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Schwalbe Kojak Perfomance Wired MTB Bike Bicycle Tyre RaceGuard Black 26 x 1.35

I’ve used street tyres on my mountain bicycle for many years and found the smaller, more responsive and better rolling tyre to be a good combination with the rest of the bike set-up. It’s not just a better performing tyre – it actually feels better. Originally the slick tyres were fairly large diameter, but I was soon on 25mm rubber and this has been where my commuting set-up has stayed for a while. If you’re getting around town on a bike with suspension – give narrow street tyres a go for commuting.

Almost always the first question I ask when someone comes to me with a bicycle problem is about tyres, because in my opinion if the tyres aren’t right – then the feel of the bicycle won’t be right. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, tyres can make the biggest difference to the ride quality of your bicycle. The only thing that is cheaper – is tyre pressure.

So the Schwalbe Kojak 26 x 1.35 is actually a step up in fatness for me. I went with the Kojak for a few reasons that boiled down to the recommendations of Jan Heine from Bicycle Quarterly about medium sized tyres with pliable side walls performing as well as hard, narrow road tyres, and from my perspective they were aesthetically pleasing, had reflective qualities, claimed to be puncture resistant and fairly light at 295g. When I bought them they were actually for another bicycle I have in the shed, however I learned a thing or two about wheel size when they arrived – and now they’re on my mountain bicycle.

The ride from them is good, but they aren’t as light and responsive as I had imagined they might be.  I had high expectations and so after having had them for a while and letting my preconceived ideas fade, I’m pretty happy with them. Having a larger tyre allow some wiggle room with regard to tyre pressure. I’m using the recommended pressure as my bicycle has front suspension, but if I was on a rigid bicycle, I’d probably ease off a little to use the pliability of the side walls. It’ll take months of riding for me to be totally convinced but my early impressions are that the tyre rolls well and is comfortable which is what I was looking for, the big question is durability which you generally pay for in extra tyre weight. More tyre casing material means more weight and the more weight in your tyre the more watts of energy you need to accelerate, and the more friction required to decelerate. The Kojak is a light tyre if it is as durable as described, only time will tel how well this is achieved in the Kojak.

I have spent some time now going over the geometry of the tourer/commuter bicycle that I’d like to have built and think I have come to understand some more of the balance of bicycle dimensions.

Bottom Bracket placement

Bottom bracket drop is the measurement of the distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the plane or line between the font and rear axles.  This measurement is not to be confused with bottom bracket height which is the height of the centre of the bottom bracket above the ground. Bottom bracket height changes significantly with tyre size and so is prone to variability depending on variables associated tyre choice. Bottom Bracket drop is most often used to describe bottom bracket placement as it relates more closely to the actually geometry of the frame. Having said that, the measurements are relative to each other and when added, should equal the height of the axle above the ground.

High bottom brackets with a 6 -7 cm drop are generally considered in situations where high clearance and pedaling around corners is required. Think velodromes, cross country racing and down hill racing and/or generally acting like a hooligan. Wheel size also plays a part in these very different disciplines, as this will raise or lower the bottom bracket relative to the ground. At the other end of the spectrum we have bottom brackets that go as low as 8 cms in drop or sometimes lower. These are road race and touring bicycles. Lowering the bottom bracket lowers the centre of gravity because in doing so you lower the height of the the top tube given that the optimal distance between pedal and hip is maintained. A low centre of gravity is great for fast descents and general touring stability. So bottom bracket height is a significant design feature functionally, but is also a factor in the aesthetics of your bicycle.

Lowering your bottom bracket also slightly increases the length of your chain stay and down tube, which are apparently the most stressed tubes in the bicycle frame. So bottom bracket height should also be considered with your choice of frame materials and need for frame stiffness. Longer spans means that a more elastic material like steel with provide a more pliant ride, whereas an un-lugged aluminum frame may not like the extra stress. higher bottom brackets, shorter chain stays and down tubes all add to stiffness, where as longer chain stays and down tubes, with the right materials may provide more comfort, and soak up more vibration.

