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One of the wonderful things about Cambridge is how practical cycling is as a mode of transport. Cambridge is really rather small, and it's easily possible to cycle right across it in less than half an hour, even if you're not pushing it.
A few months ago, out of curiosity, I bought a speedometer for my bike (I have a hybrid mountain bike - a Raleigh Pioneer). I realised I was cycling faster than many of the other cyclists I saw (I was going to say `than most of the cyclists I passed'... :) and wondered quite what my speed was. I found that my cruising speed (with no head- or tailwind) was a fairly consistent 18mph. Admittedly, this was only over the 2.5 mile commute that I do every day, but even so, I was relatively pleased. I didn't bother putting the speedo on for a while (it's a clip-on device, so you can remove it from the cycle when you leave it locked up), but I find that in the intervening months, my cruising speed's climbed to about 20 mph, again with no wind. Yay. [23 Sep 2002] Now I infrequently managed to reach 25mph, but I've started circuit training and have a cadence meter on my cycle which doubtless has some impact.
I suppose I should mention the bumpy tyre intrigue and the nasty chain slip, although I won't dwell on them: bumpy tyre intrigue turned out to be relatively simple: after having fixed a puncture on my innertube (I have kevlar-reinforced tyres, but a spoke apparently managed to hole the inside of the innertube anyway; I know about the foam-filled innertubeless Green Tyres, but decided to buy a stirrup pump with a pressure gauge and give having properly inflated tyres a go for a while before I made that move. Too bad the kevlar tyres don't have the excessive hybrid tread - I feel really unsafe cornering on these normal road tyres).
Oops, that paragraph escaped from me. :) After having fixed a puncture on my innertube, I put the tyre back on and inflated it, only to find there was a definite bumping as I cycled along, once for each turn of the wheel. I assumed the tyre's rim-wire was too tight for my wheel, needing some clever wrangling to get it properly seated, so I went back to the shop where I'd bought the tyres, and asked about it. I was told it was a pretty standard sort of problem, and the solution was very simple: just after you've wrestled the tyre back onto the wheel, with the innertube slightly inflated, push the innertube valve right into the wheel, so the tyre's not trapping the sides of the tube just either side of the valve: the valve anchors the innertube, so that bit of the tube can't evade the tyre like the rest of the innertube.
Nasty chain slip's something I'll try and have seen to this week: simply, the top gear (front and back cogs) suffers chain-slip when I push on it. I think the chain just needs tightening, but it's also making clicky noises (or feelings through the pedals, somehow I can't easily tell the difference) as I pedal on other gears, and since I'd like that seen to, they may as well look at the chain slip too. Notice how clueless I am. :)
One Thursday evening with no scheduled choir practice, my friend Neil came round for a meal and to watch a DVD or two.. I think we settled on two Jim Carrey films - Ace Ventura Pet Detective, and... The Mask, I think. Anyway, during the evening, we started discussing bikes, and how they're only good for leg-exercise (I haven't the faintest recollection of how we got onto the topic), and started discussing rather implausible ways to power a cycle with a rowing action, since that would give a fuller work-out. After Neil had left, I did a Google websearch for 'row bike' and various similar searches. I came across many sites, and these three notable ones: www.rowbike.com, www.rowingbike.com and some French site with the ugliest piece of machinery possible - I thought the French were supposed to have chic and style. Hah.
So www.rowbike.com is an American rowing bike site and www.rowingbike.com is a Dutch rowing bike site. I looked at both, and finally decided I liked the look of the Dutch bike more, and the convenience/cost of shipping the bike and any spare parts from there, rather than from the US. (Much as I hate to admit the tragically undemocratic, unpopular European Union has even the remotest thing going for it, proximity is about all there is. I hope the politicians' arrogance causes a civil war and/or associated terrorist groups or something.)
