Palma, Mallorca – urban bike sharing

On a recent holiday to Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain I was pleased to see even this small city (population 400,000) has an urban bike-sharing initiative. Bicipalma. 

Most of the bikes were of the “standard” step-through (col de cygne) type, often used for urban bike sharing, but there were also some with front suspension forks. 


Which begs the question:

What is the ideal spec for urban bike sharing?

To my mind suspension shouldn’t be needed. It adds maintenance complexity and weight that probably outweighs its usefulness in a city environment. 


Grip shifters seem to be ubiquitous on these bikes. Personally they are my least favourite shifting mechanism, but theoretically more accessible to “non-cyclists”, so if that’s true, then it’s a fair choice. 

I’m not sure these fairly flimsy baskets are a good idea. I can imagine them being quickly bent out of shape, making the bike look badly maintained and discouraging riders from using them. 

Mudguards/fenders are essential, but they should probably be sturdier than those used on the front wheels here, which can easily bend out of alignment and rub the tyre. The rear wheel mudguard/fender solution is better and offers some spoke protection, which doubles as real estate for reflective strips and advertising. 


I guess these bikes have hub gears – I didn’t see a derailleur. Hub brakes appear to be the norm, which seems a good, low maintenance choice that should have a good lifespan. 

The use of rear v-brakes here isn’t a great solution in my view. They might be cheaper to buy than hub brakes but require regular adjustment and pad replacement when used as often as these are likely to be. If not replaced regularly enough, they risk damaging the rims, requiring regular monitoring and mechanic time. Also loss of braking power in wet weather isn’t ideal in a crowded urban environment, so hub brakes would be best. 

Positioning of the rear LED cluster on the seat post also isn’t ideal. It should really be higher, larger and more visible, not obscured by the rear mudguard/fender. The bike with the suspension in the background has a better placed light, though they could arguably also be larger and higher. Go large and visible!

The station I saw had a number of open slots, so I assume some were in use (or permanently decommissioned). Again, as in San Francisco, I didn’t notice anyone using them while I was in town. 


So I guess the ideal bike-share bicycle must be: solid, low maintenance, reliable, accessible, safe and attractive.

The good news is, while not perfect, almost all the solutions I have seen so far meet most all of these criteria. 

What do you think could be improved on these bikes to make them more popular?

Bay Area Bike Share

Though California might be seen as a progressive state, San Francisco was relatively late to the party in setting up a public bike sharing system (maybe not for the US, but compared with other global cities).

Launched in 2013, there are 700 or so stations in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and 4,500 bikes for hire. 

It is available only for adults (not cool for teenagers), who have pre-registered, and is intended for short point to point rides, rather than all day hire. 

The bikes look like the standard, solid, heavy urban rental bike, similar to the Parisian Velib’. Step-through frame, adjustable saddle, chain and spoke guards, grip shifters (my nemesis) and hub gears, flat pedals with reflectors, slick tyres and mudgards (fenders). The stations repurpose 2-4 cars each, replacing them with parking for I guess 15-30 bicycles. 

Not having used it, I can’t say how well it works, but didn’t notice anyone riding one while I was in town. Nonetheless I think this is a good initiative, even if it takes a while to build traction (by generally improving the cycling environment and cyclist safety). 

Velobrico Rides: London to Oxford, UK

I was recently in London for work, which was a great opportunity to catch up with a friend and go for a ride. 

We worked out 100kms (c.70 miles) as a decent target and he suggested this route, from London to Oxford. 

I didn’t bring my bike with me (lugging a bike bag to meetings and on the Tube just isn’t workable), but luckily his bike was exactly my frame size and he would use his backup – a fixed gear bike for 100kms of rolling countryside, brave man!

I brought my shoes, pedals, helmet and clothes, switched out his pedals, adjusted the bike fit and off we went. 

The first thing I noticed was that the brakes were switched from how mine are set up. They were front/right, rear/left, which caused some confusion until I got used to it. Apparently this is to keep your strongest hand on the strongest brake while signalling left? Though this doesn’t make sense to me as signalling right (across UK traffic) seems more important than signalling left. But maybe I’m missing something.

We cycled from east London to Liverpool St, put the bikes on the Metropolitain line and headed towards the western edge of London, to Ruislip. 

It was quite strange riding in traffic, crossing junctions and roundabouts (rotaries) on the “wrong ” side of the road, though once upon a time it was completely normal for me (memories of delivering newspapers on Sunday mornings in northern England…)!

We met up with some other friends on arrival and started the ride. 

How lovely the British countryside is (in good weather)! I had a good dose of nostalgia riding along country lanes, between sheep fields, past classic British cars, over narrow bridges, past wandering pheasants, through quaint villages and past (seemingly infinite) country pubs. 

We passed through the grounds of Waddesdon Manor, a beautiful stately home, with a curated estate. The best road surface we saw all day!