All this got me thinking again about those sport picnic, randonneurs and french bicycles. If for example you quickened up the steering by reducing the trail, but didn’t lower the bottom bracket height, you might end up with a shimmy prone, and slightly twitchy ride. If however you wanted to keep the advantages of a low trail, and avoid some of the potential negative side affects, perhaps lowering the bottom bracket is part of the answer.

Crank Length

Crank length is a consideration for efficiency of pedal stroke and ground clearance. With regard to ground clearance, as you lower the bottom bracket, and effectively increase your likelihood of pedal strike on the ground, some may opt for shorter cranks. But the more important factor here is efficiency. Now I wouldn’t believe a word I said about the details of pedal stroke efficiency as I know nothing about it and there are some fairly serious bio-mechanics involved. But to summarise what I have gleaned, there are optimum limits for your leg and knees to operate in, and if you ride a lot it is worth having a suitable crank size to limit the possibility of knee injury and make the most of your effort. For more information, here is a calculator, and here is what Sheldon Brown has to say.

Software

The established standards are 7cm bottom bracket drop and 170mm cranks. But what would you design? BikeCAD is here to help, select quick start to start quickly. I found this application pretty intuitive and within a short time had the dimensions of my bicycle in front of me. In my extremely limited experience of having custom built bicycles (zero – but talking with Mercian) I have found that it is a useful tool in designing and communicating what you want and what is possible. It’s also fun.

Child carriers are not all the same, and it’s worth considering a few of the styles before parting with your hard earned coin.  Getting one that really suits the kind of riding you’re likely to do with your little passenger will add a great deal to the utility and shared enjoyment of your cycling; Getting the wrong one will only add to the pile of good intentions in your shed.

Loosely speaking, from the bicycle riders perspective, they fall into two distinct categories. Trailors, which are hitched to the bicycle in some way; and seats which are fixed to the frame either stern or aft of the rider.

The first port of call, is the seat variety. This is the first type that will spring to mind as they are popular due to their availability and modest price. The concept behind their design is pretty straight forward. They are essentially an extra bucket seat for your little passenger to sit with you on the bike, usually behind the rider, sometimes in front on the top tube. The main advantage of this style of carrier is that the child is easy to get in and out of the seat. They are pretty good for short trips with riders that are confident, and can deal with the extra weight up high on the frame of the bike. As you might expect, the extra weight high on the frame does make a difference to the handling of the bike. The effect on the bike is minor when you’re up to speed and coasting, but becomes increasingly evident at slow speeds. I’d say this effect is greatest on the most common style mounted on a bike rack behind the rider – the weight of the passenger can end up cantilevered behind the back wheel and it generally feels more tipsy. The type of seat that I have most recent experience is the one situated on the top tube of the bike in front of the rider, and is from Wee Ride. It is prone to the same lateral physics as the rack mounted rear seat – but feels more centered and stable. Yes you need to spread your knees, and yes you either have a dedicated bike, or remove the seat after use, but the riding position for our little passenger is perfect. On the model we have, there is a ‘desk’ – not unlike of the bridge of the starship enterprise – for your little passenger to place their hands, and if its been a big day, your little passenger can lean forward and sleep with their head supported.

This is the bridge of the good ship “Coffee” by Schwinn, aka the ‘wee ride’ bike seat.

This is the basic layout of the seat and “control desk”

This is the mounting bracket minus seat. The seat can be removed or re-attached without tools in 10 seconds.

The second port of call is the trailor, and these fall loosely fall into two categories. The variety that hitch to the seat post or rear stay and the variety that mount near or at the the rear axle. Trailors are generally more expensive, bigger, heavier, make your bicycle footprint wider and longer, need to be stored somewhere, and it can be a little more difficult to get your little passenger loaded. But for their disadvantages they can be very useful. If you buy one that hitches up high on the frame, it will have similar effect on your handling to that of the high mounted seat. Trailors that hitch at or near the axle handle much better. You can still feel the weight – but unhindered by it’s destabilising effect  – you can ride the bike with gay abandon – or however you normally ride.

This is a low mounted hitching point for the Croozer 737 trailor. This hitching bracket stays on the bike. We have two bikes fitted with the bracket.

