Save the planet: cycle into the sun

Now, if only US eco-retailer Gaiam could scale up this solar reflector and attach it to a real bike…

“Swivel the adjustable solar panel on this unique lamp toward any direct light source and watch as its artful bike rider instantly starts pedaling toward a sun-powered future.Whether you turn on its conventional lamp to provide illumination or simply place it in a sunny spot as a fascinating mechanical object d’art, it puts the promise of solar power on creative display.”

Mind you, as it stands, this is a cute, planet-friendly gizmo for your windowsill. A snip at only 49 bucks!

Half a million video views!

The videos on YouTube have broken through the half a million views ceiling. The vids have been watched 505,883 times. Thanks for watching! Four of the top performing vids are embedded below.

More content is coming soon. There’s a nifty little video on bike part names and five pieces rescued from ITV’s deep storage video vault.

In 1994, I was the presenter of a six-part TV series called ‘Chain Gang’, produced by Tyne Tees/Yorkshire TV .

Tyne Tees has now allowed me to publish extracts of this TV series on via YouTube and Vimeo and iTunes.

The video shorts will feature:

* MTB superstar Jason McRoy (RIP)
* A bike tour of Malawi
* Raleigh and Dave Yates factory feature
* York Rally
* An urban race between an Aston Martin bike and an Aston Martin car

Brand owners: contact Big Al to get involved in this series.





Ugandan telcon introduces pedal-powered phone recharger

The Monitor of Kampala reports that Asasira Buga, the chief engineer of Bugatech, a mobile phone repairing company, and businessman Goddie Odongkara unveiled a bike-borne phone recharging system in Kampala.

It’s made in Uganda.

‘Mobile power’ comprises of a dynamo, power accumulator and circuits where car chargers of any type of phone are plugged to charge.

Odongkara said: “After moving throughout the country, I discovered that many people in rural areas do not buy mobile telephones due to lack of charging systems. The idea will increase mobile telephone use among people.”
He said the system that can charge eight phones per hour of riding. Clearly, that’s a job creation scheme in the making.

The system reminds me that Europe and the US had such a charger way back in 2000. I reported on it at the time. Inventor Kieron Loy came to my house to show off his invention. Sadly, it never sold in bucketloads. When it was introduced in America in 2001, one was gifted to Dick Cheney.

One of the key reasons the charger never really took off was the relatively easy access to electricity. In rural Africa, the concept has a far greater chance of success. I wonder if the recharging is done on a static bike or some kid rides around the village all day?

Pedal power is much under-used, of course. But it could be harnessed for rotating a washing machine drum as per this video (which also includes a phone recharger option on the turbo unit):

Join the cycling club that’s going nowhere

Pay a fiver and you could be a member of Rollapaluza CC, the new, British Cycling-affiliated cycling club by the “crew responsible for the resurgence of roller-racing in London and the UK.”

“Two cyclists battle it out on a pair of vintage rollers connected to a huge dial over a simulated 500m distance at speeds in excess of 50mph!”

Club members can buy and wear a smart, black and red jersey and cycling cap.

Rollapaluza has run 50+ roller-races in the last 12 months with over 3000 competitors. The crew was at the Tour de France prologue and the Single Speed World MTB championships in Aviemore, Scotland.

Later this year Rollapaluza will be at the World Firefighter’s Games, running a roller-race in the 11,000 seat Liverpool Echo Arena.

The video below shows the work Rollapaluza has done ‘on tour’. Caspar Hughes and Paul (Winston) Churchill took their oversize RPM dials and sets of racing rollers on a a 26-date University tour for a corporate client.

“If you didn’t think you wanted to join a club, we could be the club for you!” said Winston.

“How long have you been playing bike, Frank?”

The motoring media has been lovingly reporting on the Car Music Project, a band that plays music on instruments made from car parts. Composer Bill Milbrodt’s musical instruments can now be seen on TV ads for Ford. Milbrodt has been likened to the late great Frank Zappa.

But where Milbrodt plays car, Zappa played bike.

Zappa was way ahead of his time. His first TV appearance – sans his famous facial hair – was in 1963 on the iconic US chatshow The Steve Allen Show. Zappa was given 20 minutes of primetime to play two bicycles, much to the amusement of Allen and the studio audience.

