Dr Bike – Free Bike Checks in Newbury on 28 October

two people fixing bikes

Are your brakes making funny noises? Are your gears a bit clunky and don’t change when you want to? Do you wish you could mend a puncture? Then bring your bike to Newbury Town Hall between 9.30am and 2.30pm on Saturday 28 October and we’ll check it over, make adjustments and teach you how to maintain your bike.

While most of us recognise the need to keep our cars maintained in order to keep them running efficiently and pass their MOTs, we are often not so good about keeping on top of our bike maintenance. We are always spotting people out on bikes that have a variety of maintenance issues from minor niggles to more serious problems that could be putting their safety at risk.

Thankfully, bikes (with a few notable exceptions) are fairly simple machines and the most common maintenance tasks can easily be carried out with a minimum of tools. Our Cytech accredited cycle mechanics will be available to show you how to check your bikes for faults, make adjustments where required and advise on any repairs that needs to be carried out.

Remember that all Spokes members get 10% off parts at several local bike shops, so if you do need any repairs, then you can be sure of getting good value for money while supporting a local business.

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A4 Cycle Route (Phase 1) Consultation

West Berkshire Council is in the process of developing plans for a new cycle route along the A4 from Newbury all the way to the district boundary in Calcot. This will form part of the new National Cycle Network Route 422, which will link Newbury and Thatcham to Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell and Ascot. The scheme has received funding through the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and will be one of the biggest cycling schemes in the county since NCN Route 4.

Given the length of the scheme, it will be rolled out in phases. The Council has just gone out to consultation on phase one. This will see improvements on London Road and Benham Hill, from the junction with Faraday Road right up to the Wye Vale Garden Centre roundabout.

The scheme will create safe space for cyclists on the road and will include the following changes:

  • cycle lanes on both sides of road where width allows
  • making better use of available road space by removing hatching and right turn lanes where it is appropriate to do so
  • removing traffic islands to get rid of ‘pinch points’ for cyclists
  • installing advanced stop lines at signalised junctions
  • new dropped kerbs to help cyclists get on and off the route

There will also be improvements to off-carriageway facilities. This recognises the fact that not all cyclists have the confidence to mix with traffic and there are areas where accessibility is currently restricted for those in wheelchairs, mobility scooters and with pushchairs.

The following improvements are proposed:

  • widening and resurfacing sections of pavement, and converting them to shared paths
  • giving cyclists priority across the entrance to the B&Q / Dunelm Mill retail park
  • removing unnecessary road signs, and relocating street furniture
  • creating wider pedestrian islands to improve crossing points for all users

It is also proposed to introduce new double yellow lines, in areas where there is a problem with cars parking and blocking footways. There will be separate consultations to follow for these restrictions as they require Traffic Regulation Orders.

You can send your comments or objections to this proposal to the Highways Project Team, no later than 22 October 2017.

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National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Published

Department for Transport Logo

The Department for Transport published its National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy today. This aims to:

  • Double cycling in terms of the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025.
  • Increase walking activity to 300 stages per person per year in 2025, and
  • Increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49% in 2014 to 55% in 2025.

The target for cycling is eye-catching until you start doing some international comparisons. Even if we achieve our cycling target, then just under 4% of trips will be made by bike in 2025. This is low compared to levels that are already seen now in other European countries, e.g. 5% in France and Italy, 9% in mountainous Switzerland and Austria, 19% in Denmark and 26% in the Netherlands.

Our view is that the target is distinctly unambitious – the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry report, which was published in 2013 and strongly backed by MPs of all parties, businesses and the media – called for targets to boost cycle use to roughly German levels (10% of trips) by 2025 and to near-Dutch levels (25%) by 2050.

A headline grabbing £1.2 billion is being allocated to help deliver these aims over the next five years, with a breakdown as follows

  • £50 million to provide Bikeability training for a further 1.3 million children
  • £101 million to improve cycling infrastructure
  • £85 million to make improvements to 200 sections of roads for cyclists
  • £80 million for safety and awareness training for cyclists, extra secure cycle storage, bike repair, maintenance courses and road safety measures
  • £389.5 million for councils to invest in walking and cycling schemes
  • £476.4 million from local growth funding to support walking and cycling
  • £5 million on improving cycle facilities at railway stations

This sounds great until you realise that it is just a tiny fraction of the overall transport budget (approximately 1.3%). In London alone, Sadiq Khan has committed £770 million to improving cycling facilities in the capital city during his term in office – that’s a rate of £17 per person per year compared to just over £5 per person per year that will be spent on the rest of England’s populace. Also, much of this funding is already available through existing or committed transport spending, which is allocated as unringfenced grant funding to councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships and may therefore be siphoned off to be spent on other priorities.

