Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Dynamo lights on a budget

So do you want bright reliable lights that last forever (almost) for about 60-80 quid? Here's how
Battery lights are everywhere, from the cheap pound shop specials that are worse than useless to mega lumens USB chargeable artificial suns from Ebay & beyond.

They all have one disadvantage. At some point they will either die on you mid ride, or you forget to charge them. So you either carry multiple lights, or spare batteries or both.

There is an alternative - Dynamo lights, which seem to be forgotten secret amongst UK cyclists
Most people only remember the horrid bottle dynamos of old that slipped as soon as the tyres became damp and were like riding with the brakes on and were about as effective as a candle in a gale.

Both my bikes which I alternate between for commuting have dynamos which give out reliable bright light without any noticeable drag. I actually run with the lights on permanently during the winter months as there's no gain from turning them off.

Most battery lights are quoted in terms of lumens. This is just the total amount of light put out by the light. Most of them though have no directed beam, so the light shoots everywhere. Dyno lights are made to german SvTZO standards and have directed & focussed beams. It is the focussed area of the beam which is measured in Lux. Sadly there seems to be no direct comparison between the two measures.

This is about dyno lights on a budget though, hence no mention of SON dynamos, or expensive front lights.

My setup

Wheels & the generator

Both bikes have budget Shimano DH-3N31 hubs. I bought mine ready built into complete front wheels from Taylor Wheels in Germany at about £40 a wheel, which makes them a quick drop in replacement. Rims are basic but hard wearing and functional. My first wheel now probably has about 6000 miles on it through all weathers and is still true. Wheels are available in all sizes and with nuts/quick release, and with disk brake mounts. I use the hub with wheel nuts to increase security. As I run hub gears anyway which are nutted not having QRs is not a major issue for me.

Taylor Wheels 20 inch bike front wheel Dynamic 4 DH-3N31 hub dynamo silver...

Front lights

I originally bought ultra budget Secu-sport LED front lights and broke both.
I'm now running a 75lux Herrmans H-One-S lights on both bikes which is wonderfully bright, and about £25-£30 from EU web shops or Ebay

Each light comes with a long length of cable for connecting to the generator, and female spade connectors for connecting to a rear light. There's an on-off switch, but I just leave them on all the time

Rear lights

My rear lights differ more, but both are rack mounted.
The first is a Herrmans H-Track which was about £9, and projects a ring of light from central LEDs around a large rear reflector. the second is a B&M Toplight Line Plus (£18) which has a bright horizontal line of light above a large reflector

Herrmans H-track

B&M Topline Plus
Both are bright from a distance, and little to choose between them on the road.both of these lights are designed to fit a rear rack with a light bracket with 80mm spaced holes.
For the bike with the Herrmans, I needed to buy a Topeak adaptor for a couple of quid as the rack had a bracket with 2 vertical holes.

Putting it all together

It's very simple to put all this together and make it work. the front lights are pre-wired.
You'll need some 2 core speaker/auto cable & some 2.8mm male spade connectors (Halfords calls them audio connectors) and a crimping tool if you want to make your own wiring to the rear light, or you could buy a ready made cable with connectors. Crimpers & connectors are cheap though.

  1. Fit a rim tape (velox cloth is best) and tyre/tube to the wheel and fit to the bike.
  2. Fit the front light to the bike.
  3. The hub comes with a plug in connector remove it & push the wires in from the front light into it and plug into the hub.
  4. Spin the wheel & turn on the light and bingo!
  5. Measure a length of cable, and crimp male spade connectors to each core at each end ( 4 in total)
  6. Connect the cable to the short tails on the front light, and to the rear light, carefully making sure you keep the polarity (+ to +. - to - )
  7. Spin the front wheel, and both the front and back light should light. If the rear doesn't, then carefully check to make sure you haven't crossed the connections.
  8. Once it's working fit the rear light to the bike, and secure the cable with cable ties. Electrical insulating tape will do a fine job of weatherproofing the connections.

Link to the Shimano generator fitting & wiring instruction (PDF)

This is a really comprehensive guide to dyno lights with shots of the lights in action

Any questions, ask away in the comments


Friday, 13 November 2015

John the Seatpost Man and bicycle frame savior

Below is a cautionary tale of unnecessary woe and appearance of a savior

When stripping my beloved Moulton down for a repaint when it needed the rear triangle replaced,, I was horrified to find that the seatpost was seized. None of the usual remedies worked including twisting, heating, freezing, cursing, and so for the first time close to 25 years, I had to resort to handing something over to a bicycle repair man.

After a couple of months & a couple of gallons of penetrating lube even they admitted defeat. So once again I was left with a stuck frame. Another month and a bin full of hacksaw blades, saw me contemplating writing the frame off. The white tape on the fram in the photo below is the depth of the post inside the frame

Somehow my desperate google-fu finally fished up the website of John The Seatpost Man. A couple of emails followed and John seemed confident he could succeed.

