Vulcan XH558 on farewell tour

If you haven’t seen the last flying Vulcan XH558 yet, you’ve got until the 6th September to sort yourself out. The Vulcan to the Sky trust have decided that there are so many hours on the airframe that it wouldn’t be safe to carry on into next year, so she’ll be retired to a ground display after this season.

Vulcan 2

I could wax lyrical about the “tin triangle” for far longer than you would ever want to read, but I’m also listening to that rarest of events: England Doing Well At The Cricket. Therefore, I’ll just give you a few photos I took when we saw her fly overhead Woodford aerodrome two weekends ago.

Vulcan 3

The display calendar is here. Treat yourself.

You won’t get a second chance.

Vulcan 4

Garmin announce GPS stuff, lights, and radar

I do like a good gadget, and was therefore delighted when Garmin announced a slew of them over the last few days.

Your best bet for more information is the DC Rainmaker blog, as Ray has already had a play with all of the goodies.

Here’s what’s coming in September 2015.

A new mid-range GPS, the Edge 520

Edge 520 images

This looks like a big update to the 500 and 510 (ie the middle-of-the-road GPSes that do everything you could want except for navigation). This has a bunch of extra features (again, go see DC Rainmakers review), but the most intriguing of which is the addition of Strava segments.

As you approach the segment you get a distance count down and then a virtual partner showing you the current fastest time on Strava. My Edge 810 has always been able to do this with segments from Garmin Connect and it works really well, except no-one uses segments on Garmin Connect. Strava, however, is wildly popular, and hopefully is the start of a glorious partnership between the (relative) sturdiness of Garmin hardware and the much better software of Strava.

I’m also happy because a load of the new 520 features (including the Strava-ness) are coming to the Edge 810 and 1000 later this year. Given the 810 is now almost three years old, that’s some pretty decent hardware support.

Two new entry-level GPSes, the Edge 20 and Edge 25

The Edge 20 and 25

GPSes is an ugly word, isn’t it?

The Edge 20 and 25 drop in at the bottom end of Garmin’s lineup, but if all you’re after is some basic GPS tracking and speed and the ability to then dump that data online, this might be all you need. The RRP of just over £100 is still a lot to ask given most smartphones could do the job, but these are a lot neater on your handlebars (not too mention having a better battery life than a phone using GPS, and being waterproof and rugged).

Not for everyone, but nice to have the option available.

Both use GPS and GLONASS (handy if the USA decides to stop sharing its space-based military hardware), with the Edge 25 adding in Bluetooth and ANT+ support so you can pair with your phone as well as other bike sensors (cadence, power, etc).

The Varia bike-mounted radar system

Varia lights, radar and display
Smart lights on the left, rear-facing radar in the middle, radar display on the right

Talking of military hardware…

The Varia system consists of a rear-facing radar with built in rear light, front and rear “smart lights”, and a radar display (which sadly isn’t a glowing green screen).

This does a couple of things, depending on how you set things up:

  • The radar detects vehicles approaching you from behind. Those are displayed as approaching blips on either the standalone radar display, or on the right hand side of the screen of a compatible Edge GPS. The range is about 150m, and it can track multiple approaching vehicles.
  • The radar comes with a bank of red LEDs. As each vehicle gets closer more LEDs light up and then start to flash. Which presumably makes you more noticeable when you need it, and saves battery life when you don’t.
  • The Varia front light pairs with your GPS and adjusts the beam angle depending on your speed. As you go faster, it throws more of the light further down the road.
  • If you’ve got the Edge 1000 (which has an ambient light sensor), both Varia smart lights will adjust their brightness to avoid dazzling those around you.
  • If you’ve got two rear smart lights and an Edge in navigating mode, the left or right rear light will blink as you approach a turn.

If I’m reading that right, to get absolutely everything you’ll end up displaying three rear lights: one radar with lights; plus two smart rear lights which give you the indicating. Plus obviously a fourth “dumb” rear light, because having all your reward visibility dependant on the Edge on your handlebars not crashing would be A Bad Thing.

Unless you’re in a velomobile that isolates you a bit more from the outside world and also needs indicators (because you can’t stick you arm out), I’m not really convinced that the radar unit is much more than a gimmick. For it to work you’d need the display/Edge to be constantly in your line of vision, and the only bike where that is the case is a recumbent.

