12 December 2010

Buy a Heavy Bike

14:11 - 19 Copenhagen Minutes
It can't come as any great surprise that we thoroughly enjoyed this article from the BBC. There is a reason that the upright bicycle is the most bicycle on the planet and has been for 125 years.

Choose comfort over carbon. Upright safety over hunched-over speed. You'll get there just as quick anyway. Science will back you up.

It's Not About the Bike - from BBC News.

It's a no-brainer. Cycling is good for you. It keeps you fit, gets you out in the fresh air and is kind to the environment.

Cycling to work is more popular than ever, because it's an easy way of fitting exercise into the daily routine and it doubles as transport.

According to the government, "regular exercise like cycling halves your chances of suffering from heart disease, and helps to prevent strokes, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer.

"Your blood pressure and resting heart rate will be lower, and you'll feel more awake and less stressed."

And it can save a fortune. Or can it?

Dr Jeremy Groves, a consultant anaesthetist at Chesterfield Royal Hospital and self-confessed cycling fan, discovered that, "spending a lot of money on a bicycle for commuting is not necessarily going to get you to work more quickly".

Dr Groves' set up a trial to test whether his new, lightweight carbon-framed bicycle (which cost £1000) was any faster than his second-hand steel-framed bike bought for £50.

Heavy or light?

For six months he tossed a coin each morning to decide which bike to use - and then timed the journey.

His study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there was no measurable difference in commuting time over the 27 miles from Sheffield to his place of work and back.

The average journey time using his heavy, old bike was 1 hour 47 minutes and the average journey for the new, lighter new bike was 1 hour 48 minutes.

"A reduction in the weight of the cyclist rather than that of the bicycle may deliver great benefit at reduced cost," the study says.

Dr Groves declares himself "disappointed" to find out that his financial investment was giving him no extra time in bed and no less time on the road.

"I could have invested that money in better cycle clothing and in tarting up the lights on my bike instead," he said.

Tax break

His findings are also disappointing for those who have used the government's Cycle to Work scheme to buy the bike of their dreams at a discounted price, thanks to tax exemption.

Why invest in a Chris Boardman streamlined two-wheeler and turn into a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) - we all know one - if it's not going to save a bit of time and energy?

"It's not always about getting there first," says Philip Ingham from British Cycling.

"Although lighter bikes can go more quickly, their thinner tyres make them more fragile and more vulnerable to punctures. Mountain bikes, in contrast, have big tyres, strong brakes and often feel safer to ride."

If given the choice between riding the heavy or light bike, Dr Groves says he would choose the former.

"I get there just as quickly, and it is more comfortable, better value, and has more character," he confesses.

Sir Chris Hoy would undoubtedly take issue with his choice, but Dr Groves has a theory.

"Evidence-based medicine shows us that brand new medication is often not much different from generic medicine - but we are tempted by the fact it's new, so it must be better.

"The same is true of bicycles," he says.

Dr Groves isn't entirely downcast though.

"Cycling for me is a great hobby. It gets me out in the fresh air, keeps me healthy, is carbon neutral and, provided I don't buy any more bikes, is a cost effective way to travel."


Brent said...

The "Rapid Responses" to the article are worth a read:


I especially liked this one:

"This study is flawed and should not have been published.

The last thing I want is for my wife to find out that there is no difference in performance in my 'winter trainer' (i.e. old aluminium bike) and my posh carbon fibre beauty."

George said...

Great post, thanks for passing it on. On my way to work I see many people who work in lower paying agriculture related jobs riding their heavy department/discount store bikes to work and it makes me think that riding any bike is better than not riding one. After all any bike even a heavy, cheap bike is a great way to get around.

dr2chase said...

EXCELLENT. I love data.

I can offer some of my own, that you will probably enjoy.

First, earlier this year, I switched to folding-bike pedals so that I could quickly switch back and forth between cleats and not. I had thought I would use cleats for the longer trip (10 miles) to work and back. But one Monday, I was in a hurry, and just hopped on the bike in normal shoes. And I got there fast enough, and my legs were not sore. So I kept doing it. I know my "best time" from work to home, and using ordinary pedals, riding in flip-flops, I equalled it. As a side effect, I rode my bike more in general, because I could just use whatever was on my feet. Except for a long organized ride this summer, it's been 100% platform pedals.

