta, I’ve also got my seat moved a similar distance back on my Bloom in relation to the stock photo, so the comparison is pretty valid. The extra couple of inches makes a big difference and I can get my leg much straighter on the Bloom and also set the seat a bit lower to make stopping easier and safer with the kids on.
Below, you can see the angle of the steering on the Bloom is inclined much further back. This makes it much less twitchy, something which is absolutely essential when you’ve got a wriggling toddler in the front seat!
Obviously the two bikes are designed for different things, but pedalling on a bike is pretty fundamental to getting the thing to move, so finding a comfortable way to pedal is a fairly important consideration. At least I now have a bike that enables me to do this. Now I just need to find a bike that does this and is aesthetically pleasing too…
I am hatching a plan. More to follow soon (hopefully).
What’s this got to do with bikes you may be wondering? Everything. The media tells us to get in our cars and drive, to buy new cars. It’s too dangerous on the roads, get our new supadupa car with lots of airbags and futuristic gadgets, that’ll keep you safe. The government tells us to buy cars to support the economy. I’ve bought my new car, so sod that for a game of soldiers, now it’s going to sit at home while I go out on my bike ;-)
So ignore the fear mongers get out on your bike and ride and like the Love Police, show everyone there’s nothing to be scared of. Spread some love…
and to end my favourite quote from one of my daughter’s books:
Sometimes when you look through your photos you spot the oddest things. In this case not only does the woman’s jacket co-ordinate perfectly with the bicycle frame, it also happens to be identical to one hanging in my wardrobe. (It’s a red velvet military jacket from H&M and is 4 1/2 years old in-case you were wondering.)
No bike in this shot, but you can just tell it’s there can’t you?
And here’s another miscreant. “I’m not riding, I’m scooting”
But, before getting all judgemental, which looks most pleasant to cycle on, the nice quiet (not a pedestrian in sight) and wide pavement above, or the road below?
This is an officially designated “cycle route”, which is supposed to be a quiet cycle friendly environment.
See? The council has put signs up and everything. Um, they’ve just put some signs up.
What this ‘cycle route’ actually is, is a commuter rat-run and an unofficial free park and ride site. The road isn’t actually wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking both sides and in rush hour is chaos. Quite frankly, it’s a dangerous environment to cycle in. At least the main roads are so clogged the traffic is barely moving. Here there’s a lot of accelerate brake type driving going on.
I’m curious about this cycle stand, it does not appear to be a council stand and appears to be temporary. Does it belong to the shop? Do they take it in a night? Is it for an employee’s bike or is it intended for customers? So many questions raised by a simple, but thoughtful addition to the streetscape.
As you can see, in the lower part of the image, a slightly more creative use of planters as a means of preventing the traffic using this road, that could easily be used to greater effect in residential areas like these.
Back in the early 1980s, there used to be a pub in Sheffield called Woodstock Diner. It was set out like an American diner, but of course the waitresses spoke with local accents—all except one: she not only looked straight out of a Woody Allen movie, but talked like it too. It turned out that her name was Amy Allison, and she had left Long Island to live in Sheffield with her husband. ( I found that out when I met them both at an evening class.) Much to my surprise, Amy loved living in Sheffield! She adored: Castle Market; The Kashmir, on Spital Hill; The Leadmill; and, of course, the beautiful suburbs and their framing countryside. Most of all. Amy loved the friendliness of Sheffielders, so much so that— when her husband wanted to move back to work in New York—she did her best to persuade him to stay. Her efforts were unsuccessful, and the couple returned to the US at the end of 1983.
Ironically, as everyone (well the Guardian readers anyway) starts to catch on about the Royal Mail’s intention to stop using bikes to deliver the mail, which I posted about back here, I spotted this postman on his own bike delivering the mail.
The petition has now closed but there are two facebook groups:
>The CTC is organising a campaign CTC and will deliver all the letters by cycle.
Or to send a letter direct, please write to:
Mark Higson, Managing Director Royal Mail Letters Royal Mail Group Ltd 100 Victoria Embankment London EC4Y 0HQ
MP’s name House of Commons London SW1A 0AA
Background information: The Royal Mail wants to end the use of bicycles for mail delivery. The 16,000 bikes are to be replaced by a combination of trolleys and vans - 24,000 new vehicles are to be added to the Royal Mail fleet, according to some reports. The original reason given for the switch in 2009 was ‘modernisation’. In 2010, it has suddenly changed to ‘health and safety’. This suggests that neither is a serious motive, and the real reason may well be simply cost-cutting.
The decision to phase out the bikes is bad for the environment, bad for the sense of community, and bad for the postal workers. Cycling is the most environmentally friendly form of mechanical transport. A postie on a bike is a local postie - a delivery van covers far too large an area for that to be possible. Finally, more vans will mean fewer local mail hubs, and therefore more office closures and more job losses.
What to do to keep three kids amused in the Easter holidays? A trip to the park they demanded. Feeling rough (still suffering from labrynthitis and tonsilitis) I wrapped up warm in my winter layers, hat scarf and gloves, as though it were still February and braved the fresh air. Anything to escape from that damn Justin on Cbeebies!
Looking back at my photos tells you all you need to know about subjective safety. You could imagine for a moment we were in a civilised country, for in the car free world of the park, kids were riding around without helmets,
teenage girls were on bikes
and despite the sign warning of the unpsecific dangers that may ensue if pedestrians and cycles mix,
everyone was pointedly ignoring it and no accidents ensued!