Archive for the 'Utility Bikes and Trailers' Category

Barcelona’s Bike Hire Scheme


I just read a press release about a scheme in London to introduce bike hire parks at 300m intervals around the city, hot on the heels of Paris, which recently unveiled 10,000 bikes at 750 points around the capital to unanimous success. The aim is to have one in ten trips in London made by bike, which will tie in with a Legible London signage system to encourage people to walk – apparently fifty per cent of tube journeys in London are quicker by foot.

Barcelona has started something similar, and judging from the amount of red and white stork-like bikes flitting about, it seems to have proved just as popular. In fact, it’s so successful that they need to build more bike parks in the popular spots, as finding a parking slot to return your bike can be tricky. Another teething problem is in the electronic parking slots themselves, some of which aren’t locking the bikes properly. Still, I’m sure these niggles will be sorted out, and it’s certainly encouraging to see it being used so wholeheartedly and effectively.

In France, the bikes cost about a Euro an hour. In Barcelona, the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes – ample time to get around the city. You then have a twenty minute period before being able to pick up another bike – easily taken up by shopping, or a stroll down the Ramblas. If you go over your 30 minute allocation, there’s a small fee that’s knocked off your credit card. It would be perfect for tourists, who could mix and match their forrays around the city, but for the fact that you also need to sign up to the scheme – around 20-30 Euros a year.


Getting a bike is simple. Swipe your card, which releases one of the bikes from the pound.


Grab your wheels and go for a spin. At the end of the ride, drop it back in its plug, which locks it in place, at any of the bike parks dotted about.


The bikes are sturdy, funky, practical little things, with an adjustable saddle, mudguards, tough Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres and a simple three speed hub gear. There are LED lights for the night too, though they didn’t all seem to be working.

Barcelona is surprisingly bike friendly, with plenty of bikes lanes and some great routes around the harbour and along the beachfront for a sunset amble.



Hardtail, softtail, longtail…


There were those who found it a little odd that after a summer guiding tours around the Indian Himalayas, we’d choose to spend a couple more months bike touring in equally mountainous SW China. For some reason, they even thought we’d be tired of riding by then. Little did they know that not only where we very happy to have the opportunity to spend more hours in the saddle nosing around new places, but I was also thinking about what bike I was looking forward to riding when I got home. Sad, yes.

Funnily enough, of all the bikes in the shed, it was my trusty Spesh Rockhopper that I’d ‘Xtracyclatised’ (more about that here) before leaving for India that kept popping into my mind. It was the bike I’d ridden back home from Australia close to ten years ago. Pulling the aged Spesh out of retirement, and metamorphosing it into the cycling equivalent of a pickup, had given it new life and opened up the world of ‘longtails’ to me. These long wheelbase hardtails use a variety of modular loading styles to carry all manner of stuff – be it shelves, canoes, ladders, boxes, cardboard, animals, even people. They’re a bridge towards surprisingly easy car-free living, without too many of the compromises some people might associate with it.



Of course, there’ve been fully fledged cargo bikes around for years – Mike Burrow’s Eight Freight is perhaps the ultimate evolution for serious load hauling in the city. Let alone the millions of people around Asia make do with all sorts of heavy, unwieldly, bare-bone-basic trikes – in China they’re often electric assisted, in India they’re just manhandled along the road. ‘Longtails’, as they’ve been dubbed, have opted for a slightly different approach. Having taken their cue from Xtracycle, they’re closer in looks to a conventional bike, so probably appeal more to people who don’t want to look too ‘different’. They share a lot of mtb components, like wheelsize, drivetrains and disc brakes, so you can mix and match parts, cut costs and even recycle kit you already have – often the underlying drive behind these projects. Although they’re not as capable as fully fledged cargo bikes, they can easily handle what most people need to carry, with added versatility and even surprisingly good off road ability.


(picture lifted from Commute By Bike)

Surly’s much anticipated Big Dummy kickstarted a lot of renewed interest and pips all others for sheer utilitarian cool. This monster can handle 2.5in tyres, with mudguards. The curved top tube looks great and has a practical reason too, by lowering clearance for riders of different heights. I’m not sure if a bike like the Big Dummy makes complete sense for touring, though these guys, traversing the length of the Americas offroad, would certainly disagree. Or maybe it’s just that you’d need to approach touring with a different mindset: less of a beady eye on the scales and distances covered, and more on the fun stuff you could bring/buy along the way. Like solar panels and a sound system… The Big Dummy makes use of Xtracycle’s innovative modular loading system, and all the bits you can get/make for it.