The rub is that he did remove it. I have no idea how, presumably black magic or other dark arts, but he saved another valuable and loved frame. The seat tube inner now looks factory fresh. 

Had I found John's service sooner I would have saved months of wasted effort and heartache.

If your post becomes stuck, just go straight to John. Don't mess about with any other "remedies" or workshops.
I cannot recommend his service strongly enough. the man is a genius and a savior

On the bright side, the missus thought the Moulton was a write off so let me buy a new one and I now have two, although one still needs painting & rebuilding at this time    

Sunday, 12 April 2015

2015 election. #Votebike Candidate replies.

I used the CTC #votebike campaign to send emails to the prospective parliamentary candidates in my constituency (Jarrow)

The reply from Nick Mason representing the Conservative party is copied below


Many thanks for your email. I cycle to work and am absolutely committed to the benefits of cycling, as well as aware of the risks that are involved. With that in mind, I hope I'm not being too self-serving in how I answer your questions!

- Yes, we absolutely should not just have the ambition but evidenced leadership to increase cycling levels.
- Ultimately ambition and leadership do a whole lot better when there's some money behind them. So yes, it needs to be backed up with funding.
- I've seen too much evidence of injury and death because of poorly designed traffic schemes. Cyclists have at least an equal right to the road, and in a country where we pride ourselves on looking after the vulnerable it seems appropriate that the vulnerable on the roads should be particularly noticed, not forgotten. So again I agree.
- The principle of improving safety is one I entirely support. But I'd obviously need to see the precise suggestions, because not all well-meaning legislation actually serves its purpose.
- I agree; and I think that maybe this could be tied in with the cycle to work scheme. At the moment the scheme is very attractive from a financial point of view - it seems to me that some of those savings could be diverted towards paying for compulsory training to ensure that the benefit is used best.

That was a very easy lobby to respond to!

Many thanks,


2015 election. #Votebike Candidate replies.

I used the CTC #votebike campaign to send emails to the prospective parliamentary candidates in my constituency (Jarrow)

The reply from Norman Hall representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is copied below

Dear Gary

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding my position on cycling.

Although I am not currently a regular cyclist, I am aware of the need to properly invest in measures to improve cycling safety and to encourage people of all ages to consider greater use of cycling. I see two major and obvious benefits in cycling: first to aid personal fitness and secondly to assist in reducing inefficient and environmentally-damaging individual car use.

The lack of investment in genuine traffic-free cycle lanes, particularly at busy junctions and, as cuts to council services continue, deteriorating road surfaces and potholes present real dangers to cyclists. A couple of years ago I was in Cologne in Germany and saw what is possible with a clear division of major streets between Pedestrians, Cyclists and Motor Vehicle lanes/areas.

Training for cyclists and drivers alike, as well as expansion of secure storage facilities, e.g at rail stations and on trains themselves, would all also encourage cycle use.

These developments need to be part of a plan for an integrated public transport system across our towns and cities with much-reduced fares and increased capacity to encourage drivers to switch from cars to other forms of transport.

Of course, all this requires resources. However, hope that Local Authorities, health bodies and schools might help in encouraging increased cycle use comes up against the fact that all of these organisations face budget cuts, cuts that all of the main parties are committed to continuing with if they are elected to Government after May 7. It needs more than fine words to support cycling, it needs a genuine commitment to stop cuts and to start investing in our future.

TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, is proud to make that commitment. We know that there is plenty of wealth available to meet needs, including the development of greater cycle use. Parties wedded to the 1% who hold that wealth are not going to deliver for the 99%. TUSC will.

I hope this answers your question.

If you would like any more information, have any questions or would like to assist us in our campaign, feel free to reply to this email or visit our websites at the bottom.

Yours Sincerely

Norman Hall
TUSC Parliamentary Candidate for Jarrow

Sunday, 15 February 2015

More bollocks - A19/A1290 junction critique

One of the big manufacturing locations and success stories in the North East (despite it being a car plant) is the Nissan factory and accompanying infrastructure just to the west of the A19 at Sunderland.

Over the last year or so, works have been carried out and are still ongoing in some places, to remodel junctions and roads around the Nissan site to improve the road network and attempt to reduce pinch points.

From a cycling perspective, this has seen 3m shared paths on all the approach roads to Nissan, and some junction changes. Most of this work has been carried out by Sunderland council, and to be fair have been well executed.

At the northern most tip of this area, the junction of the A19 and A1290 has been extensively changed from a simple 2 roundabout interchange  (shown below). the roundabouts have now been removed and each replaced with a set of traffic lights.This work has been carried out by South Tyneside Council on behalf of the Highways Agency at a cost of £150,000 for the cycling portion (courtesy of this FOI reply)

The A1290 now has a 3 metre shared path along the south side of the road (from the bottom left looping around the junction and along the western carriageway to the bottom right of the picture)

A short section of 3 metre shared path has been built from the north exit slip road along the top right of the junction and terminates just short of where the cyclepath from Boldon colliery meets the road in the top right of the picture.
To the left the new shared path. To the right the bridleway/cyclepath north to the A184

Crossing points have been put in just to the west of the southbound slip roads, crossing the slips, and the main A1290 carriageway.

