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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Give us your thoughts on ‘quick win’ schemes for cyclists

Cheap Street, Newbury - cyclists exempt from banned right turn

Often, little changes can make a big difference for cyclists – for example, exempting them from a banned right turn, or providing a contra-flow in a one-way street.  These schemes can create useful short-cuts and help to make cycling safer and more attractive for local journeys.

West Berkshire Council has told us that there is money available in this year’s budget for small schemes like these and has asked us for suggestions. Ideas so far include:

  1. In Newbury, allow cyclists to turn right into Cheap Street from Market Street.  This would help cyclists travelling from West Fields to Sainsbury’s and Hambridge Road.
  2. Formally designate Newbury Town Centre as a ‘Pedestrian and Cycle Zone’. Although cycling is already allowed in Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, existing signs are confusing.
  3. Where possible, exempt cyclists from one-way restrictions on roads in and around Newbury town centre.
  4. Put direction arrows in each lane on the St John’s Road approach to the Burger King roundabout in Newbury. This would reinforce that the middle lane is for straight ahead movements only. Increasingly, motorists are turning left from the middle lane, which goes against Rule 186 of the Highway Code. This results in cyclists being cut up when they are travelling from St Johns Road to Greenham Road.

If you can think of a small change that would make a big difference to your journey, then please let us know. We can’t promise that they will all see the light of day, since each scheme will be subject to a safety audit and appropriate consultation, but we’re happy to pass on ideas for consideration.

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What parents need to know about buying children’s bikes at Christmas

Chidren's bikes

Although sometimes it seems as though every kid just wants the latest games console, tablet or smartphone, bikes are still a popular Christmas present.  At Spokes, we would always recommend that you buy from your local bike shop (remember Spokes members get 10% discount on new bikes). They have the best products, they can advise you about the correct size bike for your child, they will assemble it and carry out safety checks, and they will set up the bike correctly for you. They will also offer a free 6 week check and make any adjustments after the bike has gone through its initial bedding-in period.

However, we recognise that many parents will still look to on-line retailers or places like Argos, Tesco and Halfords to get their bikes. The disadvantage of buying from these places is that the bike will require an element of self-assembly, or at best will have been hastily put together by a harassed shop assistant. As a result, we have seen many bikes that have been assembled incorrectly and in some cases, they have been in a condition that puts the child at risk of serious injury.

Some of the faults that we have seen include:

  • Forks put on back to front.
  • Loose handlebars and stems.
  • Wheels not properly secured.
  • Tyres not properly seated on the rims.
  • Tyres on the wrong way round.
  • Brakes blocks misaligned / rubbing.
  • Brakes not engaging properly when pulled.
  • Brake levers not at the correct angle.
  • Pedals cross-threaded (remember the left pedal has a reverse thread!)
  • Loose / misaligned saddles.
  • Poorly indexed gears.

The good news is that these can easily be checked and sorted before your child gets on the bike. There is a wealth of information, advice and step-by-step videos available on-line at madegood.org. However, if you still have concerns about the safety of your child’s bike, then we would suggest that you take it to your local bike shop. They can check it for you and advise about any repairs / work that needs to be carried out.

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Hermitage to Hampstead Norreys Cycle Route

One of our long-standing aspirations has been to reopen the former railway line to the north of Newbury to make it available for cyclists and other non-motorised users. Although some sections have been built on, much of the track bed and bridges remain in tact and would be an easy conversion. We have been focusing our efforts on the section between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, as this offers the greatest potential. Over the last year or so, we have engaged with stakeholders, including West Berkshire Council, landowners and parish councillors, and we are pleased to report that good progress is now being made.

Previously the scheme had been held up by a land ownership issue of a small parcel of land to the south of the M4 bridge at Hermitage. The landowners, Highways England, have now agreed a way forward to allow public access by way of a permitted path instead of transferring ownership to West Berkshire Council. The Section 18 Order has been signed to stop up the highway, and the council are waiting for Highways England’s service providers, Kier, to approve the design and specification under a Section 6 Agreement.

All going well, construction is programmed for next year. The first part of the scheme will be a new footway on the eastern verge of the B4009 to provide safe passage for all users (pedestrian, equestrian, and cyclists) under the M4 bridge and to connect the disused railway track on both sides. Englefield Estate, the landowner for this section, are supportive of the scheme but have surveyed the railway path and presented a number of conditions regarding maintenance and tree survey work before agreeing to a lease for the permissive path. Talks are ongoing with the council’s Countryside and Rights of Way Team over maintenance agreements but we will hopefully get an agreement in place before too long.

External funding is still required to undertake necessary improvements throughout the route before it opens to the public. This includes: making the bridges safe; carrying out localised repairs to the track; and erecting new sections of fencing. We are hopeful that bids to cover the shortfall will be successful. As we move forward with the scheme, we will be asking for volunteers to help clear vegetation from the old railway line. If you would like to be involved, then please email us at secretary@westberkshirespokes.org.

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