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Britain's bike friendly cars of the 1950s

I got my first lightweight bike in 1950; it was only five years after the end of WWII and the economic turnaround in Britain and the rest of Europe was only in its early stages. Petrol was in short supply throughout WWII for obvious reasons. It was needed for the war effort, plus off shore oil had yet to be discovered in the UK. Oil had to be imported, and petrol was strictly rationed.

Rationing did not end at the end of WWII, in fact in 1948, (Three years after the war ended.) The Motor Spirit Regulation Act was passed by the British Government, and red dye was added to some petrol. The red petrol was for agriculture and commercial use only. A private motorist caught with red petrol in his tank, could lose his driver’s license for a year, and a petrol station selling red gas to private motorists could be shut down.

The scarcity of petrol throughout the war and the five years that followed, meant there was very little motorized traffic on the roads, and even when petrol rationing ended in 1950, the average working man did not rush out to buy a car, many had never owned, or even driven a car. Traffic was light even into the mid to late 1950s.

In the late 1940s, my pre-teen years, I would ride my bike after school, in the dark using battery lights, with no fear for my safety from my parents. This era is now referred to as the “Golden Age of Cycling.” On the Continent of Europe, cycle racing was the number one sport.

Looking back, it was a great time to ride a bike. Many of the cars on the road were pre-war from the 1920s and 1930s. New cars produced were like the Morris Minor (Above.) and the Ford Anglia, (Below.) had a tiny engines around one liter. (1,000cc.) About the size of many motorcycles today.

You could forget about zero to sixty in a few seconds; for most vehicles, even the new ones, *60mph was the top speed, and that was probably downhill with the wind behind you. Throughout the 1950s, on city streets, there were still as many bicycles as cars, there were even a few horse drawn carts still in use.

A car driver did not sit fuming at a traffic light because there was a cyclist on a horse and cart ahead of him. The driver was lucky if he could get above 20mph between lights, and a fit cyclist on a lightweight bike could get away from a light faster than he could.

The first Motorway (Freeway.) the M1, did not open until 1959. It was approximately 70 miles long from London to Birmingham. I remember within the first few weeks it was littered with broken down cars, as people took their old clunkers out and took them up to speeds they were never built to maintain. The Golden Age of Cycling ended from that point on, as throughout the 1960s and 1970s, more motorways were built and other main roads were widened and straightened.

During the 1950s, most of the people driving cars had grown up riding bicycles, their parents probably still rode a bicycle as their personal transport. They didn’t get upset with cyclists on the road, and they were content to cruise along at 30mph, occasionally reaching 50 or 60 on a straight road that ran downhill. At least they were in they were protected from the rain and cold.

Gradually all that changed, and now you have a generation who never rode a bike as a kid. Owning and driving a car becomes ever increasingly expensive, and with the spending of all that money comes an attitude of entitlement. 

However, Britain is still the same size as it was in the 1950s, but with a far greater population. Improved highways mean that you can drive from one city to another in a very short time. But what do you do when you get to the big city, where there is nowhere to park, and streets where built for horse drawn vehicles?

The cars of the 1950s and before may have been underpowered by today’s standards, but they still got people from A to B. They were cheap to buy, used less petrol, and they were simple to work on. A person could do their own maintenance. Most of all because of their lack of power and speed they were less of a danger to pedestrians and cyclists.


*Footnote: I am sure someone far more knowledgeable about the Morris Minor will tell me it had a top speed was in excess of 60mph. But just as many of today’s cars have a maximum speed well over 100mph. few are ever driven to that limit. 



49cm. 1st Generation Fuso

I was recently able to buy a 49cm. 1st. Generation Fuso frame for my wife. Built in 1985 the frame has had very little use and is in near mint condition. 49cm. was the smallest standard size I made, although I did occasionally build a 48cm. special order, but these are extremely rare. The paint on this one is yellow and charcoal grey metallic. 

(Above.) This being an early model it has the metal enameled head badge which is a nice touch. I know the brakes are not period correct, but this bike is for riding and modern brakes actually stop, as opposed to the 1980s Campagnolo brakes that were more like speed modulators.

I found some Suntour Bar-End gear levers. Suntour was always looked on as a downgrade from Shimano. It was cheaper, but I never viewed it as inferior. Beautifully designed and well made these bar-end shifters are a good example.