There are a few shortcomings with the cycling provision at this new junction, which I feel should have been resolved during the design.

The crossings are all multi stage, and to cross from the north of the A1290 at the eastern side of the junction takes 4 separate light controlled crossings & button pushes on the Toucan crossings.

4 separate crossings for one road. Council getting bulk discount for crossing button controls?

Whilst some of the crossings change automatically to green, this is at best a confusing crossing especially in the dark. A better solution would have been a single green phase crossing for pedestrians and cyclists, or at least to reduce the number of crossings.

The crossing of the northbound exit from the A19 is also a 2 stage crossing. Again, this should have been a single stage crossing

As most of the users of the crossings are people on bikes, then this crossing could have been a great opportunity for a "green wave" crossing across the entire junction. By contrast a crossing at the junction of Nissan Way & Turbine way only a short ride away on my route is a simultaneous green crossing, but that is Sunderland Council. It however proves it could have been done here though.

Access from the new junction to the cycleway/bridlepath has been ignored. The 3 metre shared path abruptly terminates and reduces down to 2 metre just short of where the bridleway and road currently meet.
Mind the gap! The bridleway/shared path junction is where the truck is parked

The most direct and shortest line to join the bridleway is via a set of muddy earth and mud steps down to the corner. of the bridleway. Ideally a  realigned and graded 3 metre wide shared path should have been provided north from the junction following the desire lines. Actually this is currently planned in as part of a larger scheme to rebuild the major junction just north of here at Testos (shown below), but that work is not scheduled to be completed until, approx 2019

Why was this not done as part of this work? Why do we need to wait 3 years?

There is no access onto the shared path from the minor road to the west of the junction. That road is a quiet lane leading to the A195/A194 junction and the Follingsby lane industrial park.
This seems to be due to the only focus being on north/south traffic towards the Nissan complex.
Improving junction access to Follingsby lane and subsequently improving safety along that road would have enabled a cycling corridor from East Gateshead to Nissan, Sunderland, and Boldon.
Whilst a 3m shared path along the north of the junction and an extra crossing point to join the path heading south would have been the ideal solution, even a dropped curb to allow cycles to be ridden across the A1290 and onto the path would have been an improvement.

The next alternative is the A184, which is a busy dual carriageway with very poor and limited cycling facilities.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Broadband for bikes! The revolution seems to be coming

This week has been quite momentous for cities at either end of England.

On Thursday Boris got his cycling superhighways as he calls them approved by the Transport for London board and they'll now be built.

Before that, on Wednesday, Newcastle trumped that by announcing plans to convert John Dobson Street to a cycling street from it's current urban dual carriageway. This will rip up one side and replace with a 2 way cycle path, whilst the other side will be 2 way for traffic, mainly buses.
This is John Dobson street currently

And this is what it will look like once converted

It's a huge change and significant certainly for the North East if not the country. Unlike London which has developed a large cycling share already, Newcastle hasn't to any large degree. I am hugely excited for both schemes, but particularly Newcastle

Boris calls his scheme "crossrail for bikes".

I prefer to think of both schemes as analogous to the start of the superfast broadband rollout across the UK.

Years ago, people using the internet at home (and often at work too) were enthusiasts and people interested in computers and technology for their own sake. The internet was accessed though slow dial up modems and only slightly quicker 1/2mb "broadband".

Normal people thought the internet was for geeks and freaks. "What would I use it for?" they'd shout.

Superfast broadband, and the advent of smartphones and tablets has changed all that.
All manner of people are now using the devices and the broadband for every thing from booking tickets, to shopping and banking. they're watching TV and movies streamed in real time and catchup.

Look at how services like Netflix have caught on. Superfast broadband made it possible and people just used it. A lot of the time it's less about the absolute speed but the convenience, and what is known as latency. Superfast Broadband removes a lot of the waiting and hanging around waiting for services to load.

These schemes in Newcastle and London (and elsewhere) are in the vanguard of super convenient cycling broadband with low latency as cycling traffic will be prioritised.

As an aside, latency is perhaps a good way of looking at and rating cycling infra. How long waiting at junctions & crossings? What's the congestion like with pedestrians etc? Because that's what slows people down and makes cycling unattractive in the UK when not on the road.

I expect that when these are  built & start being used, people in the city centres will start using the and cycling in ways we haven't really seen in modern Britain until now.

Hopefully, then other authorities will look at them and see that the societies haven't crashed, that lots more have used them, and will want a  piece of that for themselves.