It is interested to note that some of the main transport pressure groups appear to have been largely bought off by the promise of funding for their pet projects:

Despite there being little improvement in the content and ambition of the strategy compared to the draft version, the responses from these organisation has been distinctly muted this time compared to their original responses and even heaping praise on the Government saying how much they are looking forward to working with them to deliver the strategy. This is disappointing to say the least.

The strategy promotes Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), aimed at enabling local authorities to develop their own plans. However these are voluntary, and even for those local authorities that are interested and willing to prepare them, the lack of clear, high-quality cycling design guidance remains a major concern. The strategy suggests that there will at some point be a ‘refresh’ of LTN 2/08 ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’, which provides design guidance for those involved in developing new cycling schemes. Given the length of time that has elapsed between the consultation on the draft strategy and the publication of the final version, this is disappointing.  The UK has a history of building some mediocre cycling infrastructure that is some way below the best practice examples seen in leading cycling nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

While it is great to see the Government finally publish a strategy that articulates a national approach to promoting cycling and walking, Spokes is disappointed that they have not been more ambitious in their aims and funding commitments and that opportunities to promote best practice design standards have not been taken.

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Social bike rides for 2017

We have been busy over the winter months putting together our programme of led bike rides for 2017. Our fun, friendly, social rides take place on the first and third Saturdays of each month from March through to October. Led by volunteers, our rides take in some of the most beautiful scenery in West Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

The routes on the first Saturday of each month are shorter (11 to 17 miles) and we tend to go at a gentle pace of 9-11 mph. As such, they are ideal for new / returning cyclists, or people who just want a more relaxed ride.

If you would like a longer, more challenging ride, then take a look at the second of our rides each month.  These have routes ranging from 27 to 38 miles and we generally go at a slightly faster pace of around 12-14 mph. These are intended for more regular riders who are reasonably fit and don’t mind a bit of the hilly stuff.  If you want a real challenge, then why not sign up for ‘William’s Big Wheel’ – a 57 mile epic into deepest, darkest Hampshire.

All rides start and finish in West Mills, Newbury. We meet by the war memorial between Lloyds bank and St Nicholas’ Church. Our start time is usually 9.30 am, with the exception of ‘William’s Big Wheel’ which sets off at 9 am sharp.

We try to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time on our rides. For example, hills can be taken at your own pace and we don’t rush off once the last person reaches the summit. Unfortunately, punctures can and do happen, so we ask all riders to bring a spare inner tube. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to change a tyre – we can help / advise as necessary.

Please note that places are limited to 12 people on each ride, so we do ask that you book your place in advance at letsride.co.uk to avoid disappointment. It also helps us to know who to expect so we don’t set off without you. Also, any under 16s must be accompanied by an adult who is able to take responsibility for them.

If you want any further information about our rides, then please do get in touch. We look forward to seeing you and hope you enjoy the rides!

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The Spokes guide to electric bikes

Moustache Lundi Electric Bike

Would you like to cycle, but find that hills are a problem? Do you struggle to keep up with friends or family when out on a ride?  Or do you just hate cycling somewhere only to arrive at your destination all hot and sweaty?  If you answered “yes” to any of these, then an electric bike may be just what you’re looking for.

When one of our members asked us about electric bikes, we had to admit that we didn’t know too much about them. So in order to address this gap in our knowledge, we turned to expert Nick Williams, who runs local e-bike shop, Velospeed. Based in Aldworth, opposite the Bell Inn, Nick sells a range of bikes including:

  • practical bikes for everyday transport;
  • sporty urban bikes;
  • hybrids / trekking bikes;
  • mountain bikes (including hard-tails and full-suspension versions).

He even stocks a sturdy cargo bike that can transport payloads of up to 150kg!