ZAPPA: I believe that a lot of people have actually played bicycles from time to time. When they’re young they take a piece of cardboard and a clothes pin, attach it to the rear wheel and when it goes around it makes that noise and you’re playing a bicycle.

ALLEN: How long have you been playing bike, Frank?

ZAPPA: About two weeks.

ZAPPA: It’s similar to the effect of the uh, cardboard and the clothespin.

ALLEN: Like the uh, steel drums of Jamaica and uh, Trinidad . . .

ZAPPA: And you can also bang on the frame, and if you’re lucky enough to have a bicycle that has a squeaking seat, you can squeak the seat.

Is the UCI about to lift bike weight imposition?

In 2004-5, the ISO and DIN standards for most bicycles sold in the EU was replaced by a new, all-encompassing CEN standard.

The CEN standards – decided by tech experts throughout Europe, who had to sit through hundreds of committee hours of pure tedium* – divided bikes into four categories: “bicycles for common use”, “mountain bicycles”, “racing bicycles” and “bicycles for young children”.

The CEN standard for racing bikes is EN 14781. It’s yours for seventy seven quid on the British Standards website, and has been there for some time.

But the gnomes at the UCI have now spotted the industry regs for consumer bikes and so have sent out a communique warning “all cycle users” of the “New manufacturing norm for bikes in Europe.”

New? Odd.

Is the UCI playing mind-games? Could it be about to drop its daft weight restriction for pro race bikes, the infamous 6.8kg (14.96lb)?

Why daft? Because bike technology (tested and tested again) means that bikes can be made much lighter than this, with no loss of strength. Bike companies have long lobbied the UCI to drop its stance on bike weight, in force since 2000 but enshrined in the UCI’s Lugano Charter of 1996..

The latest communique from the blazers could be the beginning of the end for the 6.7kg benchmark, and the end for Scott and Cannondale’s leg pulls (although I notice that Cannondale has allowed to lapse)

The UCI wishes to recall that the real meaning of cycle sport is to bring riders together to compete on an equal footing and thereby decide which of them is physically the best.

The features which have contributed to the world-wide development and spread of the bicycle are its extraordinary simplicity, cost-effectiveness and ease of use. From a sociological point of view, as a utilitarian and recreational means of transport, the bicycle has given its users a sense of freedom and helped create a movement which has led to the considerable renown and popular success which cycle sport enjoys. The bicycle serves to express the effort of the cyclist, but there is more to it than that. The bicycle is also a historical phenomenon, and it is
this history which underpins the whole culture behind the technical object.

If we forget that the technology used is subordinate to the project itself, and not the reverse, we cross the line beyond which technology takes hold of the system and seeks to impose its own logic. That is the situation facing us today. New prototypes can be developed because they do not have to take into account constraints such as safety, a comfortable riding position, accessibility of the controls, manoeuvrability of the machine, etc. The bicycle is losing its “user-friendliness” and distancing itself from a reality which can be grasped and understood.

The many effects of this rush to extremes risk damaging the sport of cycling. These include spiralling costs, unequal access to technology, radical innovations prepared in secret, a fait accompli policy, damage to the image of cycle sport and the credibility of performances and the advent of a technocratic form of cycling where power is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful players, to the detriment of the universality of the sport on which its future and continued development depend.

* I know this because, as editor of the trade mag, I’ve sat-n-snored through some of the tech lectures.

All future vids will be on Vimeo and Apple TV

I love YouTube. It was the first kid on the block and gets huge numbers of visitors. The videos on YouTube have had 464,993 views between them. A Tour de France movie vid has had 71,233 views. YouTube is great for quick vids but is not so hot on delivering hi-res footage.

To date I have also been loading some vids to the podcast on Libsyn and iTunes. These were OK for iPod viewing but, after watching HD podcasts on the latest incarnation of the Apple TV, I’m going to deliver the vids in Apple TV’s m4v format.

Despite the name, the Apple TV podcast-to-movies-to-Flikr set-top box thingy is syncable to a PC as well as a Mac. In fact, with the latest software, it doesn’t even need a computer of any sort, just an HD TV.