If you are not familiar with these, when you pull back on the lever to shift down, it has a ratchet action that has very little resistance, just the resistance of the derailleur return spring. When you push forward to change up it is normal friction shift. But the friction now has the help of the return spring. This is a simple but ingenious idea that actually improved friction shifting. As far as I can remember the idea never made it to friction down tube shifters. 




Right before Mothers’ Day my Mother Board died

My usual morning ritual on waking is to turn on the computer and allow it to warm up while I make coffee. Then while the coffee is brewing I check my emails, the weather, and see what is going on in the world.

Last Tuesday I awoke, stumbled into my office, pushed the start button on my PC, and…. Nothing happened, no friendly blue light, not a sound. I had to sit around until 9 am. That’s when my local computer fix-it guy opens up for business. He told me he was swamped with work, and couldn’t even look at my machine until the end of the week.

That’s okay, I thought. There is plenty of other things need doing around the house, and the weather is nice, I might even ride my bike. You see I didn’t want to rush out and buy a new computer, if it was going to be a simple fix like a new switch, or something.

No such luck. Friday afternoon the fix-it guy called to say my Mother Board had died. I’m not even sure what a Mother Board is, but I had to take the expert’s word that nothing will compute without it, and it would cost more than a whole new machine to replace this Mother.

So now it was computer shopping time, this was going to be fun. The first thing I noticed was where there was once rows and rows of PCs, now there is just one little shelf in a corner. It’s all lap tops, and tablets now, but I just bought a beautiful large screen monitor a couple of months ago, (Great for watching bike races.) so I just needed the “Tower” part.

Then came the realization that all the new computers come with Windows 8. I had heard a lot about Windows 8, most of it not good.

“Can’t I just use, Windows 7? It does everything I need to do.”

I was told no. “Okay, can you show me what it does?” Where upon the salesman started to make all these different things happen with lightning speed.

“Wait… I’m never going to remember all this by the time I get home. Does it come with instructions?”

“No, there are no instructions, but I can sell you a tutorial disc for twenty dollars.”

Here’s a tip. Don’t buy the tutorial, it gives you stupid little tasks to perform, and if you don’t perform then you can’t continue to the next stage. The tutorial is almost as hard to operate as Window 8 itself.

Where there used to be buttons that I would click on to do something, now I have to then play “Hunt the button.” These magically appear when I hover the curser in the corners of the screen.

When I turn on the PC, I see a page with the time in large letters; I have a number of clocks in my home I don't need the time. I discovered, quite by accident, that I click anywhere on this page for it to disappear and reveal the "Log-in" box. The opening Clock screen is completely superfluous.

One of the first things I did was try to download the software that I use to build and maintain my web sites. I placed the disc in the tray and nothing happened. So I got on the phone to Microsoft tech support to ask how to download this program I needed.

After a long session with an automated voice system, I finally got a real person who passed me on to another person who then passed me on to yet another person. Then I was told that a tech person would call me back, probably on Monday. (This was Saturday.) Then came the kicker… This would cost me $250 to speak to their tech person. I refused their offer of service at this outrageous price.

Instead I Googled. “How do you open a disc in Windows 8?” I got my answer. When you put the disc in and close the tray, a tiny, almost transparent, box appears in the top right corner of the screen. It only stays in view for a few seconds, then disappears. If you are not looking for it you don’t even see it.

You click on this box and another box appears and asks what you want to do, one of the options being “Run.” I ran the software and the program was up and running in about five minutes. A lot less time than I had spent on the phone with Microsoft.

The problem as I see it, the people who design these programs have become way too clever for their own good. And just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. The people who designed Windows 8 lost sight of the fact that for most people the computer is a tool to get work done, it is not a fucking video game.

There was nothing wrong with the old system when you put a disc in the tray, a window opened in the middle of your screen that said “Run” or “Play.” What ever happened to the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Microsoft’s motto seems to be, “If it ain’t broke, work on it until it is.”

Please excuse the rant, but I needed to get this out of my system before I can settle down to serious writing. This couldn’t have come at a worse time. I have just been hired by as an “Expert” writer on Cycling. (See the badge in the right hand column.) They want a minimum of 10 articles a month, and I have just lost a week because of this problem, and it could take me another week just to find my way around Windows 8.




Old "Cycling" article from 1976

A friend came across an old copy of the British “Cycling” weekly magazine from 1976 offered for sale on eBay. It contained an article I had written about frame design. He bought it and sent me a PDF copy.

