Archive for the ‘ride reports’ Category

in the court of the crimson king

And so it was, dear readers, on one of those humid summer days when sweat and sunscreen sting in your eyes, that the Recycling Jester and the Crimson Road King set off on a grand journey via the highways and byways of Lake Land carrying only a song, water, and a basket of tools…

highway underpass, swansea

I am glad that I left the gearing as it was because this bike is a breeze to pedal in higher gears, unlike some of my other rides. It likes to accelerate and travel quickly on the flat and I found myself using the upper gears frequently. The saddle is not as uncomfortable as I thought, and will be OK while I save for a Brooks B17 (or maybe sprung Flyer) in honey colour. Well I never, is that blasphemy for a bike that has “Wool worths” stamped into the rear drop out? I found some faux-cork grips for it – and they’re not bad either.

The gear train is a little clunky and I had to pull up a few times to adjust the FD stop screw as the chain kept getting caught between the large ring and the chrome guard – yuk! more greasy fingers … and still getting used to these stem shifters.

The good side is that the bike’s responsiveness means that gears don’t need much changing. The steel rims mean that braking is on the casual side, but no worse than the roller brakes on my Gazelle – in the dry at least. It’s manoeuverable at low speed and balances well with a slight leaning forward ride position that’s a good compromise between crouched (ouched?) and upright.

the king...

I think it looks rather nice without mudguards, but I know if I don’t get them I’ll be sorry when it rains and I’m riding with a wet bum on the Fernleigh Track!

OK that’s the first test ride, and I do think this one’s a keeper if you haven’t guessed already …


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Sizing up the competition near Beaumont St.

Today I had a chance to ride the rebuilt Dahon around Broadmeadow and Hamilton, via the back streets (except for Beaumont Street).  As you would expect, the extended steering column and seat posts mean that this type of bike doesn’t have the structural integrity of a full sized bike. It feels wobbly-flexy at first but that feeling is accommodated as the bike is ridden further.

It is, however, nimble and a lot of fun, with quick steering and a tight turning circle and can whizz along at a reasonable pace thanks to the good leg extension possible with this design. You feel the bumps and road level changes more, which might have something to do with the stiffness of the short spokes, the small diameter and the lack of gyroscopic effect of a 16″ wheel, as the tyres are quite generous at 1.75″ wide. It’s not as rough in this respect as I thought it would be, and I am glad it’s a steel and not an alloy frame from a ride comfort point of view at least. Also, it is not a bike for stunt riding or stressful manoeuvres, at least not for people who have some mechanical sympathy anyway.

Attempting street cred - Broadmeadow.

For the level ground around Newcastle three speeds are easily enough. I had contemplated fitting a larger rear sprocket so that third was the normal gear but I think the 13 tooth is OK. I only have a spare 16T at home and I think this would make it too low – 14 or 15 would be better, though I don’t even plan on trying this until I get more used to the bike.

Diesel spotting, near Broadmeadow Rail

Although I have a van that will take a full sized bike and there is no need to fold it up, I found that folding down the steering column makes the Dahon a bit less likely to move around while transporting it.  The folder is a lot less bulky and hassle-free to carry, even when still unfolded. This could be the start of  new multi-modal bicycle adventures on occasions when I have to use the car.

No need to remove the front wheel here ...

The toy-like Dahon is a bike that seems to attract a bit of attention from onlookers – and I am also now wondering where I could get hold of an old model Brompton for comparison ?

At Scots Kirk, Hamilton.

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Gazelle Toer Populair 2011 model 8-speed.

I have not seen many reviews of the Gazelle Toer Populair, therefore, having now owned this bicycle for 8 months or so, I feel that it’s time to offer my humble opinion. While Gazelle also manufactures a range of modern commuter bikes, this model is a throwback to their Dutch roadster history albeit one that is fitted with contemporary Shimano running gear. It offers old style frame geometry and a relaxed ride along with more modern features including 8 speed hub transmission. There is also a 3-speed version with rod brake style levers and traditional upright kick stand, both versions being available in loop and diamond frames. I chose the 8-speed as I live in a small hilly area in eastern Australia that is surrounded by flatter land and have to face steepish climbs at both the beginning and end of any ride to or from home.