If you’ve not got an Apple TV, the next best thing is to watch videos loaded to I’ve just created an account and will load all future vids to Vimeo as well as Apple TV. I’ll continue to place lo-res vids on YouTube.

Here’s the first Vimeo vid:

How to get kids to fix bicycles from on Vimeo.

It features a load of kiddie bike racing at the beginning and then leads into a bike mechanics training session for the Newcastle Phoenix kids.

I was really surprised at how enthusiastic they were to fix their own bikes. Some of the older kids had never mended their own punctures, always letting mum or dad get on with it.

I hope the Weldtech session by mechanic Jeff Beach gets them to do their own bike fettling. After all, if the older kids want to go out for long rides by themselves, they’ll need to know some bike tech basics.

Vegan race team signs with bamboo bike maker

OrganicAthlete of the US has signed a bike deal with Calfee Design, manufacturer of the Calfee Bamboo Bike.

“The result is a team whose message of personal health and social change now manifests in the form of a green, renewable bicycle,” said a statement from OrganicAthlete.

OrganicAthlete is a nonprofit membership organisation which promotes elite level sport powered by whole, plant foods rather than animal products. An elite cycling team was formed last year and now has five team members on bamboo bikes.

Bradley Saul, founder of OrganicAthlete and a category 1 racer, said: “I’ve been riding a bamboo bike for over a year now. I can honestly say it’s the best riding bike I’ve ever had.”

With finely mitered bamboo tubing, Calfee Design binds the frame together with a hemp-fibre wrap.

“Bamboo is the darling of the sustainability movement – it is strong and renewable and beautiful. Also, since bicycle rely on people power, not petrol-power, the combination of green materials and green transport is irresistible. Add in the further multiplier of plant-based athletes and you have three layers of goodness for the planet rolling down the street,” said Saul.

Cycling is fashionable: should we be worried?

In the 1980s, cycle clobber had its fifteen minutes of fame. Lycra skin shorts – sans padded inserts – were considered cool. The BBC’s I Love…1987 programme said: “Some regarded cycling shorts as a huge turn-on, as they revealed even more than the hotpants of the Seventies. But that was until even the hugest, most cellulite-riddled backside was squeezed into neon-coloured skin tight Lycra.”

Being fashionable is good for selling hot cakes but stock goes stale quickly because fickle fashionistas need to be surfing the next wave not waddling around in past-its-sell-by-date Spandex.

Hardcore cyclists are in it for the long term and don’t particularly want cycling to become fashionable again. Cycle fashion shows such as last year’s Pret a Rouleur and tomorrow’s Heels and Wheels show in Hackney would be anathema to them.

Fashion designers seem to be disproportionately attracted to cycling.

Jeff Banks and Sir Paul Smith are avid roadies. Smith’s company has sponsored cycle teams.

Vivienne Westwood co-created Punk and she cuts a dash on her daily cycle commute in south London. Because of her extravagant dress sense she’s pretty much unmissable but the giveaway is the wire-haired fox terrier in the basket.

Wayne Hemingway, the co-founder of 1980s label Red or Dead, famous for its recycled denims, is so pro-cycling his new company even markets a bike shed and a folding bike. The Shack-up bike shed can hold four bikes. Want a Hemingway bike to put in the shed? Cough up a deposit on a flat in a social housing scheme, the Road Runner folding bike is only available in quantities of 250 and is targeted at housing developers. At fifty eight quid a pop the Road Runner is light on innovation, but it’s all part and parcel of Hemingway’s desire to get more people on bikes.

He helped to design a new housing development in Gateshead, the pro-bike Staiths South Bank. It’s Britain’s biggest HomeZone and has a bike pool facility for residents.

Another fashion designer with his head screwed on right is Giles Deacon, the British Fashion Designer of the Year for 2007. He has expensive tastes (favourite hotels: Hôtel Costes in Paris, the Principe di Savoia in Milan and the Chateau Marmont in LA) but he’s still a down-to-earth Cumbrian lad who knows bikes are best. On Sunday he told The Observer:

“I adore London and, if I have time off, I’ll just explore the city – visiting exhibitions. I like cycling everywhere. I have done so since I moved here 20 years ago.”

