Which bike should I choose?

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 144.


Alan Ackroyd

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I can’t remember when I bought my huge Dutch panniers. For a few years I adapted the rack on my town bike of the time to take them but some considerable care was needed, because if I loaded them fully the bike would do a riderless wheelie when unlocked from a rack. I found this disconcerting, so the hunt was on for a rack and bike combination to enable the weekly supermarket shop to be done in one hit with the panniers.

For several years life got in the way of cycling and I found myself doing all my journeys in a Transit van, which handled the shopping with ease but was no fun. On selling my business I was able to return to real life and noticed the Elephant bike being advertised. I had lusted after the last generation of posties’ bikes and tried to buy one as they were withdrawn from service, but was blanked at every turn. Elephant bikes are the specially-designed Pashley posties’ bikes reconditioned for a new lease of life by a charity doing development work in Malawi and working out of a base in Stoke-on-Trent. Their Stoke workshop is operated as an employment training scheme and every bike they sell in the UK finances the provision of a similar bike in Malawi. They bought 4,500 bikes from Royal Mail and have lots left to work on!

I got my Elephant in late January. After years off a bike the sense of freedom was like being able to fly! I can go just where I want and don’t have to worry about traffic jams or parking. The whole of Cambridge is within easy reach. I can be sitting on a train 12 minutes after leaving the front door. Visiting a bookshop is no longer a pre-planned expedition. The daily swim is just 14 minutes away. I’m ordering less on e-Bay now I can get to the shops. And journey times taken are pretty much guaranteed – traffic queues are no problem! Every journey is a direct flight by ‘Elephant Airways’!

I strongly deny having bought the bike to fit the panniers, but fit they do! The extended rear rack would take four posties’ pannier bags and mine fit just fine. The bike seems to handle better when it is loaded, with the frame designed to work with the extended rear rack as well as the substantial front carrier. It’s a very competitively priced cargo bike.

But the main thing is the freedom. I can go where I like, when I like. I’m happy riding on the road in all sorts of traffic but the growing network of dedicated pathways brings added pleasures. The Cam towpath, Anglesey Abbey, Midsummer Common and Jesus Green, the Busways, and all those paths out to Reach give me time to enjoy the moment rather than thinking about approaching vehicles – and breathing their exhaust fumes. These days I’m looking for excuses to get my bike out! And after an extended brush with the NHS last year I can feel myself getting fitter with all this exercise!

Where does the ‘Elephant’ bit come from? It’s not just the weight of the bike! Apparently when they first started sending the refurbished post bikes to Africa in Post Office Red the elephants chased them. Now the default colour is dark green and the elephants are happy. So am I!


Natacha Wilson

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Bicycles are about life choices. They say so much about our personalities and preferences.

I have had a Pointer for the last 8 years and have just acquired a second-hand Vogue. I hope my story helps a few of you make a decision about your new steed!

My Pointer served me well and I have enjoyed riding it. The only limitation was its gear box, with only 3 gears which makes a difference on a heavy bike. It became hard on my knees and especially getting over bridges and up inclines (I know that Cambridge is flat but not that flat!). I also started noticing that more and more people were overtaking me which in a sense became embarrassing! I need to share an additional detail at this stage – I had acquired a large wicker basket and had secured it over my front wheel which with hindsight added considerable weight when fully loaded and was an influencing factor in the lack of manoeuvrability and speed of my Pointer.

Choosing a bike can be a challenging decision and one not to be taken lightly if you live in Cambridge. As I do not own a car, my choice has more impact on my life and day to day commutes. Cycling, to me, is a means of transport which gives me the added bonus of keeping myself fit whilst reducing my carbon footprint. It also gives me a sense of freedom which I value tremendously as I can avoid busy traffic and roads by using cycle ways.

I knew that I wanted to keep the comfortable, upright position of a Dutch bike as well as being able to adjust my speed in a more efficient manner. The main questions were: should I get a brand new bike or second hand? Should I get an electric bike?

Why a second hand Vogue?

It was serendipity! I happened to mention my desire to purchase an 8-speed Dutch bike and by magic, during one of my training courses, a participant mentioned that someone he knew was selling their Vogue! It was a perfect match and incredible timing. I was not set on buying second hand but I felt that the specs were matching my requirements and it was an opportunity not to be missed!

The bike/e-bike conundrum!

The electric bike phenomenon has taken off to such an extent that they are now common sight around Cambridge and London. The pressure was on as this seems to be a trend to follow. I could see the benefits of an easier journey but somehow it feels to me that we are changing the overall experience of cycling. Although I am keen to adapt my speed to different “city terrains”, I actually like to feel that I am exercising and in control of my speed without the impetus to go faster by relying on another electric device. I may change my mind of course, but for now my traditional pedal powered Vogue is the right choice for me.

With September approaching, I am looking at enhancing my newly acquired Dutch bike with panniers and accessories which will make the bike easier to use and more versatile. I am especially looking at acquiring a dog trailer for my beautiful Saluki, to access parks further afield. This will be testing my legs, overall fitness and my decision to opt for a “fully human powered” bike!

Beer by Bike

Calverley’s Brewery

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Sam Calverley (left in photo) and Matt Green established the popular Petersfield brewery in 2013. They own three cargo-cycles: a two-wheel Bakfiets, a large three-wheeler with a custom box and an older Christiania trike.

According to Sam, ‘it’s such a quick delivery method, we can be there within half an hour of getting the order’. They typically make 3-4 deliveries per day, to places such as the Royal Standard, the Blue Moon and the Botanic Gardens.

The larger trike can handle five 30-litre kegs or over 240 bottles before the lack of electric-assistance takes its toll.

A big problem is poorly-designed infrastructure: trikes are less manoeuvrable and have difficulty with tightly-spaced bollards or adverse slopes that might tilt them over, such as the dropped kerb at the beginning of the Madingley Road path at Queen’s Road. The two-wheeler carries less but fits somewhat better into narrower or clunkier cycle routes.

The benefits of bike delivery are big: ‘it really works well for a small business, there are great cost savings as a result of not spending on petrol or wasting time in traffic’.

Matt says that people get excited when he shows up in the Botanic Gardens to make a delivery. Sometimes they ask ‘do you have ice cream in the box?’ and he responds ‘no, even better, beer!’.