I have some cycle touring experience pulling loads with trailors and I like them. Like their cousins, child carrier trailors also excel at handling weight. Some trailors can accommodate two passengers, and most have useful storage capacity. If you’re going to pull any amount of weight, be sure to get one of those trailors that are hitched low to take advantage of the improved handling. Again, if you’re unlikely to load up your trailor with gear and/or children – this may not actually serve much of a purpose. Trailors come into their own on longer voyages – It would be interesting to take one on a multi-day ride – I don’t think you could do family cycle-touring a better way.

bucket(ish) seat with 5 point harness looks pretty comfortable

the trailor pictured is a single seater and has a fair bit of storage space behind the main cabin

The position of the passenger in a trailor is pretty low, so the view from the trailor isn’t as expansive as from a high mounted seat, and some may consider the trailor to be more dangerous as it is closer to the ground. As stated, trailors are pretty large. Motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians can see you pulling it from all angles – this is a matter of personal preference – but if it were a lump of concrete the same size – no one would be falling over it. In this respect, again, not all trailors are created equal. Some have protective bars running around their cabin and wheels – some don’t.

The croozer 737 is a more expensive option, but has many useful and safety enhancing features.

There are a variety of trailors out there and one interesting option is that some come with an attachable jockey wheel that turns them into a pram. A great option – but not perfect for tight spaces like supermarkets – better for boardwalks and footpaths. The croozer also comes with a larger wheel for the front so you can use the pram as a jogger – I don’t condone jogging under any circumstances and hope that one day it will be banned during daylight hours – it is painful for everyone.

This wheel, previously pictured in the storage compartment fits to the trailor frame quickly and easily

Trailors can also be made largely weatherproof and some have UV filtering plastic windows – a really important feature for Australian conditions. Trailors are vastly more sleep friendly so if long trips or outings are on the cards – the extra hassle may be worth you while.

With trailers there’s a certain investment in storage space, hitching and unhitching, width and weight – but if you’re seriously thinking about replacing car trips with little passengers they can go the extra mile and carry that extra kilo.

The wheels on the Croozer 737 come off with a push of a button – useful for storage of the trailor.

If I had to choose one – It would come down to personal preference. I’d probably take the top tube mounted seat because I’m more likely to take trips to the park or beach as a short morning or afternoon trip with my little passenger, but if I was a stay-at-home dad, the trailor would be invaluable for day trips, picnics, shopping and whatever else.

Extra information about the seat and trailor pictured are here: Wee Ride and here: Croozer 737

People cycle for different reasons and many people cycle. The number of cyclists, at least in Australia seems to be slowly, but visibly growing. It follows then that there must be lots of reasons to cycle. So, what are the pivotal reasons? What are the things that could transform a potential cyclist, into an avid one?

The main barrier to cycling, I believe, is the perceived risk to life and limb. Whether it be a real risk from poorly designed bicycle lanes, unaware or belligerent car drivers, or simply the unqualified perception that it is dangerous. There are so many real and imagined barriers to getting on the path to cycling that there must be some strong reasons and a high value outcome to balance out the potential risks. Good experiences of cycling for many seasoned cyclists probably creates a strong “it won’t happen to me” factor with years of experience under their belt. But if you were new to the concept and needed a little nudge in the right direction – What would it be? Why cycle?

As an adult, I started because I thought it was appropriate (not alternative) transport. It felt like a political decision and, at the time, I set about recycling bicycles and selling them cheaply to work toward a ‘critical mass’ of cyclists in my area – the project was called 101 bikes for Newcastle. Back then I felt that riding a bicycle was a statement about being independent, environmentally friendly and smart about transport. In most respects I still do.

Just to be clear about how hypocritical I have been in the past 20 years I will list the cars I have owned.

1965 Mercedes 230 (6cyl)
1970 Jensen Interceptor mk2
Triumph Spitfire (mk1)
1974 Citroen D Special
Daimler 250 V8
Volvo 1800s
Triumph GT6
Jaguar Mk2

I am bragging of course. I like cars, but know they are problematic when it comes to everyday use. Anyway – I am digressing. What got me out of these stylish cars and back on my bike? Cycling is fun and the little bit of practical fitness it provides keeps my body from seizing up and keeps me from the mental doldrums. Cycling seems to be the cure for what ails me. I’m sure I am not alone with these thoughts and motivations.