So, what type of rider is suited to this bike?  Well, the person who is not in a hurry to arrive, who wants a relaxed ride with traditional nostalgic styling, a stylish bike to ride while wearing normal clothes, or who desires something a little bit different to the racer, comfort or MTB styles that are so prevalent in the bike shops and on the roads here, and without having to recondition or buy a restored older bike.

If  you want to race friends, climb and descend steep mountains, project a sporty image or merely blend in with the crowd, then this bike may not be for you, or at least it may not be your only bike.  I would add however, that I didn’t buy this bicycle as a fashion accessory or to be noticed – in fact I quite enjoy riding it on my own, alone in the moment, of not being self-conscious but merely lost in time on a cycle path or back-street to nowhere-in-particular,  as I also do with my older restored bikes.

Gazelle with restored Malvern Star

My bike has a 57cm steel diamond frame, which is the size recommended by Gazelle for a person of my height ( at 5’10 & 1/2″) It is fitted with a fixed chromed steel handlebar, welded to a height adjustable quill stem. The only thing I have changed steering-wise are the hand grips, as I lost confidence in the ability of the padded leather originals – and their stitching – to stay in place.

The standard padded leather grips

I have finally settled on the rock-solid Brooks leather washer grips, and though they require gloves in very cold weather due to the metal end caps, I am really happy with them. These grips come in a kit that allows a choice of two grip lengths, one of which is ideal for the short Nexus right hand twist grip.

Brooks leather washer grips - excellent !

A Brooks B67 “aged” leather sprung saddle is fitted as standard. The head tube and forks are traditionally lugged while the bottom bracket and half the top tube to seat tube joints are fairly neatly welded, without the huge scars that are sometimes seen proudly displayed on new alloy framed bikes.

The welded bottom bracket showing the lower end of the fitted pump

Brooks sprung B67 is standard

With its raked fork and seat tube angles and the swept back bars, the ride is laid back to say the least ! It is actually easier for me to lean back than lean forward and this gives a great view of surroundings. Standing up on the pedals can be done briefly if one must, though this is not encouraged by the sit-up-and-beg ergonomics!  On my favourite cycle path whilst I see many road cyclists crouching down and focussing dead ahead, I tend to be half looking over the guard rails to the bush landscape beyond, listening to bird calls and taking in the scenery. The handlebars form a neat cockpit into which the knees nestle, however I find that ( only ) in tight, slow turns this can also be a problem – the turning circle is then very limited and it becomes necessary to either “hang” the knee out past the bar end ( not very dignified but it works ), press the trapped leg hard against the top tube to allow more turn angle, or stop pedalling completely while keeping the inside leg extended through the turn ( not useful uphill ) !   You get somewhat used to it, and this should not occur on the loop frame models, as the bars on these seem relatively higher above the knee level.

Swept back handle bars

The ride position and massive 8 speed gear hub also give a heavy rearward weight bias, so when leaning into faster corners I like to shift my weight forward a little to give the front wheel extra grip. The light steering also takes a while to get used to and is apparently a characteristic of upright Dutch bikes. The effect can be reduced by holding the grips more toward their forward ends. The bike rolls along beautifully on the flat, with only major headwinds and hills slowing its gliding nature. On gentler terrain it feels effortless in spite of its considerable weight and the relaxed angles of the frame and forks along with the sprung saddle plus large wheels and tyres provide the springiness to absorb smaller bumps easily. It is also quicker travelling over longer distances than one might think because of this tireless “press-on-steadily” type of comfort. The farthest I have so far travelled on it is about 80kms ( 50miles ) with short breaks, in around half a day. I have had tired legs and backside on longer rides but never sore arms or wrists with this bike.