But just as interesting is this far more affordable offering from Yuba, in the shape of the Mundo. Unless you get in quick and order one in the next couple of days, it’ll cost upwards of £460 in the UK, depending on build and spec. It’s rated to haul a massive 200kg – where leg power permits – thanks to a beefed up wheelset. Similar to Xtracycle’s ethical outlook (who are involved in World Bike), the whole concept is closely tied in with a model for developing regions too, and a percentage of profits goes towards Re-Cycle, who ship second hand bikes to Africa. This is a bike that aims to be strong, simple, practical and carry a message too. Like the Xtracycle gear, it’s being distributed in the UK by Loads Better.


Kona’s UTE is another contender. It will be interesting to see what accessories are available for it, or whether it’s just a stand along product – Kona say there are some in the pipeline. Cost is £580, which includes a mechanical front disc and an 8 speed drivetrain. Kona are also involved in some overseas bike-related donation projects.

Here’s my Rockhopper: the Green Machine. I ended up getting it resprayed new leaf/spring green by the guys at Argos, having a couple of dents filled in too, and some new ‘old’ decals for the finishing touch. Almost all the bits are from my spare parts box or borrowed off other bikes, including some lovely old XT thumb shifters so I can run a cheap 8 speed chain and cassette. The Xtracycle concept involves various straps and modular shelves to suit different loads, and a kickstand which makes loading much easier. I like the ‘cinch-it-all-on-somehow’ concept; it seems to suit my personality. The bolt-on Xtracycle appendage (called a Freeradical) means the frame’s a tad flexy, but that’s ok as it helps to float over bumps – thanks also to the monster 2.25 Big Apples I’ve now squeezed in, which just pop up curbs like the bike has a couple of inches of travel. Storage isn’t an issue. I hang it upways off a normal bike hook, supported by its tail, so no extra room is needed.


A bunch of specialist framebuilders in the US have also built some custom longtails, like this lovely creation from Tony Pereira and a Pugsley snow/sandbike-inspired behemoth from Traffic Cycles. The guys from Riding the Spine have written an ode to it here, and demystified all those chain lines and clearance issues that arise from running close to 4″ Endomorph tyres. Independent Fabrications also displayed a longtail at last years North American Handbuilt Bike Show, powered by a Stokemonkey. And I’ve heard of a couple of other manufacturers considering models too, so watch this space…



As part of our ongoing exploration into car free living, I’ve been trying out an Xtracycle (thanks to UK importers Loads Better), for a C+ feature on ‘Getting More From Your Bike’. It’s a beautifully simple yet effective contraption, that basically shunts back your bike’s rear wheel to give it a boot. Got a retired mtb in the shed? Breathe new life back into it and transform it into a utility machine.

Mine’s on an old Spesh Rockhopper with an Orange p7 rigid fork, with a Sun Rhyno touring wheel at the back and an Avid BB7 up front. It’s a whole different thing to riding with a trailer. More compact in traffic, but not easily detachable. I can see the pros and cons of the two systems, and so far I’m really enjoying the differences. It’s certainly very user friendly, with a modular loading system that’s proved incredibly versatile.


Continue reading ‘XXXtracycle…’

Me and BOB, BOB and I

Now that we sold the car and just have an old, dear but clumsy van with no power steering that’s a barge to drive round town – unless you’re a bus driver trained in the Indian Himalayas and can muscle your way round hairpin bends with grace and ease – I’m getting more and more use from my Beast of Burden and Y-Frame.

Trailers are uber versatile, as you can carry all kinds of awkwards shapes in them. From bags of shopping to cardbox boxes, to trips to B&Q and beyond. In one easy step you have both a utility bike, and something that will carry a cargo of possessions around the word. When we bought Cara’s lovely new Cotic Soul, we picked up all the bits with our trailer from Ben at Bike, across town. This pic is from when we were off to do a shoot for Cycling Plus in the centre of Bristol.


Trailers are fun. Loading up them up makes every outing into a mini-expedition. People point and wave. In India, kids try and jump on like miniature stunt men. The other day some blokes in a lorry packed with scrap metal beeped and gave me a big thumbs up. And the nice thing is it’s really no big effort: leaving the car behind fills you with a disproportionate amount of feel-good-factor and goodwill.


Burning down some Ladakhi singletrack…


Taking Bonnie down to the beach…


Kindred spirits… Kind of.

There’s lots of other interesting trailers about. Here’s some of my favourites: who do the Revolution Bob-a-like, which flat packs like Ikea.


Not quite a trailer:

And the daddy of cool ultility bikes, Surly’s Big Dummy:


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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