What makes for the best commuter?

Mountain bike, hybrid, road bike or fixie?

As far as I can tell, cycling in cities is becoming more popular. I have commuted by bicycle to work for the last 8 years or so, first in Paris, then in Singapore. Over this period, I have the feeling there are a slowly increasing number of people riding to work.

Cycle commuters seem to come in various flavours.

Some choose vintage road bikes that have seen better days.

Some use fixies or single gear with freewheel, with or without brakes, coloured chains, aero wheel discs etc.

Some use purpose built hybrids with mountain-bike style frames, often front suspension and larger than 26″ wheels with skinny tyres.

Some choose Dutch-style town bikes, usually with a basket somewhere and sometimes with backward pedalling brakes.

And some choose old mountain bikes, that have probably never seen a mountain…

I fall into this latter category and, for the most part, rode old, ugly mountain bikes to death work for much of the last 8 years…

I have had the good fortune to commute in countries where public transport is efficient and cheap, so cost was never a motivator.

For me the main incentive was that I enjoy riding, that it got me to work faster than public transport and that a little bit of exercise doesn’t do you any harm.

Cycle commuting is something that takes a little time to get used to. And in that time, one probably changes the route taken, clothes worn, equipment used, the bike itself and the attitude to other road users.

For me these choices were generally driven by the principle of “I don’t want to die”. Crashes aren’t nice. Everyone has had one (or more), and would like to avoid them as much as possible.

For a time, I commuted by 1980s road bike. It was exhilarating and fast, but it didn’t take long before I had enough close shaves to figure out it wasn’t sustainable. Also I find the dropped position on the handlebars limits visibility and comfort (on the neck), high-pressure 23mm tyres on cobble-stones are like riding a pneumatic drill, and 30 year old brakes and drop handlebars aren’t the best way to avoid getting splatted.

So while a 90s MTB isn’t the coolest way to get to work, it’s safe, comfortable and bulletproof.

That said, if you’re going to spend a lot of time riding, you may as well enjoy it. So maybe spend a bit of cash and get something decent looking instead…

So I’d say, whatever you’re riding, keep safe, and enjoy your commute.

What do you guys and girls commute on? What do you enjoy most about your ride?

Bike on a plane

We recently returned to Europe from Singapore, and I decided to take my bike with me on the plane, mostly so I would have something modern to ride while the rest of my stuff took the slow boat. You could ride vintage bikes all the time, but it’s nice to mix it up.

As I have never put a bike on a plane before, I was fairly nervous about the whole experience. It is going to arrive at all? in many pieces? or bent into a U shape? But you gotta have faith, so I gave it a shot.

First step: What sort of bag to use? Hard case? Soft bag? Or cardboard box?

I didn’t feel confident about the cardboard box approach as I imagined luggage being left on the runway in the rain, resulting in the bike being packed in paper maché…

So having opted for a bag, the question was whether to go for a hard or soft bag. A quick look on chain reaction cycles and wiggle.co.uk indicated that prices go from 50 GBP to 250+.

I opted for a soft case, and chose the Brand-X bag with separate wheel bags for 70 GBP. It seemed to have good reviews, and I liked the idea of separate protection for the wheels.

From the baggage handlers (“throwers”) views expressed in the attached article, it seems like the soft bag was the right choice. I wish I had read this article before ordering the bag!

http://cyclingtips.com.au/2014/06/flying-with-your-bike-tips-from-a-baggage-handler/

The bag took a couple of weeks to arrive in Singapore, and lugging a massive box home from the post office was interesting.

Second step: How to pack it?

When the bag arrived, it seemed to have even more pockets than I expected, which is good to store some clothes in, and adds more padding to protect the bike. Not so good, was that there was little protection inside the bag for forks, derailleur and the chain ring. As we had a lot of packing boxes, I ripped one apart and created an internal “box” around the bike to protect it. So not really a vote of confidence for the bag…

I guess packing the bike is pretty straightforward, but once you’ve taken off the handlebars, and the saddle, you’ve got two bits either swinging off the bike or loose inside the bag. The bike wouldn’t fit in the bag with the saddle down (but really I didn’t want to scratch the top of the seat post…). So without the bits of cardboard to protect the frame from the swinging brake levers/stem etc., I’m not sure what condition it would have arrived in. Also, the bottom of the bag probably wouldn’t have lasted very long with the chain-ring sitting against it, being banged along baggage conveyor belts. Also the teeth would probably have been bashed around a bit, along with the derailleur. The chap that checked in our bags recommended I release some air from the tyres, which seemed sensible. Not sure if they would have popped without that, but they survived the trip.

Long story short, the bike arrived safely with only minor scratches to the frame (the Lemond Chambery frame seems to scratch if you breathe on it too hard…), and was re-assembled and ridden within 24h despite jet-lag. I loved the contrast between riding in the heat of Singapore, and the crisp summer morning ride along lake Zurich. Probably a warm sunny day for all the locals, but I though my teeth were going to crack from the cold!

Worth mentioning that the trip was with Turkish Airlines, involved a change at Istanbul (so some extra baggage handling than on a single-leg flight), and cost 160 EUR (one-way). No issues at all.

Do you readers travel often with your bikes? So often that it’s as routine as packing a suitcase? Any tips for this newbie would be welcome!

Velobrico Rides: Zurich, Switzerland

So we moved from Singapore to Switzerland. Gone are the early bike rides in hot morning darkness, the occasional monitor lizard and macaque. In exchange we have fresh (cold!) air, wine terraces, snow capped mountains and sunshine!

This is also the first time I’ve tried Strava, so I’ll share my first ride below. My cycle computer broke some time ago so it’s interesting to see the distance travelled and average speed. I did wonder if not seeing my speed would result in a gradual slowdown, but I guess not?

A poor photo of the Lemond in its new surroundings too. It survived the trip via Turkish Airlines!

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Velobrico Workshop: Lemond Chambery (2005)

Ok, it’s not a vintage bike, (yet) and it doesn’t need restoring, but I love it anyway!

This is my weekend ride in Singapore. You don’t see many like it out here. I’ve only seen another 3 in the last 2 years.

In fact, I like it so much that I’m taking it back to Europe with me!

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Velobrico Rides: Singapore

On 20th April 2014, the Longhouse kopitiam (coffee shop / food court) closed down for good. A longstanding institution for Singapore’s cyclists, Longhouse used to be the daily meeting point for morning riders from 4am onwards. Another Singapore institution making way for condominium development. 

This used to be a regular starting point for my rides around the Macritchie reservoir and the Mandai marshlands in the northwest of Singapore island. 

Here’s a short video up Old Upper Thomson Rd, Mandai, Kranji and Lim Chu Kang.

Enjoy!