Cockpit view

Which comes with a mirror.

Still, lights that adapt to speed and ambient light are definitely good things (my Luxos IQ2 does so already), and if Garmin are going to throw research money into expanding their range of cycling kit, everybody wins.


PS: All images from the Garmin website, with the exception of the M5 carbon recumbent cockpit just above, which is from the review I wrote here.

GCC seek feedback on soft segregation experiment

Well, they’re not seeking it yet, but they will be very soon according to this Go Bike post.

On Aikenhead Road eastbound Glasgow City Council have put up four different types of “soft segregation”, plus a mandatory cycle lane and an advisory one. The hope is that a bunch of people will submit feedback on which one makes them feel the safest, and then GCC will pick the cheapest the one people like the best to roll out elsewhere.

Soft segregation means that some kind of barrier exists between you and motorised traffic, but it still relies to some extend on drivers behaving themselves. None of these will stop people blocking the lane with abandoned vehicles if they really want to.  Viz:

That being said, any segregation is better than just paint.

Before I quickly canter through what’s there, if you want to see it for yourself you want to head east from the north-western end of Aikenhead Rd, where it joins Cathcart Rd. There’s no infrastructure connected to it, but the A728 bridge over the motorway is particularly unpleasant. Approaching from Butterbiggins Rd is less perilous, and also means I get to type “Butterbiggins”.

One more thing.

The demo lane is far too narrow

I’d have laughed, if it wasn’t for the concern that the my handlebars were about to catch on a bollard. The usable width is definitely no more than 80cm, and at times (when drains protrude from the gutter) much less than that. At one point the entire width is covered by ironworks, which would be a delight in the wet:

ironworks in cycle lane
Do you want to come a cropper on the paint, the ironmongery, or the rumblestrip and cats eyes?

In Scotland we’re stuck with the outdated Cycling by Design as guidance, but even that recommends a minimum usable with of no less than two metres. As such it’s hard to get a real sense of what these lanes would be like as every one feels claustrophobic at this width.

Why so much paint?

The width failing is exacerbated by the abundance of painted lines. In segregated infrastructure there’s no need for double yellows within the lane – it just narrows the safe surface. There’s also no need for the additional white dashes on the right. Just give me a wider lane!

Where some colour would be useful is on the tarmac itself to really drive home that this surface is for bikes and nothing else. We use red (the Dutch colour of choice) for bus lanes, but blue or green would work well. Here’s how these lanes could look:

Demonstration cycle lane
That left hand kerb with the pavement is angled rather than vertical, again maximising the usable space. Because the double yellows are outside the bollards (another suggestion to drivers that they shouldn’t be left of this), there’s no need for any white paint at all.

(I no longer have a copy of Visio, so expect many more diagrams like this!)

But enough of my art. Let’s look at the six lanes.

Lane 1, the mandatory cycle lane.

Mandatory cycle lane with bus stop.

The lane starts with a stretch of mandatory on-road cycle lane, with the only unusual feature being the use of rumble paint on the right hand white line and a bit of a paint buffer.

These don’t work. They’re constantly blocked by parked vehicles, and GCC and the police show no interest in enforcing the mandatory-ness.

Also note how no effort has been made to safely integrate the bus stop.

Lane 2, bollards

Bollard-delineated cyclelane

I should mention my camera is mounted just above the front wheel. The bollards are about a metre high.

These were confidence-inspiring, and the only example that would stop large vehicles trampling over lanes to unload. If I was being picky, I’d rather swap out the blue cycle logo for more reflective surface. It would be easy to merge back into traffic (not that I’m suspicious that GCC may occasionally forget that cyclists need to turn right).

The best of the bunch.

Lane 3, Rosehill Highways Cycle Lane defenders

Lane defenders

Hard to see even in daylight (why on earth pick black plastic?), these would be murderous in the dark and are just the right height to whip out your front wheel from beneath you. The tiny reflective strips run along the sides, so wouldn’t help at all.

Further negatives:

  • No “road presence” at all. I’d be amazed if drivers even noticed them.
  • Could easily be driven over.
  • Completely prevent cyclists merging back into traffic.

Absolutely not. Ever. Do not want.