Anyway, so I contacted Rowingbike.com, asking whether there was any way I could try one out, and received a letter back from.. I think it was Derk Thijs, which said there was only one rowbike in the UK, with a guy called Ian, in Reading. I gave Ian a ring, saying he wouldn't know me but `it's about the rowbike'. He wasn't doing anything that weekend, so I got myself up early (earlier than I normally manage on a Saturday) and took the train down to see him.
He met me at Reading station on a remarkably foldy folding cycle (it packed to something around the size of the front wheel, less than two feet square if I recall correctly), and we went back to his house chatting about cycling. He showed me his collection of bikes - I don't think any of them were the traditional diamond-frame design - and then mentioned that he'd tried phoning that morning (after I left, as it turns out) to ask whether I'd ever used a recumbent bicycle before, and whether I'd used SPD cycle clips. I've never touched either before, so he decided to start me out with his recumbent tricycle, with SPD clips. (SPD clips are the clips that expect to find a lump of metal embedded in your shoes' soles, and which you have to twist your ankle out sideways to about a 15 degree angle to click out of the clip).
The tricycle was lots of fun, although having nothing in front of me was somehow disturbing: the handlebars run under the seat, so your hands are comfortably resting by your sides; the two wheels either side of you are the ones that turn for steering, and there's a single wheel behind for stability. The only thing in front of you are the pedals, and they're not noticeable when you're actually cycling. Although the trike is wonderfully stable, it does insist on finding every bump in the road, and it was odd not having to lean into curves, so much as leaning merely to keep yourself vertical.
After I'd played with his trike for a while, Ian brought out his old red recumbent cycle. This was rather creepy: I could cope with the handlebars being under the seat - like the trike - but I elected not to use SPDs while I was pedalling this. The thing that weirded me out was the way that the front wheel `led' the rest of the bike. I mean, it's an obvious statement: all front-wheel-drive vehicles lead with the front, but on a traditional bike your head is in line with the axis of steering, or at least pretty close to it, your back's more-or-less parallel with the steering axis, and you just lean. On a recumbent, you're sitting leaning backwards, and your head's way back from the front wheel. Anyway, I must have played on that for half an hour or so, and eventually got the hang of it; Ian had taken his rowbike out of the garage in the meantime and was cycling it around.
So eventually I decided I was comfortable with the recumbent. Ian made some comment about my balance being good, given the speed with which I'd grown used to the recumbent, which was gratifying. I put the SPD shoes Ian had lent me back on, and started trying with the rowbike. Yike. :) It was.. different.
In case you've not visited www.rowingbike.com yet, go and have a look, or this won't make much sense. The first `try', I clipped one foot onto the trolley, and only managed to push it one stroke. I didn't fall over. :) For the next few goes, I only really managed to push with my feet - I couldn't seem to get the other foot clipped in, so I pulled with one foot but pushed with both. I didn't have the coordination to swing the handlebars at the same time, and steering through the universal joint was... jiggly. It felt most unsafe - as if there was a degree of flexion - so a slight turn of the handlebars was necessary before the wheel would decide to go. I don't think that was actually the case, but it was noteworthy. Eventually, I worked out the coordination for pulling the handlebars in time with pushing the trolley, and managed to execute the u-turns at both ends of Ian's road. I then tried turning up the T junction half way along - a normal 90' turn - and managed that. I must have been on the rowbike for about an hour, but I managed to get to the stage where I was comfortable that if I bought one, I'd be able to ride it competently.
After Ian put the rowing bike away, we chatted a bit about it, I mentioned the French site with the impossibly ugly rowingbike.. ah, well it was at http://www.aviroute.com, and it did look like a bent girder. But now it looks like a porn site. :) He mentioned www.ihpva.org which I promptly forgot, and then asked whether I'd be willing to fill out a questionnaire for his post-graduate degree.. I agreed to take a few and have folks at work fill them out.