Touring to Newcastle Beach

The roller ( hub ) brakes are consistent and very progressive, much softer in feel than rim brakes. Ideal for wet weather, they require a greater stopping distance in the dry than say, V-brakes, as well as a much stronger squeeze to pull you up quickly. There are cooling finned versions of these to cope with heavy use on some other Gazelles, but I haven’t had any fade problems with the standard ones.

Front Shimano roller brake and hub dynamo

The gearing range is good, perhaps a little high overall, if anything. I like to pedal fairly quickly and find 5th and 6th generally sufficient on flat terrain. First is low but nowhere near as low as a 3 ring front derailleur can manage, it’s much lower than my geared down 3-speed, though I do have to push it up the very steepest hills where I live. 7th and 8th are great for downhills or strong tailwinds.

Zooming along in the dark ... Fernleigh Tunnel

For those who are not used to clean and quiet hub gears, when accelerating they require slowing the pedalling speed very briefly to take all the pressure off the transmission, twisting the index grip to shift, then quickly reapplying pressure once the shift is made. There is no need to stop pedalling completely or to back pedal, and when coasting or when the bike is completely stopped in traffic a simple twist is all you need. I really like the linear nature of hub gears just as I like the same thing in a rear only derailleur system. Unlike most derailleur equipped bikes all of the available gears can be used as there are ( of course ) no extreme chain angle issues. I never really feel that 8 speeds aren’t enough either, as in almost all situations they are plenty. If necessary a slightly larger rear cog could perhaps be used to gear the bike down a bit further without losing too much at the high end of the gear range.

I have had two front tyre punctures so far, one at home from latent embedded glass, and one on the road. By far the easiest way to deal with this if the leak can be located is to regularly carry a couple of protective old cloths or plastic bags to rest the bike on, turn it upside down and pull out the tube just enough to attend to the hole with a patch kit after levering off the tyre bead. This avoids the need to disconnect the hub brakes, front dynamo wires or the Nexus rear gear cable – a real time saver!

Puncture repair, Swansea

The wheels are 28″ van Schothorst polished stainless rims, shod with cream Vredestein Classic tyres sporting reflective sidewall stripes. The loud 80mm chrome ding-dong bell is visually imposing – and useful on cycle paths. Other safety items include a large bright rear reflector and an excellent bright Lumotec front light powered by a Shimano front hub dynamo. There is an easy to reach 3 position toggle switch on the rear of the headlight nacelle for off,  auto, and on. I only just discovered the auto setting today ! It seems to switch both lights on and off according to the ambient light level.

Lumotec reflector/headlight

Stainless steel rims

The rear dynamo powered light is beautifully integrated into the guard (fender) and continues glowing via a capacitor for around 5 minutes after stopping – a great idea.   Electrical wiring runs are concealed neatly within the frame. An AXA wheel “O-Lock” is standard on all Gazelles, and I find it quite useful for short parking periods. The key must be left in this lock when using the bike. I have also added a folding rear basket  to mine, as I find “rat trap” type racks of limited use on their own. I think the 3-speed has the version of this rack with elastic holding straps, as well as the old-style kick stand that folds under the rear wheel. While I prefer the look of the traditional stand, I must say that the “Powerclick II” side stand is really stable although it does force the bike to lean very heavily when parked which can take up more floor space in a confined area.

Another characteristic that I quite like is the silence of the Nexus-8 hub when coasting – no freewheel clicking noises mean that all you hear is the wind in the spokes and gentle tyre noise, though I don’t think that this is necessarily  good or bad when compared with other transmissions, just different. Single speed coaster brakes can do that trick too !  The fully enclosed chain guard, cloth dress guards and huge front mud flap help immensely to prevent the bike and rider becoming messy and surely help to prolong chain life as well as reduce cleaning and maintenance chores. The chain case cover can be removed by a series of press studs and a long run of wire-laced clips underneath.