One of the most influential fashionistas of the moment is GQ columnist Scott Schuman. His massively popular and worryingly addictive blog – The Sartorialist – is dripping with good taste. It features smartly dressed folks from cities around the world, all photographed by Schuman.

Click on the ‘bicycle’ tag and you fall into a world of beautiful people on bikes, from “All Cute Girls in Europe Ride Bikes Everywhere, Wearing Cute Clothes, All Day!” to The Very Personification Of A Sexy Summer.

Oh, and there are some pix of men, too.

I think Schuman’s personalised approach to what’s truly fashionable is eye-opening. And his liking for bicycles is welcome.

As a bunch – and I know you’ll say ‘speak for yourself, mate’ – cyclists are not always the best looking clan out on the streets. Fluoro yellow isn’t terribly becoming and polystyrene prophylactics give you helmet hair.

The Sartorialist shows it’s possible to ride a bike and look classy doing it.

Like me. Er, never.

Will boffins pick bike infrastructure?

On Friday, the US National Academy of Engineering will post a list of “grand engineering challenges” for the 21st century on

“A year ago we asked a group of leading technological thinkers what are the Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century. What engineering breakthroughs would improve life on Earth? Now they have answers. The future starts here on February 15. Cast your vote after 2pm EST.”

While many engineers may want to create the longest bridge, the biggest airport or the most technologically advanced skyscraper, others may want to dirty their hands on projects that are more planet-friendly. So, it will be interesting to see what the boffin committee comes up with. Will the consensus be that cities should be designed for people, not cars?

Right now is just an annoying, information-deficient teaser site. It doesn’t even have an RSS feed. Here’s hoping there’s something to cheer about on Friday.

A lot of bicycle infrastructure designs tend to get bikes out of the way of cars, which is an idea that appeals to motorists but which worries many cyclists, fearing ghettoisation.

Auto designer Jamie Tomkins – son of Mr Crud, Pete Tomkins – is big into bikes and has been riding BMX, trials and DH since he was little more than a toddler. In 2007, when he was still at the Royal College of Art, he designed ‘cycling tubes’, a modern take on the bikes-in-the-sky idea that’s as old as motoring. His tubes would be semi-transparent, free of cars and pedestrians, and would be wide enough for pedicabs.

In 2006, Jamie was part of an RCA design team that won a GE-sponsored competition to find vehicle designs for the emerging Chinese market. While fellow designers went for funky cars, Jamie produced a plastic hybrid bicycle. But the competition press release demonstrated how some engineers and designers believe bicycles are at the bottom of the heap:

“After a trip to China, the team of Filip Krnja, Ehsan Maghaddampour and Jamie Tomkins developed vehicles for residents of an imaginary tower block – the Beijing Boom Tower. These ranged from a luxury concept car for the penthouse residents, a taxi design for the middle level residents with concertina doors for the crowded Chinese streets, and a new hybrid bike with interchangeable parts for the working class at the entry level.”

Jamie doesn’t think that way, he’s a bikie at heart and he may be able to sneak in a lot of bike friendly ideas in his career in the car industry. I bumped into him at last year’s Bicycle Design Summer School, organised by RCA and Imperial College. He was leaving for a job with Volkswagen.

Talking of German car brands, watch this ‘let’s make NYC auto-free’ video spoof (or Mercedes Benz advert) that has annoyed cycle advocates in New York City:

You’ve got to love the line ‘If supermodels can’t solve the world’s problems, then I don’t know who can,” but DKNY’s ‘orange bike’ campaign for Fashion Week annoyed cycle advocates because it seemed to mirror the placement of white Ghostbikes across the city.

“DKNY is working with the mayor’s office to raise awareness of cycling as a healthy and environmentally sound means of transportation around NYC. During Fashion Week (which runs the first week of February), DKNY has placed dozens of bright orange bicycles around the city to get people thinking and talking about bicycles as a healthy and fashionable way to get around the city.”

NYC’s Fashion Week was sponsored by Mercedes Benz.