Lane 4, Cyclehoop Armadillos

Cyclehoop armadillos

Cute, but a little tricky to spot against the white paint. So long as GCC went for the taller versions I could get along with these (particularly if they were interspersed with the odd bollard or taller obstruction). Again, easy to merge through.

A quick Google suggests they might be a little fragile.

Lane 5, Rediweld Orcas

Rediweld orca lane dividers

My second favourite after the bollards. I liked the very forgiving concave cyclist side, and the vertical motor vehicle side. Struck me as a better-designed Armadillo.

Could maybe do with being a little taller, and again; would benefit from being alternated with something taller. I’ve also couldn’t find any comments about durability.

Lane 6, advisory paint

Advisory paint cycle lane

Advisory cycle lanes are of no benefit to anyone, so let’s not talk about them further. Just be aware that this experiment finishes at the entrance to a large factory, so be extra careful of left-hooking lorries.

Bonus comment: the bollards in the above picture have a better reflective surface that the ones in lane two.

Conclusion: make it wider, blue, and use bollards and orcas and much less paint.

And definitely don’t use the Rosehill defenders.


PS: I’ll update this article as soon as GCC reveal how you can submit feedback.

Short review—M5 carbon highracer

The M5 carbon highracer makes the High Baron redundant, and the MetaBike survives only because of its versatility. This is a spectacular bike.

(When you’re done here, you can see all the other recumbents I’ve reviewed on this page.)

It’s been a rather fine day today for a variety of reasons, but the one I’m going to share with you is that I squeezed in a 30km ride on the carbon M5 highracer that’s loitering at Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh.

I used my usual Edinburgh testing circuit, which is respectably lumpy (for a route that doesn’t go very far), and covers a good range of surfaces, gradients and corners:

Map and elevation profile of route
It’s also a loop – I was having a Garmin Moment at the beginning.

You can get all the data from the ride here, but a few quick caveats/excuses if you’re going to dig through that link:

  • The boom was a touch short for me due to the demo bike’s chain and cable lengths stopping it extending further. I was definitely off full leg power.
  • I was dragging the brakes on the descents to stay sociable with Bruce, who was on an upright (and provided the camera for all the photos).
  • Both of us were taking it easy.
  • I was starving.
  • I’m not very fit at the moment…

But enough about me. More about the M5.

Set the scene for me.

We’re talking about highracers—fast recumbents with normal road bike-sized wheels front and back (622mm). The M5 competes against:

  • Optima’s Baron High Racer (my short review here, with Dave McCraw’s review of the bike he eventually bought here).
  • A MetaBike (my full review of the bike I own here).
  • The Nazca Gaucho (which is a little heavier, and has suspension).
  • A variety of American-style  “stickbikes” like the Bacchetta Corsa.
Four highracers
MetaBike top left, then moving clockwise: High Baron, Bacchetta Corsa and Nazca Guacho. Top two photos are mine (and top left bike is mine too!), bottom two from the manufacturer’s websites.

In my mind the Baron has always been the best riding of the above, but lacks versatility and simply refuses to stop (and not in a good way—it’s almost impossible to set up decent braking on it). The Gaucho is capable, but a more like a very fast tourer than a full-on racer. The MetaBike has “livelier” handling than either, can take racks, mudguards and hydraulic discs, and has a very efficient drivetrain.

I know very little about the Bacchetta Corsa and its compatriots, having only ridden one once about 100 metres.

So what’s different about the M5?

It’s plastic for a start, which makes it remarkably light. Viz:

M5 at arms length.
True, Bruce isn’t the slightest of individuals, but that’s still damn impressive for a recumbent.

The carbon is very nicely done (as you’d expect; this bike isn’t cheap). However, it also reduces the adjustability. You can still adjust boom length (accommodating a range of leg lengths), but it doesn’t go that short. I certainly wouldn’t order without testing if I was under, say, 5’9″.

Seat angle though is very reclined, and you can only modify that by adding spacers. Happily I like a very laid-back position, but if you’d rather be more upright; tough.

Under seat view of the M5
The under-seat support, with spacer washers at the top. Whilst we’re here, note neat internal cable run to the rear brake, and the way the power-side chain idler is free to move left and right to improve efficiency as you move across the cassette.