Cloth chain case release from beneath

Comprehensive mud and dirt protection

I also like the attention to detail in the finish of this bike, such as the Gazelle insignias on wheel and stem nuts, the beautifully fine gold hand-lining on the mudguards, the detailed decals, chrome fork lug covers etc.

I keep it garaged and cleaned and apart from a slight dulling of the pedals I have seen no deterioration of the finish or rust anywhere, even though I have used it in salty seaside areas on numerous occasion suggesting much use of stainless steel on fittings and bolts.

Head badge detail

Top tube detail

Seat tube decal, chain and dress guards, O-lock.

Nexus twist grip and added Zefal spy mirror

Some negatives for me include the cheapish plastic pump, which I blew the end off the first time I used it. Though it still works,  I recommend to only use it in an emergency. There is only one brazed on pump holder, the other end of the pump is shaped to nestle into the bottom bracket  meaning other pumps won’t fit. I fitted removable Schrader adaptors to the Woods/Dunlop type valves too though it is hard to gauge inflation pressure this way. There is no bike instruction, adjustment or maintenance manual in book form, nor any details on care and adjustment of the Brooks leather saddle – merely a very generalised Gazelle 2008 dated CD-rom. Perhaps this is the norm nowadays, but for me it’s not great for an approximately  $AUD 1700 bike. I have already mentioned the grips, which I personally didn’t like at all. Of course the one disadvantage common to all quality bicycles is that I get nervous if I have to leave it parked too long in some places – an old or undesirable bike tucked away in the garage is probably the only help here, if such days can be anticipated…

front end details

None of these issues would be enough to deter me from buying it though. I am very pleased to own this new-old bicycle that looks so much like the classic bike symbol seen on road and path signs, and hope to enjoy it for many years to come.

The Toer Populair was sold by – and is serviced at – Civic Bikes, Newcastle NSW.

Ready to roll ...

Gazelle near Redhead beach with folding Basil basket.

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Today I had time to take the restored Malvern Star 2-star for its first decent ride of around 15km on mostly flat terrain. It has been quite a while since I have ridden a single speed coaster braked bike on public roads, and today’s adventure was mostly about coming to grips again with this type of brake. Firstly its gradual nature, as the fifty year old Perry hub is not the last word in stopping power – the name of the game is anticipation, or the fine art of “what if ?”.  This comes naturally to me from my motor cycling days, trying to first guess the traffic. Having said that, this isn’t the bike for cut and thrust city traffic and all of its surprises. The brake stops reasonably well when one has the pedals in the quarter to three o’clock position, ready to stand hard on the back pedal, but the time taken to get to that position adds extra stopping distance as well, if not anticipated – as sometimes happened.

This is a bike for flat back roads and cycle paths, where the hub is silent when coasting, like the Nexus 8 on my Gazelle, and the big wheels soak up any stray bumps – (it’s the only bike I’ve tried the Electra spinner bell on that doesn’t let it ring loudly over bumps) – it is also the lightest bike I own partly due to the minimal accessories. The gearing is about right for me at 48-20, and riding single speed is all about large variations in cadence and pedal pressure. I would rather push it up the steep hills than stress the poor cotter pins too much. The Brooks B18 is firm but comfortable so far, and looks a treat. The bike rolls freely and tackles smaller hills quite well. Getting used to having to position the pedals by hand sometimes before starting off took me back in time too, though I must say it is a pleasant change to be able to roll the bike backward without the pedals turning and catching the kick stand  – there are swings and roundabouts here. I am also starting to appreciate the simplicity and clean, cable-free appearance as a real virtue.

Problems ? Well, the left hand pedal spat its ball bearings into the end cover, so it’s new pedals unless I can sort it. No luggage capacity.  And some toe overlap on the front guard that I have to compensate for. Otherwise, a rewarding old-world ride, the first of many, I wish !

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