It seemed strange to read the words I had written almost 37 years ago, and I could not help but wonder what some of the older established framebuilders of that time thought of me. Many had been in business a lot longer than me.

But to me the proof of the bike was in the riding. So often when riding a new bike a rider needs a week or two to get used to it, but so many times I had riders take delivery of a bike on Saturday, and do a personal best ride or even win a race the following day on the new bike. I felt confident that I was doing something right.

I had been questioning conventional frame design since the 1950s, and had been experimenting with my own frames since the early 1960s. I was a rider of somewhat short stature, 5’ 6” (168cm.) and I always felt that because all racing bicycles have the same size wheels, my bikes were a cut down version of a larger frame. Cut down rather than scaled down.

It also did not go unnoticed that the top riders in the world were between 5’ 8” and just under 6 feet. In other words the ones who would fit on the mid-size frame around 56cm to 58cm. When I think about it, it is not much different than today. There are always exceptions of course, and the average range today is probably something like 5’ 10” to 6’ 1”.

It has always been the case throughout history that the people who build bikes do not race them, and top riders who race do not build them. One exception I can think of is Eddy Merckx, who went on to open a successful frame building business after he retired. But even Eddy Merckx fits neatly into that mid size range riding a medium size frame, so can he appreciate the needs of someone much shorter, or indeed taller.

Framebuilders in the past have always done what suited them, lugs somewhat dictated the angles, rather than the angles being altered to suit the rider. And carbon fiber frames built today from what I have noticed seem to follow the tried and tested geometry of the old lugged steel frames that preceded them.

I can fully appreciate that it is a costly proposition to make a mold for a frame just to experiment; one would need to make a welded steel or some other metal prototype fist. And where can such a prototype be tested under race conditions when the UCI now bans the pros from riding prototypes,

One area that could be looked at is fork rake (Offset) which seems to have increased in recent years to around 45mm. A shorter rake, as much as a centimeter, bringing it down to 35mm would increase the amount of trail and would make the bike more stable, and hold a tighter line when cornering.

I notice what seems to be an awful lot of crashes in races, and wonder why this is. Are bikes today more skittish, or it could be we are now seeing more videos of the complete race, and we just didn’t see some of these crashes before?


See the PDF file here The first 2 1/2 pages are written by me, the rest are from other contributors.



British Justice: As it pertains to cyclists

In a civilized society, especially a democracy, there are laws that govern our behavior. If we perceive someone wrongs us, we can’t go taking the law into our own hands and start dishing out physical punishment. Not without some consequences.

In a perfect world there is a trial and an outcome where the punishment fits the crime. In the real world, there is a police department and prosecutors who decide if charges will be brought, and often none are forthcoming. No one goes to court, and no one gets punished.

If a case does go to trail it is up to judges, (Or magistrates for minor offences in the UK.) to decide what punishment is meted out. This is where the system falls apart, and there will be extremes where in one case there is little or no punishment, and in another the penalties are too harsh.

Take two recent cases in the UK. A little over two weeks ago, British cyclist Christopher Wade went to trial before a Magistrate’s Court in the town of Skipton, in Yorkshire. He was charged with assault on the driver of a white van, who Chris had alleged had driven too close.

Chris had banged on the side of the van with his fist, and the driver stopped. An argument ensued, and Chris handed the driver a bare knuckle sandwich.

In court Chris tried to claim self defense, saying the van driver bit him on the hand. However, reading between the lines, it seems to me the more likely scenario is that Chris’s fist was traveling towards the teeth, rather than the driver biting Chris’s hand as he rested it on the edge of the van door.

Had it been me I would have plead guilty, been very humble, but pointed out the extenuating circumstances such as the van being close enough to bang ones hand on the side.

The Magistrate handed Chris a penalty of 840 (British Pounds.) that is $1,300 US Dollars. Ouch. This was in the form of a fine, compensation to the victim, and court costs. My thought as I read this was, “Motorists on both sides of the pond get fined less than this for actually killing a cyclist.”

The injustice of this was rubbed in this week when another British cyclist was involved with yet another white van, when the driver got out, chased the cyclist, knocked him down, and assaulted him. The whole incident was recorded on the cyclist’s helmet video cam.

In spite of this overwhelming piece of evidence of an unprovoked assault, West Midlands Police in the town of Moseley, near Birmingham, England, have refused to press charges.

Taken together, these two cases show extreme injustice, with a strong bias against cyclists in the UK. Some consistency in police procedure, and the courts would be nice.