You can see from the photo above that the return chain is “dropped”—it runs alongside the front wheel. This is the most efficient option, but severely limits your ability to turn the front wheel right. Even more so than the MetaBike with its hideous heelstrike, this is a recumbent that is turned by leaning, or not at all.

Chain blocking steering
That’s the limit before you start eating your own chain with the tyre, and don’t even think of trying to pedal at the same time (photo taken from the front, looking almost straight down the centreline of the bike).

There is an option to hitch up the return chain above the front wheel, to give a chain run very like the Nazca Fuego lowracer. If you’re planning on doing urban riding or anything with hairpins or switchbacks, you should definitely do that.

Apart from the dropped chain, the other thing that immediately struck me is the handlebar.

M5 handlebar
Garmin, model’s own.

There’s not much of it! The gripshifts work nicely, but because your entire handhold is rotating you need your other hand on the bar to keep you steady. Changing gear whilst indicating would be an acquired skill. Changing gear whilst braking is similarly dodgy.

Talking of which, the brake levers are mounted beneath the tiller, point directly back toward the rider, and are operated with the thumbs by pushing upwards. This is weird as hell to start with, but I acclimatised fairly quickly and only had one “phantom trigger finger” moment when I clutched at where brake levers would normally be.

All this makes for a very compact cockpit, perfectly positioned to get your elbows tucked in to your sides and minimise wind resistance. Here’s roughly what you can see from the seat:

Cockpit view
Much like the MetaBike, the M5’s cockpit puts a Garmin exactly where you want it. Because it’s so close to your face the mirror can be very small and still give a great view of what’s behind. The brake levers are those flat paddles beneath the Garmin, and push upwards.

Again, those under average height might struggle; this time with difficulty seeing over the handlebars.

A few other bits and pieces:

  • Rims brakes only on this model, although a front disc fork is an option.
  • All cabling is internal apart from the front brake, which is so short a run it wouldn’t be worth it.
  • There are mudguard bosses for the rear wheel, but you’ll have to bodge something at the front.
  • 25mm tyres or skinnier.
  • No rack mounts, but M5 will sell you a small carbon tailbox for 600 of your finest Euros. As you can see in the top photo, this demo bike is using a much cheaper Radical Design seat bag (a Solo Aero Narrow)
M5 front brake
That’s the front brake, complete with external cabling. Note how low down the fork the dropped return chainline is.

Enough design details. What’s it like to ride?

Give me one final techy paragraph?

The M5 has a much longer wheelbase than any of the other highracers (54 inches between contact patches, compared to the 47″ of my MetaBike). This extra length is used to move the seat between the wheels and improve weight distribution fore and aft. It also makes the seat a full five inches lower than my MetaBike (the M5 is 21.5″ from the floor to the lowest part of your backside). The M5 feels more like a lowracer with big wheels than a highracer.

Chainstay of M5
This photo doesn’t fit the text, but we should still take a moment to appreciate that chainstay.

That weight distribution is matched to spot-on frame geometry to give a ride that simply can’t be beaten. It’s better than the High Baron, and knocks the MetaBike into a hedge. It carves corners like it’s on rails, yet shimmies elegantly round potholes. The bike leaps forward as you put the power down, yet the steering stays light and neutral. There’s a limit to how fast I’m prepared to go on someone else’s bike, but at 60kph it still only needed fingertips on the bars and had plenty left to give.

The carbon works brilliantly as well. This thing is properly light (for a recumbent), and so stiff that I couldn’t detect any boom-bobbing at all. Here’s a 500m sprint up a 6% grade that I used to test that:

Speed at the top, then heart rate, grade of incline, and cadence. Spot where my current acute lack of fitness kicked in.

183 is about my max heart rate on a recumbent, so I couldn’t put much more through the pedals than I did.

The carbon (and having the seat between rather than on top of the wheels) also soaks up a lot of road buzz. It’s more comfortable than my MetaBike, despite being on skinnier tyres.

I loved it.

You’ve already gone on too long. Give me a snappy conclusion.

(Ignoring cost…)

The High Baron is dead (and not only because everyone at Optima is busy building Urban Arrow cargo bikes at the moment). It still rides beautifully, but the dodgy braking never endeared it to me and the carbon M5 is better in every way I can think of.