If there was a single activity that galvanised me as a Cyclist, once i’d started, it would be cycle touring. There a few things better than cycle touring – and all are too obscene to mention here – anyway, don’t just take it from me – get out and try it – It is absolutely awesome!

So how to get started? Is it an event like “Bike Hour” or is it a “commuter buddy scheme” where you mentor a cyclist along the safe routes in and around your neighbourhood? Is it worth getting involved with your local cycling lobby group and pushing for better infrastructure? This could take forever and won’t gain much traction unless there are already many bottoms on bike sets. I think I’ve done all these at various times and now I am coming back to the potency of the simple evangelical act of cycling. To be fair, it’s probably all these things – but the one thing that you can do everyday – the one thing that might make a difference – is getting out there and proving it can be done!

In short, as I am writing this down, I have come to the conclusion that you and I should ride for two, or even three. Ride to work in a suit, then ride home to change into something more casual and ride in again – It may just be the best way forward (and back again).

The Bianchi Pista is a compromised track racer, a feisty, but broken thoroughbred. Tamed for fixie fascination and single speed simplicity it’s now road ready.

Bianchi Pista Specification:

FRAME: Bianchi Cr-Mo (steel) butted
FORK: Bianchi Cr-Mo, 1″
HEADSET: VP-A34C, 1″
CRANKSET: FSA Tempo, 48T
CHAIN: KMC Z50
CASSETTE: Shimano SS-7600 fixed, 16T
BRAKES: Reparto Corse, front & rear
WHEELS: Maddux Track F15
TYRES: Hutchinson Nitro 700 x 23
STEM: Bianchi alloy
HANDLEBAR: Premetec 4002R Steel, Chrome
BAR TAPE / GRIPS: Velo VLT-004
SEATPOST: Bianchi alloy
SADDLE: Charge Bucket
PEDALS: Wellgo

Before getting on the bike you notice it’s good looks. The one I rode (pictured) was the standard chrome pista. The chrome finish isn’t really for me, but having said that, it suits the bike’s Italian origins. While being showy, Bianchi have the racing pedigree to back up all that flash. I think the light green Pista Via Condotti is probably the prettiest of the variations on this theme.

Reclining Bicycle

Lifting the bike you notice that this is a traditional double butted steel frame. It’s not the lightest bike of its type but the supple feel of the bike more than makes up for the weight once you are on the bike. The feel through the handlebars is agile and intuitive, without being quick. The responsiveness is a product of its short wheel base, track geometry and engineered tubing profiles throughout. It’s not a bike you need to man-handle – you can really place it neatly and it responds well to changes in weight distribution. everything you’d expect from the bikes’ DNA. It’s not a fast handling or twitchy bike, it tracks well in a straight line and also responds to steering input – a nice balance.

Bicycle Photo

3/4 view

I found the 48 by 16 chain wheel and sprocket set-up to be pretty good once I’d been upwind and down wind on the bike, hills were a challenge, but this is a single speed and so no surprises there.

One of the compromises for the purists is that the bike has front and back brakes as original equipment. I found these to be good with plenty of feel without being amazing. Given the price tag perhaps you could expect more from them.

I am not a regular drop bar rider but found these to be pretty good on the bike. This is probably as much due to having the bike set-up well as it is a great design of drop bar. My guess is that track drop bars are all mostly similar. The bars suit the traditional style of the bike and I got comfortable with them quickly – probably enough said.

The pedals are a real disappointment and I think they are one of the only negatives of the bike. They are c-grade pedals on an a-grade bike.

Bicycle Photo

Stock Hindquarters

Overall, the package feels right with a nice mix of agility and a solid, supple feel on the road. If you want something that will probably hold its value, and potentially provide many miles of smiles, then this is worth the price tag. To some degree you are paying for the pedigree and cache of the bianchi name, but, the bike feels great to ride, and that’s what it is all about.