04 January 2010

Mudslinging at papers that don't get commuting

The Sunday Times's InGear supplement yesterday reviewed five hybrid bikes 'designed to tackle daily commuting'.

But as usual, this sort of roundup was fixated on the wrong things. High-end bikes (in thefty London, bikes are like beer or flats: you don't actually buy them, you only really rent them). Speed (irrelevant in London, where traffic lights stop you even more frequently than charity muggers). Lightness (irrelevant for commuting, because you'll have work stuff to take with you).

Unless your work requires no luggage, equipment or clothing - and there can't be that many life-drawing models that read the Sunday Times - your commuting bike will enjoy having a rack. But it does not need 30 gears, whatever the reviewer thinks. We're talking Brixton Road, not the Karakoram Pass.

And it certainly does need mudguards - see Copenhagen passim. So I was intrigued to see this bike (pictured) outside our local Tesco on Saturday. Its owner has bodged a back mudguard from what looks like industrial plastic tubing, perhaps liberated from a building site or factory.

So somewhere there's a puzzled site manager who can't work out why all the pipes are disappearing. See? This is what happens when people insist on recommending inadequate commuting bikes.


  1. Sadly it's the usual bunch of useless bikes that you get in such reviews, and indeed in the bike shops of much of the world. Not a single chaincase between them - and that's more important than anything if you want a truly reliable bike.

    Bike shops over here have almost exclusively the type of bike designed for reliability which you can ride every day

    I don't like motoring analogies much, but in the face of the Clarkson quote on the page you linked to ("Nowhere are the improvements of capitalism seen more vividly than in the world of motoring "), I'll use one: No-one would buy a car in which the gearbox was exposed and on which you had to re-grease it after every ride or perhaps have it cease up or fail prematurely. That's the equivalent of an exposed chain on a bicycle. As cars became more widespread and grew out of a niche market, the gearbox became enclosed because people valued reliability above all else. The same also happened with bicycles - but where bikes are still a niche you still have just niche bikes.

  2. You might have the pleasures of Brixton Road and not need gears but I get Archway Road and with a brick'ish laptop hanging off the back and my oversized form on top I need lots of gears. Or perhaps electric assist.

  3. @jellybaby - some gears yes, but not 30 of them!

    All that achieves is to give you extra shades of intermediate gears. Having 30 is just bonkers, unless you're going to be racing up a ten-mile constantly-graded incline where the *exact* nuance of gear ratio is what you need to keep at your most efficient pedalling rate.

    For commuting, all that extra gearage is (a) dead weight (b) wasted time going through them (c) superfluous metal that never gets used but which needs to be replaced with the rest of the cassette when your three most-used commuting gears wear out.

    For commuting you only need a handful of wide-spaced gears. On the sort of bike the Sunday Times was reviewing, you'll probably end up changing only the front chainring in almost any London commute. And that's a pointless waste.

  4. Oh, and yes, David, I forgot to mention chaincases. Another must for commuting bikes, but obviously about as cool and sexy as a Christopher Biggins pantomime dame where British bike shops are concerned.

  5. I had to ride a bike without mudguards over Christmas. Nightmare. Why why why?

  6. I tend to ride single speed / fixed wheel most of the time now because it's a lot cheaper & easier to maintain.

    Yet, I wouldn't recommend single speeding to someone just starting out. I would recommend they went for the triple chainset. Which will probably mean 27 or 30 gears.

  7. That bike in the photo has disk brakes; although its another feature that somebody will want to steal, it has one really nice ability: constant braking behaviour wet and dry. If you live somewhere hilly its nice with the gears. Not 27 though'; 3 should suffice: Up, Along, Down.

    Good article on this topic on Stolen Bristol Bikes

  8. If I weren't bringing in lunch I'd barely need a pannier. I *wear* the clothes I'm going to work in, which is much what they do in Copenhagen, it being too cold for cycling naked.

    Since I do have a pannier for my lunch I also keep my lock in it, rather than hanging on the handlebars or looped round the seatpost, and I keep a minor repair kit in it as well. It's amazing how much lighter my bike is when I leave all that nonsense at home though!

    I admit I bought my bike with more than just commuting in mind, and I'd probably have chosen something slightly different if it were just a commuter bike. I agree that mudguards are an essential though :)

  9. I gotta say I'm a fan of hybrids, I use one to get around town all the time, it's pretty perfect really. It's got the sitting down position that lets you get an overview of traffic, not too heavy, admittedly it was a bit pricey but I got it second hand for 1/4 of the price of it new. I know there are far too many gears on it but the extra weight is minimal to be honest. Unless I was doing some serious road racing a few extra kg ain't gonna kill me. Chain case wise, it doesn't have one and that doesn't particularly bother me, I've just swapped out the chain after 12 months use with a new one for £8

  10. BTW that link doesn't seem to work for me, and the only article on commuter bikes I can find by searching dates from April 2007.

  11. The review has gone for some really pricy models, but it is from a sunday newpaper supplement.

    I ride a ten year old mountain bike with slicks so have 21 gears. I always thought living in London I never needed so many. But going to my brothers I cycled up Syndenham hill. I ended up in the granny ring, and was glad I had it.
    I quite like the exposed chains and gears as it means it is easier for me to maintain them. My bike lives indoors at home, undercover at work and is rarely parked outside. It still takes less maintainance than any car I have owned!

    One last thing about a London bike is the road surface. I keep thinging I should get a road bike as it would be faster (I can normally hit all green lights on Kennington Rd). But often enough (more so in winter) there is a hugh pothole which you don't see untill the last minute (if your behind a car), then I'm really glad I'm on 1.5in tyres not something thinner.

  12. @lnr... odd, the link works for me. Try linking from here or manually cut-and-paste the URL as http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/features/article6972702.ece - or go to the Sunday Times front page and find the article from the index to last Sunday's articles.

  13. I saw a similarly bodged mudguard in London - a plastic bottle cut in half (lengthways) with its mouth wedged into the back of the frame. Not as good as an actual mudguard but would probably eliminate the worst of the 'rooster tail' effect.

  14. Link's working fine now, must have just been having an off day :)

    I see they're mostly reviewing fairly expensive bikes there, I spent nowhere near that much on mine!

    I'm still happy with a hybrid though :)