The MetaBike still has a place because of its versatility. It’s nowhere near as refined as the M5, but it’s still the quickest bike that can take proper mudguards, a rack, and 28mm tyres. It’s ability to run disc brakes fore and aft should also not be ignored—all three of these bikes quickly reach speeds where rim brakes don’t cut it.

The MetaBike then remains the sensible choice for a fast highracer that can do a little bit of everything.

The carbon M5 is the bike you’ll wish you’d bought instead.


PS: Thanks to Laid Back for the loan of this demo bike, and to Bruce for chaperoning me, navigating and providing the camera.

PPS: Somehow I only managed to get the one photo of the entire bike, which you can see at the very top. I blame Bruce.

Alton Towers

It’s a tragedy when people get maimed in crashes.

A string of unfortunate coincidences (almost always triggered by human error) leads to smashed metal, splintered bone, ripped flesh.

Victims with watershed-friendly “life threatening” and “life changing” injuries. Limbs missing. Days and weeks wired into machines that breathe for them and circulate their blood. Families by their bedside asking unanswerable questions.

Lives shattered.

603 people have been seriously injured or killed in crashes on UK roads in the nine days since the Alton Towers crash. But we don’t care.

There’s no media attention. No pledges to improve. No inquiries. No independent investigations searching for answers like we have for sea, rail and air. Tragedy on the roads is a part of our lives that there is no desire to change. If those four teenagers injured at Alton Towers had instead been hit by a lorry on the B5417 ten minutes before they arrived you wouldn’t have even heard about it.

If there’s any doubt in your mind, tell me how many of these people (killed in the last week of May) you remember:

At around 6:40am on May 28, an as yet unnamed woman was killed when she was struck by a van which then collided with two other vehicles. A little over an hour later, Esther Hartsilver was crushed by an HGV in Camberwell. That afternoon, April Reeves—aged just 7—was killed in front of her family in Weston-super-Mare.

On the same day, a man was left “fighting for his life” in a critical condition in a collision with a car and another—also reported as “fighting for his life”—had to have a bus lifted off of him. Two days later, a fourth fatality: a woman was killed after being struck by a car in Aston Clinton. And another man in a critical condition.

And that’s just people on pedal cycles.

Never mind Alex Weatherley who was killed when struck by a car which left the road, the three people killed on the A421 (including a schoolgirl), David Lister who was killed in a collision with a car in Lackford, Jeannette Dixon who died in Harrow, the motorcyclist who died in Pembrokeshire, John Walsh who died near Bury St Edmunds, Scott McCallum who died on the A90, the teenager who died in County Durham, the man killed and the man left in a critical condition in Harrow, the two-year-old girl killed and boy in critical condition after a car left the road, the woman killed and the several injured on the M73, the man killed on the M74, another man killed on the A90, Thomas Edwards who died on the A3400, the man who died on the M1, the man killed in Northern Ireland, Amar Atwal—aged 12—who died in West Bromwich, the man who died in Somerset when his car left the road, the moped rider killed in Leicester, the man killed in Lancashire when his car left the road, the man killed on the M5, the two people left in a critical condition after being hit by a bus in Glasgow

Beyond the Kerb blog, from the post Them and Theirs

Any of them?

I’ve no real conclusion to this article, and certainly no solution. I hope those involved in the Alton Towers crash recover quickly, and that they are able to get compensation from the company to help rebuild their lives. I’m glad the continued media focus will drive through safety improvements and reduce the chance of something similar happening again.

And I’m sorry if you or a member of your family are one of the 67 people across the UK who haven’t come back home today.


PS: Figures based on annual averages, and post inspired by this thread on CityCyclingEdinburgh.

Bumbo floor seat review

I wrote last week about the £13 Ikea high chair that you should absolutely get instead of anything more expensive.

Here’s another handy sitting device that you can pick up for about a tenner second hand.

The Bumbo floor seat

Try and ignore the daft name.

Also, be warned that one of the times I tried to reach the Bumbo main website something tried to hijack my browser. So maybe don’t go there.

Whilst I’m prevaricating: you want to try and find one of these second hand. Apparently Bumbo got hit with a bunch of lawsuits as a result of kids falling out of these seats and permanently injuring themselves, so the new models have some pretty awkward straps. The old models which constantly appear in second hand shops near us don’t have the straps, and are much the better for it.