Second, a few years ago, after denting a hand-built rim (rumpled the sidewall -- bad roads, cargo bike, not a skinny guy) I decided to try really fat slick tires. I figured I would be slower, but would not care about bumps, and it would be nice for my hands and butt, and that would be an acceptable tradeoff. Then I noticed that I was beating my best times riding to work. Consistently. Eventually, I went so far as to test the rolling friction, swapping back and forth several times, and rolling on the bike down a gentle grade, to see which tire took me further (at low speeds, where wind resistance is not a large factor). The fat tires (twice the diameter, half the pressure) consistently rolled me further. Thin tires are better at racing speeds because of the air resistance on the tire itself, but at commuting speeds, I ride faster with fat tires.

I have no doubt that someone, who has never measured this personally, who does not even know someone who has measured this personally, will take issue with this, and I can only ask, "how do you know what you know? Who should I believe, some stranger on the internet, or my own lying eyes?" I measured. I know. You may think, "oh, but rotating mass is much more significant". Yes, it is -- it provides a little less than double the effect of a non-rotating mass. Weigh a tire. Weigh yourself. Notice the two orders of magnitude difference.

Note that besides rolling more easily, fat tires are also more comfortable, need less frequent inflation, less vulnerable to pinch flats, and safer, because they won't get trapped by cracks in the road surface

Experimental protocol here, including video of the experiment itself.

dothebart said...

You fail to mention two important points while citing this article:
- both bikes were road bikes with small tires. so your picture of a cargo bike totaly misses the point.
- that guy is wearing lycra. Regardles whether he's riding a steel roadbike or a carbon roadbike.

If you take that distance with other bikes (like SUVs with big fat tires; yes, there is fun riding in the forrest, not having to get off it if you have to dig your wai through some mud...) but riding it on the same road track as you do with a roadbike, it'll take you up to 1/3rd longer with the SUV. If not, you've done leisure on the roadbike and are real trying hard on the MTB.

And the comment about the brakes you cite, I've got bikes with disk brakes, cantilever brakes, v-brakes and magura hs33. I'd like none of these on my roadbike.
For the mountainbike with the Magura Louise, yes, I need that, i'm a 100 kg, and the Magura julie would fail on me on steep trails.

Another word on lycra... Next to Jeans using more power to bend while cycling, at least for me they're to expensive to waste on a bike. Have a look under your saddle and found some buzz there? yes, this was once part of your jeans. This doesn't happen to lycra. A simple matter of cost to change your pants before cycling 10 km or more.

Btw Brent, have a crossbike for the winter ;-)

Klaus Mohn said...

Upright bicycles are indeed "the most bicycle".

SteveL said...

What this shows is that there is no Return on Investment in spending money on fast bicycles, as you and your fitness are the main factors in delays.

This is why we in Bristol Traffic have denounced the fashion for a of bicycle as a mid life crisis toy. It doesn't matter how much you spend, the younger cyclists will leave you behind. Whereas with a car, the older men with money can at least leave the kids in their little behind. And if not, you can drive behind them flashing the headlights from your SUV into their mirror, and overtake them as soon as it is possible.

dr2chase said...

@SteveL -- my wife insists that my cargo bike is my midlife crisis toy, though she also says that she prefers it to some of the common alternatives. Cargo bikes are not cheap, and at several points in its maintenance, I have taken the attitude that I am old, I have wanted nice things for quite some time, and actually, very high quality on a bike is not that expensive. Phil Wood bottom bracket, $100. Brooks Flyer saddle, $120. Nokian snow tires, $150.

I still haven't sprung for the Rohloff IGH, but I am thinking about it. That's my new metric for unhappy expenses -- we had a sick+threatening tree removed, at a cost of 2 mail-order Rohloffs. I had some necessary dental work, cost about 1 US-retail Rohloff.

Anonymous said...

I prefer dropped handlebars on my tourer. More hand positions, more comfortable over long journeys (>20km), choice between quite upright for comfort and more crouched for windy conditions. (Touring bikes, even when they look like road bikes, have fairly high handlebars. They're also, like mine, usually made of steel.)

I chose a tourer over a roadster-style or Dutch-style bike. It's carries heavy loads over long distances more stably and with less effort.

It's got nothing to do with mid-life crises or fashion or a misguided concern with speed. It's a purely practical approach to utility cycling, based on my own experience over twenty-five years.