On my way back to the train station, I took the opportunity to wander around Reading. The city centre is just another city centre (apart for the old church in the middle which was worth a look, and the Japanese Shop where I bought a new wallet), reminiscent of Plymouth, but before I entered the centre proper, I wandered through a market, and in particular, past a butcher's wagon. I only wish I'd been able to buy from him: he was maintaining a very entertaining patter, chatting to the customers, putting far too much meat onto the scales for £5, etc. An excellent showman. I didn't buy, because I had a two hour train ride and a short tube journey, and a cycle ride, between the trailer and my fridge, even had I had room in the fridge for the bulk of meat I'd have been given. A shame though; I'd have loved to participate.
So I'm definitely planning to buy one of these things, probably one of the second-hand machines they advertise. I think I'll probably get it sometime this year, probably in the next couple of months. Will I use it for commuting to work? I think so. A couple of people at the office don't seem to think that'll be such a good idea - they believe it won't be as fully controllable as a normal bike, but I tend to be stubborn and naïve about such things. :) My main reason for cycling is for fitness. Yes, I enjoy it, yes, it's practical in Cambridge, but I want to be fit, and in particular relation to the rowing bike, I want to lose my gut. I suspect the semi-situp action of the rowing bike will help out with that.
Actually, I bought one last year (writing in Sept 2002), and used it to commute to work. It's... a bit cumbersome to commute with, and doesn't exercise my belly muscles as I'd hoped it would. Someone needs to make a sit-up bike. :). It's quite fun, draws comment, but I'd rather slip on ice in a normal bike (which doesn't cost 1500 quid). Just now, it's sitting unused because I have to replace the inner tube (the valve perished and fell off during last winter) but I really should dig it out to try on the wonderful cyclepath that's been built from near my house to half-way along my old commute route.
An email response I sent to someone asking about the rowbike.
Hi. I do still have it. I used it for most of the summer I first got it, and it was good fun, certainly making a nice change to a push-bike, although I was nervous about leaving it chained up in the street in case of vandals looking for something expensive-looking to break. I put it away for the winter, and when I came to take it out in the summer, the rear innertube had perished around the valve and it fell out when I tried to pump it up. The aero-rims and small tyre diameter made replacement rather harder than I'm used to, and I found the supplied spare tube was too long (despite being nominally the same). A new one I then bought from Thys seems to have a slow puncture. I won't buy spares remotely again, if I can help it. I bought a new inner-tube from a local shop, with valve extenders (the tube only has normal length valves, so the extenders are necessary because of the aero-rims), but haven't been inclined to fit it (feeling very lazy), despite very much wanting to try it out on the new cycle path the council built (which cuts out the nasty corners on my way to work). It doesn't give the specific work-out I was hoping for - flabby belly - but seems pretty good otherwise. The action isn't quite like the rowing machine at the gymn - the arm action is effectively tied to the leg action, rather than the sliding seat arrangement that means you can pull with your arms even after your legs have straightened, which the US bike has. That said, one of the things that put me off the US bike was the sliding seat. I preferred to feel that I was secured to the frame. Other things: I couldn't see how the steering worked, but it looked like it had too many moving parts for my comfort (I don't like the idea of steering via brake cables, which is what I think happens); and I was a little leery that the base of the propulsion column would get caught on something (can't imagine what, but the Dutch bike doesn't have anything to snag). The length makes it a bit of a nuisance to park in the work bike shed - I feel that I have to get the end stalls, so the bowsprit doesn't trip someone/get damaged - but most of the comments it draws are interested/positive. The US bike is higher - it looks about the same height as a normal bike. The Dutch bike is definitely a recumbent - you're on an eye-level with normal cars. My route to work is very quiet, so this hasn't worried me, but if it were busier, I might have invested in a tall flag. If I were given the chance to decide again, I think I'd buy the US bike, mainly because the tyres are more standard. The Thys bike is definitely a racer, and I find I'm more of a casual rider. The substantial price difference pushes the decision that way too - $3.5k (excluding shipping) vs $1k.
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