They’re also normally between £10-£15, which is much more palatable than the £30 Amazon is selling them at.

Anyway, let me tell you why you want one.

The Bumbo floor seat. Again.

45 degree photo of the Bumbo floor seat

If you can’t see the images: imagine flopping down really heavily into a big beanbag whilst sitting up straight. If you then managed to recreate that beanbag shape in a dense foam material that feels like a really firm stressball, you’d have a massive Bumbo.

For both our sakes, just look at the pictures.

The genius of the Bumbo is how simple it is. Between about three and nine months (depending on how quickly your wee beastie gets fat), the Bumbo is an instant baby immobilising device.

Going for a shower? Bumbo on the bathroom floor, baby in Bumbo, dance to entertain baby.

Can’t put off hoovering any longer? Bumbo in the centre of the carpet and sing as you go.

Need to open the door and sign for something but have your arms full of baby? Kick the Bumbo into the hallway, deposit child, open door whilst forgetting you’re covered in goo.

Smile manically.

Those rounded leg holes and deep seat will keep your little darling safely in one place without feeling like they’re being restrained. If you clip on the little table they’re even more secure, and can amuse themselves with appropriate toys or finger food as well (for a good few months every meal Owen had was from the Bumbo rather than the high chair).

Bumbo with seat attached.
The tray is solid plastic. You squish the seat a bit and hook some plastic tabs over the central bit and under the base. It’s firm enough.

They won’t last in there for long (unless your shower dancing is particularly epic), but ten minutes is enough to restore a bit of sanity to your life.

Similarly to the Ikea chair, the Bumbo is all smooth rounded surfaces that make wiping it down a doddle. It’s also lightweight and can be worn upsidedown as a slightly odd looking Greek helmet (go on, try it when no-one’s looking).

Didn’t you mention skull fractures above?

Mm. Lots of them, going by the Google results.

Make no mistake, the Bumbo isn’t totally secure. By nine months Owen could lever himself out of it, or capsize and then crawl around with it stuck to his backside like a peculiarly-shelled snail.

I could see how if you were balancing the Bumbo on a chair or table, there’s the potential for serious injury if your child topples sideways. There are warnings on the seat, but after 3 hours sleep in two days no parent is alert enough to read.

Warnings on Bumbo seat

If you think you might be tempted to use the Bumbo at height, don’t buy it. Even the straps on the newer models won’t help – the foam is just too lightweight be perfectly stable.

However, if you’re after a great way of temporarily keeping your child in one place on the floor and you’re going to stay in the room keeping an eye on them, the Bumbo is just the job.

Baby enjoying carrot in Bumbo
There’s a Bumbo somewhere underneath all that carrot…

PS: for skinny babies, just pad the seat out a bit with a rolled up jumper. You’re staying in the same room, so there’s no risk that they’re get tangled in a sleeve.

PPS: Owen was very early to start sitting up unaided. I’ve no idea if the Bumbo helped, but the high back of the Bumbo does seem to encourage and support the concept.

(Another) bike curious family workshop

You’re an intelligent person. I can see that.

Switched on. Alert.

Finger on the beating pulse of the web.

As such, I’m not going to just copy last year’s post on this. We both know you’d pick up such idleness and bland deception in a flash.

The Women on Wheels group is holding their second Bike Curious family workshop in Edinburgh on Saturday 13 June 2015. It’s definitely not just for women, nor is it really just for families.

From 10 until 12 at Sciennes Primary School (map here) you’ll be able to chat to experienced everyday cyclists (some may sign autographs) about the bikes and add-ons they use to make cycling a safe and efficient part of their normal lives. Whether it’s shifting kids or groceries, briefcases or books; they’ll be someone there that can demonstrate how it can be done.

There’ll be panniers. Child seats. Tandems. Cargo bikes. Trailers. Tagalongs. Trailgators. CAKE. And coffee.

Afterwards, they’ll be an easy family bike ride, if you feel like it.

It’s all free, so come along and say hello.

PS: there will be at least one Urban Arrow there, which remains the coolest bike in Scotland.

Urban Arrow bakfiets with custom shark teeth
You show me a child who wouldn’t wee themselves with excitement at seeing this amazing shark-Arrow, and I’ll show you a child that you’ve blindfolded. Photo from the LaidBack photostream, click for more.