Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Should we stop at red lights? you tell me...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm surprised to notice that it's a couple of months since the people had their say in this column. In the past few weeks, the subject that has aroused most emotion, one way or another, was the Stop At Red campaign ( www.stopatred.org), which wants cyclists to pledge never to jump red lights.

Most people, particularly drivers and pedestrians, seemed to think it was a good idea, though more than one cyclist pointed out that motorists aren't so keen on obedience to the law when it comes to speed limits. Charles Edwards suggested the RAC and AA might run an "If you speed and get caught it's your own bloody fault so don't whinge" campaign.

Only Peter Granger dissented from a "lily-livered" standpoint, arguing that red-light jumping is a sensible precaution: "Setting off before the lights are green often allows cyclists to travel in a safe, traffic-free bubble for large parts of their journey."

Andrew Gibbens picked up on the question of just how green cycling is: a proper reckoning, he wrote, would take account of the energy used in the bike's manufacture and the miles it covers in its lifetime. He makes two assumptions: first, that the energy consumed in manufacture is reasonably related to product weight; second, and more contentious, that the average bike travels no more than 20 miles in its life. The source for that is an old magazine article, which doesn't sound like much of an authority; but more people buy bikes than ride them, and many bikes spend their life in the garage, so the 20 miles isn't altogether implausible.

On this basis, a car may well come out greener. Still, problem easily solved: ride your bike farther, and recycle parts.

My complaints about the inhospitableness of old-fashioned bike shops prompted a defence from Jon Marks: "The repair competence of most bike shops is in inverse proportion to the shininess of their laminate flooring and minimalist blandness of their decor. While many are happy to sell you a nice new bike when things go wrong, you're much more likely to get a reliable, sensibly priced, first-time fix from the wizened, scrotal-faced greasers in blue labcoats than the kids in the corporate polos."

I'd change that: repair competence is in inverse proportion to number of outlets - problems start when shops become part of a chain, and start to recruit less experienced mechanics. Halfords, the devil's own retail outlet, is the prime example: it has a reputation for marketing well-designed bikes that have been incompetently set up.

But even reputable chains have flaws. A few months ago, some cub in a branch of FW Evans insisted, in contradiction of my own experience, that nobody makes old-fashioned threaded headsets any more.

Independent readers are never shy of technological innovation. Simon Nash wrote to alert us to the Pedalite, a pedal with built-in dynamo and capacitor to generate flashing lights, even when you've stopped pedalling. Simon is a convert; other readers may want to wait for the toe-clip and cleated versions, later this year.

Meanwhile, Mike Lewis has invested in an American Revla seat, marketed over here under the name Cheeko: it is small and oblong, and the rider sits on it like a chair, rather than straddles it. Mike reports encouraging early results. The variety of modern saddles, with different gels and configurations of holes in the middle, is bewildering: your experiences, as always, are welcome.

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