Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bikes: The Takeaway Test

I have a secret to tell you: I'm quite a lazy person. The fact that this is the first blogpost I've written on here is probably a bit of a giveaway but it probably ought to be stated outright occasionally, to acknowledge one's own failings.

Advocating for cycling in Scotland (or indeed anywhere on these islands) often comes with a bit of doctrinal baggage - people make certain assumptions about your beliefs, preferences or lifestyle that they wouldn't necessarily otherwise make. I'm not a vegan*; I sometimes drive a car; I take long-haul flights biennally; I rarely contribute to charity; I pretty much loathe maintenance, particularly of the bicycle variety; I admit to a fondness for nice clothes and am not prescriptive enough about where they are sourced from or who might have made them. Moreover, I have a weakness for takeaways and beer, which has to be indulged at least once a week.

I recently bought a new bike - indeed, the first bike I have ever bought myself with the fruits of my own labour. Prior to that, bikes that came into my possession were either gifts or hand-me-downs from my Dad. Prior to taking the plunge and given that I was going to be spending what amounted to a fair wodge on it as well as being my primary mode of transport to work, I tried to approach it in a rational, sensible manner, as opposed to pointing at the one with the shiniest wheels or the raddest paintjob.

Therefore I needed to create a set of criteria for what I wanted and tried to find a bike that would tick as many of the boxes: I knew it had to be utilitarian, ergonomic, and relativel hassle-free. But what do these terms really mean in practical terms?

So here's a simple gambit I came up with: could my bike replace my weekly takeaway run?

To elaborate a little, in order to be of truly practical use, the bike needed to be able to get me to the takeaway shop and allow me to park outside, collect my dinner and a six-pack of beer then head home, all a similar level of fuss and prior preparation that I currently made with a car.

With that in mind, here's the bike I eventually went for:

This was when I first got it - I've angled the handlebars downwards since then

A Workcycles FR8 Dutch cargo bike - hub gears, rear coaster brake, front roller brake, fully enclosed chainset, double kickstand, internal rear lock, front and back dynamo-poowered lights, oversized front and rear racks and a crate.

And here it is laden with...

Beer, jam, scones and clotted cream

["a well known purveyor of fried chicken"] bucket and ...erm... a ten-pack of toilet rolls

I can also confirm that I've completed the full Takeaway Test as well. As expected, the bike passed with flying colours:
  • virtually zero prep required prior to leaving - I just pull it out of the close cupboard and off we go
  • I can wear the same clobber as I'd wear if jumping into the car - the enclosed chain means I don't even need to tuck my trousers into my socks
  • the bike is comfortable to ride, with its fat wheels, expansive mudguards and upright sitting position
  • Having a coaster brakes frees up one hand, meaning I can carry an umbrella if it's raining (or at least, hold my hood up)
  • I am okay leaving it parked out in front of the shop, due to the internal rear wheel lock - no having to hunt about for somewhere to chain it
  • I also don't need to worry about taking stuff off - the lights are fixed on and the crate is cable-tied
  • the crate is more than sufficient for carrying both the beer and the dinner home (I've yet to try a 14" pizza on the rear rack)
  • having the  kickstand means that the bike can be free-standing whilst fully laden - handy for getting back inside when arriving home
  • Maintenance is low - I don't need to use a water expellant after every journey in the rain, because most of the important parts are enclosed
Whilst my "Takeaway Test" might seem a bit frivolous to you - I think there's a valid point to be made here. As I said at the top of this article, I am naturally lazy. The weekly trip to the takeaway was one of a few short car journeys I used to make, mainly because it was inconvenient to do so by bike. With the new bike I have managed to eliminate that journey, amongst other ones (e.g. the supermarket run, the visit to friends or to the pub). Unfortunately, as I've documented in this forum thread it wasn't a particularly straight-forward way to get a bike that would pass the test - I think it pretty unlikely most people could be bothered to follow through with the same sorts of effort.

If advocates and campaigners are serious about making cycling a mainstream activity, we need to appreciate that it must fit around people's lifestyles; whether or not you approve of those particular choices is neither here nor there. That goes from there being convenient, safe, direct routes to the places people want to go, right through to the kinds of bikes people buy and what they come equipped with. If we get to a point where people can do their own "takeaway tests" without much effort, we'll finally be making some progress.

(*) although I recognise that future generations - if our civilisation lasts that long - will likely look on our society's consumption habits and animal welfare record in much the same way we currently regard our own forebears' prediliction for human sacrifice and slavery.