My friend planned for lunch at a cyclist-friendly country pub in a village called Quainton (yes really) where we enjoyed a pint of ale, some pub grub, chatted with some other cyclists and enjoyed the warm spring sunshine. 

We chatted about Brexit, the (then) upcoming triggering of article 50, the atmosphere in the UK around that, briefly about the terrorist incident at the Houses of Parliament. There’s a lot going on in current affairs and seemingly some anxiety about the short term future. But we also talked about coffee, bikes, food, family, friends and all that good stuff. 

In the restroom I spotted a vending machine selling this. 

For cyclists or something else 😂? 

We continued the ride, fuelled by cake, espresso, beer, and pub lunch, and arrived in the beautiful university town of Oxford by late afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos as I was distracted looking for the train station. 

Caught the train back to London, stopping at a shopping outlet centre where hundreds of Chinese, Indian, Arabic and African tourists boarded the train clutching bags with designer labels. Apparently the second most visited tourist destination in the UK after Buckingham Palace 😳. Who’d have guessed? 

Quite a bizarre combination – sweaty, tired cyclists and luxury goods-bearing tourists 😄. 

Back in London, night had fallen and evening rush hour had arrived. My friend took is on a quiet route that snaked through little side streets to east London, all but avoiding the congestion. We earned the next days’s full English breakfast.

Everyone had slightly different bikes (titanium fixie, steel tourer, aluminium sportive, steel canti-brake flat bar tourer) and varying experience levels but we rode at a pace that suited all, had no technical difficulties. 

There was no talk of KOM/QOM, no FTP, no HIIT, no BS. 

Just friends, the road, the ride. 
Perfect. 

Carnival!

I recently took the family to Basel carnival. 

It’s an annual festival and local public holiday in Basel, Switzerland. 

Great fun and complete madness as the city dedicates itself to making noise, mischief and silliness for three days. It’s great to see the typically reserved Swiss let it all loose.

There are parades with “waggis” (people in fancy dress wearing clownish masks) throwing sweets to children, flowers to ladies and other random stuff to anyone they fancy (alcohol, bananas, potatoes…) as they travel through the city on floats, usually with some political theme (Brexit, Trump and Erdogan predictably popular lampooning targets this year), followed by drummers and flautists.

But mostly there’s confetti. Bags and bags and bags of confetti. Kids chase after random strangers, stuffing it in clothes, down jumpers and in hair. It fills the streets like snow. 

It’s great fun and I expect to find bits of confetti in my pockets for some time yet!

Bike sharing in China

Similar to my post on bike sharing in China from a couple of weeks back, here’s one better researched, and better written, from The Guardian:

Bike-sharing revolution aims to put China back on two wheels

Clearly I was very lucky to be there under blue skies!

Beijing, China

Last week I took a trip to Beijing, the capital city of China. As you probably know, China is the most populous country in the world, by far, with a registered population of almost 1.4 billion. That is roughly equivalent to the population of Europe, North, Central and South America combined, in a single country…

While China is huge (third largest geographical area in the world after Russia and Canada), much of this population is concentrated into urban areas. You may not know there are 144 cities with an urban population over 1 million people. Which may seem hard to believe. If you take metropolitan or administrative area into account, this number is significantly higher.

Needless to say, stats like these indicate major challenges for urban planning, and with government policy focussed on economic growth, it is safe to say some other policy areas are deprioritised.

Beijing, has a registered urban population of c.21.5 million people, and some pretty infamous pollution. I had the opportunity to experience this first hand last week, and can confirm it is considerably worse than any other city I have visited. To have to breathe that toxic air daily must be incredibly harmful and I dread to think of the effects on young children.

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The following picture clearly shows the polluted air visible from the plane I arrived on.

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You may recall seeing photos until the mid 80s of hundreds of thousands of bicycles being used as a principal means of urban transport. Since the 1980s, with the growth of the economy, the bicycle has been actively displaced by cars, which now clog the streets and contribute to the pollution.

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It seems bicycles are making a (small) comeback. Electric bicycles are popular in Chinese cities (often on pavements, at night and with the lights turned off), but it seems the public rentable bicycle is also making an appearance.

Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable riding in horrendous traffic, breathing toxic air, but apparently some people do. I saw quite a few of these bikes in downtown Beijing, one of which had a pretty interesting tyre design. This one is by Mobike.

The tyre is solid rubber, but has holes drilled through it. Presumably this decreases production cost, avoids maintaining inner tubes, provides some cushioning and decreases rotational weight. I always enjoy a simple, low tech solution, and this is pretty clever.

While this can have only the most minimal effect on the country’s pollution, it’s a step in the right direction. But it would be a long path back to the mass bicycle use of yesteryear!

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Love this story….

It’s a bit late for valentine’s day but I love this story…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-35299608