So the first thing we wanted to know was, “how do they work?” E-bikes are powered by an intelligent electric motor, which is either built into the hub to drive the wheel directly, or else located around the bottom bracket to drive the cranks. Depending on the level of sophistication of the motor, it either has a motion sensor or a torque sensor, so it only provides power when you start pedalling.  Most e-bikes have a control on the handlebars that allows the rider to select the level of assistance they require, or even turn it off completely. Hub motors tend to be found on the cheaper bikes, while the more expensive ones have the more sophisticated bottom bracket motors.

We were also curious to know how fast they went. Nick explained that legally all electric bikes are required to stop providing assistance at 25 kilometres per hour (15.5 mph). You can, of course, keep pedalling and go faster, but the bike won’t be helping.

Our next question was, “what is the range of an electric bike?” This is a tough one to answer, since it depends on the bike, the battery, how much assistance you require and how many hills you encounter along the way. However, most people can expect to get 25 to 40 miles on a typical ride. If you are reasonably fit and use a low level of assistance, then you can eke this out to anything between 60 and 90 miles.

E-bikes mostly use lithium-ion batteries. These can be plugged into the mains and are charged like a laptop or mobile phone.  Depending on the model, they will take 3-6 hours to reach full charge from flat.  The cost is surprisingly reasonable at between 5 and 10 pence per charge.  Early electric bikes suffered with unsightly, bulky battery packs that spoiled the lines of the bike, but these days, they tend to be much sleeker and better integrated with the frame.

So how reliable are they? Nick reports that his customers have experienced very few problems with either the motors or the batteries and there is no additional day-to-day maintenance required. The batteries are swappable, but they are quite expensive.

With all our questions answered, it was time to give them a spin. One of the advantages of having a bike shop in Aldworth is that there are plenty of hills around. This allowed us to quickly assess the benefits of an e-bike.

The first bike we tried was a Momentum Upstart, which is a fairly traditional looking bike with an upright riding position. At £1,000 it is at the lower end of the e-bike market. This Chinese-made machine has a hub motor with a two-speed rear hub that changes gear automatically as your speed increases. The limited range of gears means that it is best suited as an urban commuter bike. However, even with relatively high gearing, it still made light work of the hills around Aldworth.

Next on the list was the Moustache Lundi. Moustache is the main brand that Velospeed stocks. All of their bikes are crank driven by a Bosch motor and battery pack, which is a highly reliable system that is used in many of the top electric bikes. As a dedicated e-bike brand, they design all of their bikes from scratch, and are happy to question traditional road bike design. Certainly, the Lundi looks unlike most other bikes on the road. It has a box-section frame with a step-through design, integral lighting and Y-shaped handlebars, which produces an upright riding position. On this model, the battery is nicely integrated into the rear luggage rack. The model we tested had the 8-speed Alfine hub gears which gave a nice spread of ratios and made for very smooth shifting. This certainly felt a step up from the Momentum that we tested earlier.  Everything about it felt reassuringly solid and well-considered, but then so it should, since the cost is just over £3,000 for this top-of-the-range version.

If the Lundi is a little bit ‘out-there’ in terms of its design, then there is a whole host of other models available, such as the sporty urban ‘Friday’ model (shouldn’t that be Vendredi?), the Samedi trekking / hybrid bikes and the Dimanche ‘performance bikes’. These come in a range of variants costing between £1,800 and £4,000.

The last bike that we tried was the Samedi full-suspension mountain bike. Gary Fisher (known in the industry as the inventor of the mountain bike) has been quoted as saying that electric mountain bikes will be “the next big thing”, so we were keen to give these a try. With big fat tyres running at ridiculously low pressures, this was surely a step too far. But no, it steamed up the hill, gliding over potholes as though they weren’t there.

Overall, we were really impressed with our first experiences of electric bikes. While they may be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, there is no doubting the sophistication of the technology that’s involved or the quality of the designs. If you have any lingering doubts, then a visit to Velospeed will quickly put put your mind at rest.

And to those of you who say that an electric bike is just cheating, we would say that any form of cycling is better for you than sitting in a car. And what’s more, studies show that e-cyclists use their bikes more than people with conventional bikes, and could therefore be more active as a result. So just think about that next time someone breezes past you up a hill!

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