I’ve been commuting to work by bicycle for more than 25 years; endless hours of stop/start riding on grimy roads pockmarked with deadly potholes. Not only is it a battle against the weather, but you’re taking your chances with zoned-out pedestrians, aggressive minicabbers and myopic lorry drivers, too.
But that was the bad old days. The past few years have seen an explosion of urban cycling and the pastime is now basking in something of a golden moment.
And, perhaps inspired by the phenomenal successes of Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and Mark Cavendish, the arrival of the Boris Bikes or the realisation that cycling is cheap, quick and eco-friendly, a new generation of fresh-faced “cycos” is saddling up and taking to two wheels.
The more of us there are out there, the better for all. It’s safety in numbers. So step off that bus, and start pedalling your own trusty steed. The city is your oyster. Here are five very different bikes that may appeal…
Brompton H3L, £810
The ultimate folding bike, the Brompton is to city cycling what origami is to paper napkins. It features a full-size steel frame mounted on two dinky wheels. The remarkable thing about it is that you forget you are sitting on a bike that can collapse to the size of a briefcase in three easy steps. It’s light so it is genuinely portable and its small wheels and big gearing means it rides brilliantly with the zip and immediate handling of a go-kart. The pompous name combined with its roots as a bike designed to whip city boys from train terminus to leafy suburban mansion can leave a nasty taste of overweening entitlement, so counter that by opting for one in a ridiculous colour. brompton.co.uk
Foffa Ciao, from £500
One of the newest bike brands on the block – and a success story based purely on the bike boom. Vintage-bike nut Dani Foffa started working on old bikes in 2007 from his tiny flat in east London while keeping his day job in the City. A couple of years later he quit and teamed up with trendy photographer Tyson Sadlo to create Foffa bikes. Since then they’ve launched four models including the Ciao, which is designed to be the optimum commuter bike. It’s light, comfortable, durable and compact and, like all the Foffa range, can be customised in any way you want from a range of artist-designed stickers and paint jobs. What better way to stand out from the Lycra loons? foffabikes.com
Pashley Britannia, £625
Pashley is one of England’s longest-established bicycle manufacturers. Its hand-built, stately rollers have been trundling out of the factory in Stratford-upon-Avon since 1926. The names of the various bike models give you an idea of what’s in store. The flagship ride is the Princess, then there’s the Guv’nor, the Clubman and the Roadster. But in Jubilee year, surely it has to be the Britannia? Made from traditionally lugged and brazed steel, it comes with a large front wicker basket, a Brooks leather saddle and is available, of course, in red, white or blue. You’ll also have to consider investing in a tweed cycling cape to complete the look and always carry a flask of piping-hot Bovril in case of breakdown, either mechanical or emotional. pashley.co.uk
Velorbis Scrap Deluxe, £875
Just look at those balloon tyres! You feel as if you are riding on a pair of circular marshmallows. The Scrap Deluxe takes the old cruiser frames of West Coast America and updates them for the modern city cyclist. It’s heavy and slow, but it’s also virtually indestructible. One thing every cyclist new to commuting should know is that you’re best to take your time – hammering along urban streets almost always ends in tears, road rash or worse – so this is the bike to take it easy on. The sit-up-and-beg style gives you terrific visibility and a commanding position on the road. Both men’s and women’s versions are available – though both share the same chunka-munka aesthetic – and all come with the accessories that make a ride to work more civilised: mud guards (those muddy badger stripes don’t look good in the boardroom), chain guard, rack and dynamo-powered lights. velorbiscycles.co.uk
Wilier Toni Bevilacqua, £599
Unless you live in a hilly city, you may want to abandon the hassle of changing gear and go for the pared-down simplicity of a single-speed bike. Remember your old Sturmey-Archer three-speed? Well, it’s just like that, except minus two gears – essentially you are stuck in second. City cyclists love a single-speed because it means less maintenance and an uncluttered aesthetic. Wilier is a veteran Italian bike builder (despite sounding a bit Dutch), and this retro-tastic steel frame, based on an original design for track champion Toni Bevilacqua, is seriously classy. The baby-blue frame and polished aluminium wheels make it a real head turner at the lights. The bike also comes with a flip-flop hub. That doesn’t mean its politically ambivalent, just that you can switch between riding it as a ”fixed” or “free” wheeler. Beginners go for free. wilierbikes.co.uk
Green cars: 2,500 km on a litre of fuel? Come on…
If you think that the only way to reduce your carbon footprint is to take to two wheels, think again. Last month in Rotterdam, the Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2012 proved that almost inconceivable miles per gallon can be achieved with the right technology.
In the UrbanConcept category, Team Electricar Solution from France achieved a new record with 262.6 km per kWh in the battery electric fuel class; while DTU Roadrunners from the Technical University of Denmark improved on a record they set last year by 102.1 km per litre, achieving 611.1 km per litre.
In the Prototype category, the MAC Eco Team from The Netherlands obtained a result of 416.3 km per litre in their GTL powered vehicle, smashing the previous record set in 2011 of 138 km per litre.
Highlights from the results included a win from previous winners Team Microjoule-La Joliverie (France), achieving a result of 2,832.8 km per litre in the Prototype Gasoline fuel class. Hungarian team GAMF came closer to them than any team has for many years, but just missed out on the title.
The results have set an exciting precedent for next year’s event. “We’ve seen the closest competition for the title for many years,” said Norman Koch, Global Technical Director, Shell Eco-marathon. “The new record for the UrbanConcept battery electric is amazing given the higher level of track navigation required this year.”
Off the track, teams received awards for achievements including technical innovation, team spirit and safety. Team Shelly from Aston University, UK, picked up the Eco-design award for their focus on sustainable driving. Their car, which runs on hydrogen, has a body made from cardboard sandwiched between plywood certified by the British Forestry Commission. Its tyre covers are made from bio-resin, infused with hessian fibres. The whole structure can be collapsed for easy delivery.
To see pictures of the event, go to
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010