24 Dec 2009
Talking to David Hembrow
Australian cycling, a mono culture. Let’s expand horizons.
There are some great bike blogs in this world, and it’s on these blogs that the best information is being exchanged, good stuff about how to grow urban cycling in our needy times.
Needy from a public health point of view, (we are a very fat nation, Australia) and needy from a climate change point of view. We are a spendthrift nation, too.
Our carbon footprint, each of us, is over 20 tons. We go everywhere in our cars, even the shortest trip has us reaching for the keys.
I say that our cars are not a life style choice as we suppose, but a lifesteal choice. Each unnecessary trip in a car steals an exercise opportunity
Many blogs contribute to this semi underground debate on urban biking Two have come to fascinate me.
Those of Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagen, (copenhagninze.com) and that of David Hembrow in Holland. (A view from the cycle path)
David is actually a Brit. who moved to the Netherlands with his family for the better bike infrastructure, which he now enjoys and makes wicker bike baskets too.
If David has a fault, it’s his constant posting of the Dutch as such paragons of bike lane building, etc. It makes you just feel like giving up in a country like Australia.
I’ve told David this, but he can’t stop. How could you in a country with 29,000 kms. of cycle paths? It’s sickening.
Anyway, my wish is to interview all the great bike bloggers of the world. With no grants, that’s a probably an impossible dream.
In the meantime, I’ve been using a young videographer, Violeta Brana-Lafourcade, who’s super economical, to go places for me, and to film interviews, which she’s done with flair.
Two with Mikael have already been posted. The Guy from Cycle Chic and; Talking to Mikael.
Now, here’s what Violeta sent me on David Hembrow. I hope you like; Talking to David Henbrow. Do leave a comment. It’s mainly about Sit-up bikes which I see as the key to change here.
Thousand will say the type of bike does not matter much, but are they right? Here’s David.
After, making this film, I sent to it David Hembrow with a question which I would have liked Violeta to ask him if I’d thought of it before her visit.
David, Do you think that the sit-up bike sets up a different
“conversation” with other road users as compared with the bent over position favored here?
I think the sit-up is friendlier, that one can make eye contact more easily, and that it’s more apt to be friendly.
That is why I’m pushing hard for people here to think about this posture as not only as safer and more comfortable, but as sending a different message, creating a different climate on the roads. What do think?
David has just replied.
Mike, I think the sit up position is a little more friendly, but it’s only a
part of the difference between cycling in the Netherlands vs. elsewhere.
People are friendly to you here whatever you ride. Dutch cycling isn’t only about sit up bikes. There are also far more dropped handlebar racing bikes and mountain bikes over here than anywhere else, as well as recumbents and velomobiles, and anything else. It really doesn’t matter much what you ride, people will still smile.
One of the things I first noticed about the Netherlands is that people
smile an awful lot more than they do in the UK. On the streets in the
UK you’d think upturned edges of mouths had been banned by royal
decree, but not here. No, people look like they’re actually enjoying
This goes for drivers as much as for cyclists. Drivers give way to you
when they should… and when they shouldn’t. One person holding up
another doesn’t result in car horns blasting and waving of fists out
of the window. The whole situation is de-stressed.
I think a lot of it comes down to road design. Conflict is engineered
out of Dutch roads, particularly at junctions. However, it’s also down
to the amazing social developments in this country.
I think I’ve said before that cycling is just one part of it. The rate of cycling is closely tied with the other things. There is very much a social
While in Britain these days it seems to have become
remarkably socially acceptable to drive dangerously around children,
in this country you don’t expect other people to put your children in
danger when they are on the roads.
The sit up position on a bike is better for most people most of the
time simply because it’s comfortable, and very much a hop-on / hop-off
However, the position is not the only benefit of such bikes.
The fully equipped nature of them makes a huge difference too. Quite
apart from being suited to carry lots of stuff, the enclosed chain and
brakes and very puncture resistant tyres are something which I really can’t emphasize enough.
These are bicycle features which everyone takes for granted on a car.
I don’t think anyone would put up with a car which got punctures every
few hundred kilometers, needed brake maintenance as often as that and which required regular gear box maintenance such as re-oiling after
Not having to do these things makes all the difference
between a vehicle which you can rely on and a toy.
Tyres such as the Schwalbe Marathon Plus simply don’t puncture. They
are heavy due to a centimeter thick anti puncture layer, which also
makes them slower than racing bike tyres.
However, while they don’t offer speed they do offer utter reliability. There’s nothing slower or less useful than a bike with a puncture. My family’s bikes all have these tyres.
An exposed chain on a bike is much like having a car gear box with
exposed cogs, and the oil getting washed off and replaced by dust and
mud every time you drive.
If cars were built like that you’d have to clean and re-lube the gearbox after each drive, and regularly have to replace parts due to wear.
It’s the same with bikes without a full chain-guard. Enclosing the chain completely changes this. You oil it perhaps once a year, and rarely replace other drive chain components.
The bike can be used with salt on the roads and sit out in all weather
without the chain rusting.
Hub brakes offer a similar level of improved reliability. They last
the lifetime of the bike without adjustment. You simply never have to
On the other hand, the normal rim brakes used on bikes
wear down their pads over just a few thousand km, and also wear down the wheels themselves. That they’re lower in weight is important in competition, but otherwise not.
These things reduce maintenance to near zero and push reliability
right up to the level of a car, and that to me is much more important
than merely sitting up right.
In the past, I tried adapting bikes simply to have a more upright
posture. It’s not a waste of time to try, however the frames are
typically built too long to be completely successful, and you still
have the problems of exposed chains and the wrong types of brakes.
Just to adjust the handlebar position you need to following parts: new
stem (for shorter reach), new handlebars, new cable outers and inners.
Possibly new grips, and maybe new shifters depending on the
arrangement on your existing bike. Also maybe new brake levers
(compatible with whatever type of brake you have).
BTW, the Marathon Plus tyre is available in Australia. It’s very very
popular here due to being the leader so far as never getting a
puncture is concerned:
Oh, and what I will say is that these town bikes are remarkably social
bikes. It’s quite normal for all age groups to transport others on the
rear racks, and teenagers sometimes travel three to a bike. You can’t
do that with a dropped handlebar racer.
BTW, the rear racks on proper Dutch bikes are really robust. They’re
not those skinny 10 kg rated things which you see elsewhere, but
robust chunks of real, heavy, steel which you can definitely transport
an adult on top of !