Anonymous said...

re dothebart comment re fuzz under the saddle?! No I haven't ever noticed that!Am I missing something?


kfg said...

". . .you and your fitness are the main factors in delays."

SteveL - Which is faster across London, a Ferrari Enzo or a FIAT 500?

The answer is: The Short John.

Explaining why this is so, at least in that particular environment, and how it contradicts your premise, is left as an exercise for the student.

Hint: Chris Hoy will only beat the Long John rider by about the same margin as he would on the track.

Green Idea Factory said...

DR2chase: Very good and part of a few-years old thing by Schwalbe about big tyres and no suspension etc.

Green Idea Factory said...

TOO crappy a bike is problem. Reliable, tyres that dont get punctured. Lights, reflectors. All necessary or ideal.

James D. Schwartz said...

While I was reading the article, I was expecting a nice sturdy, heavy, upright Dutch bike. Then I looked at the photos and saw that both bikes looked almost identical; except one is probably a few pounds lighter than the other.

I also thought it was funny that he's commuting a pretty ridiculous distance (43km).

On the other hand, I loved the premise of the article. It's good to see the mainstream media at least making an attempt to push bicycles for everyday transportation.

John the Monkey said...

My understanding is that the article is from the Christmas edition of the BMJ, where the medics go a bit whacky and post tongue in cheek articles that aren't quite as rigorous as usual.

Secondly, it's one chap's experience alone. I ride a "heavy" steel bike to work most days (because I can fit large tyres to it, because it carries weight well, and because it's comfortable). I like it a lot, but my commuting speeds are between 2mph and 4mph slower on this bike than on my lighter bike.

I suspect the clincher is traffic volumes and road layout (i.e. number of lights and junctions he waits at). Beyond a certain number, I'd surmise that all his lightweight bike is doing is getting him to those waiting points more quickly.

Corey said...

I don't really agree with the sentiment of this article. Anecdotally, I find that it's often the riders of clunker bikes who complain the most about longer distances and hills. It just isn't that pleasant to ride an old Schwinn Varsity when you have a modern steel frame with Columbus tubing and lightweight components. We shouldn't scare off beginner cyclists with exorbitant price tags, but an $80 bicycle is not going to encourage anyone to keep riding.

Will said...

How's the air in that guy's tires on the short-john?
Wanted to make that bike as sloooow as is humanly possible...

Pete from Baltimore said...

I work as a construction laborer who is self-employed and has a few employees.So i usually have to strap several tools to my bike rack.

I ride an old fashioned style Raleigh Bike. But there are few other brands sold in America that can be used as a "Workhorse Bike". Most are too light weight .

I did see a guy with a great style of bike that was perfect for being a "workhorse Bike". I asked him where he got it. He said that he got it while living in the Netherlands. It figures!

Bikes in America are usually only marketed towards mountain bikers,bike racers or for people that can afford to spend over $600-$800 for a simple road bike

Drunk Engineer said...

Of course, this scientific report isn't news.

Not only is the commuter bike as fast as the carbon fiber racer, it is just as fast as the 3500 pound automobile too.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the similarity in timing for each bike was due to the pattern of traffic lights and rail crossings, etc., that nullified the potentially greater average speed that the newer bike allowed... Also, if he was riding a steel lugged racing bike from the 80s, not like an old beach cruiser, the difference between the bikes might not be that significant. Comparing a mt bike from the 80s and a road bike from this year, perhaps the results would be different.

dr2chase said...

@anon -

One issue, with very large tires, is that they give you route options that you don't get with skinny tires. Back when I had skinny tires, there were roads that I avoided because of the potholes. With fat tires, not so bad. Muddy bits, I can traverse. Off-road for little bits, also not a problem.

Anonymous said...

An old steel racer or tourer maybe heavier than a super-dooper carbon special but still considerably better than an upright oxbridge/dutch bike. I got a Pashley Roadster a couple of years back through cyclescheme. Apart from the shoddy build quality, the Pashley was made of pig iron and weighed a tonne, the wrong kind of bike for anywhere with hills. My time to work and back has decreased considerably since I switched to an old '80s Raleigh Racer.

Erica said...

The reason for buying a lighter bike is not speed, it is so you do not kill yourself going up steep slopes.

The gentleman in this study clearly does not live in a hilly area. There are some hipsters who ride "beach cruiser" style bikes here in San Francisco. You can easily find them just by looking for people pushing their bikes uphill.

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