enviolo automatiq gear hub

on my last visit to portland's fair city, around ten years ago, i was loaned a bicycle oufitted with a shimano alfine eight-speed hub gear, the ratios on which were particularly fitting for perambulating the city's streets. however, as a confirmed roadie, forever in thrall to the derailleur, i found myself completely remiss when time came to stop at portland's numerous traffic lights. for, as we all know, changing gear on a derailleur bicycle requires motion at the cassette, something that is well nigh impossible to accomplish when stationary.

hub gears, however, such as the aforementioned shimano alfine, or anything from sturmey archer or rohloff, do not suffer from such restrictions. thus, had i had my head screwed on properly, i would have realised sooner, that if stopping in eighth gear, the opportunity to switch to first or second while awaiting the changing of the lights, was right in front of me.

of course once the realisation dawned, the daily pedal became even more enjoyable.

and though the derailleur gear still rules the roost, even when applied to modern-day e-bikes, its iniquities still reign supreme. this is witnessed on a weekly basis when undertaking the solo saturday ride or the more communal event of a sunday morning. having waxed lyrical yesterday about the difficulties of pleasing everyone when using or avoiding the myriad number of passing places hereabouts. due to the nature of many of islay's singletrack roads, it's perfectly possible to unexpectedly meet oncoming traffic, diving into the nearest passing place at the last minute.

the collateral of so doing frequently entails being in completely the wrong gear to restart, more often than not, at the bottom or halfway up an incline. believe me the creaks and groans to be heard are more likely to be my knee joints than anything related to the bicycle. but the derailleur system encompasses no other way. prior to shimano inventing hyperglide and campagnolo following suit with their own version of cassette ramps, it was a brave rider who attempted to change gear under such pressure, particularly when the levers were fitted to the down tube.

a friend of mine recently bought himself a land rover discovery, with automatic transmission. but in place of the expected gear lever that would usually be moved fore and aft to select drive, reverse, neutral etc., on starting the car, a large(ish) dial rises from the central console, from where it has been sitting flush with its surroundings. at that point, all my friend has to do, is turn the dial to the required setting, and off we go. a far cry from even sti or ergopower, whether mechanically or electronically powered.

but what if there was a gear system that acted in a similar manner to that of a land rover's automatic transmission? i'm glad that you asked, for enviolo have designed just such a system entitled automatiq incorporating a 'set it and forget it' aproach. enviolo's gearing system is encased within a unique rear hub, involving constantly varying ratios via a set of eccentric diameter bearings. altering the angle of these bearings allows the gear ratio to alter smoothly and seamlessly, controlled by a manual or automatic controller.

the automatiq system allows the rider to choose a cadence at which they feel comfortable, and the system will continually alter the gearing to enable pedalling at that specific cadence, uphill or downhill. and with reference to my opening paragraph, should you have to suddenly stop at a junction, a pedestrian crossing or traffic lights, the bike is automatically placed in 'under drive', allowing the rider to restart with ease and quickly return to the preset cadence. naturally enough, programming of the device can be carried out via a smartphone app.

so, i hear you ask, if such a system not only exists, but is currently available, why are we not all riding enviolo gears? it surely can't be a price deterrent, for it appears that an enviolo automatiq rear hub retails at around £450. add in the controller and a gates carbon drive or even a chain, and it's still a lot cheaper than a campagnolo super-record eps groupset in excess of £3,500.

but we are, at heart and despite repeated denials, weight weenies (some more so than others). an enviolo rear hub alone, weighs a sliver under 2.5kg, close to the weight of an entire super-record groupset. and though there has been many a protestation seen in print disparaging the effect of weight related to the sort of riding undertaken by you and i, unless heading up the angliru, still we wish to emulate the efforts of our heroes and betters in the professional milieu. if they're riding dura-ace, sram red or super-record, that's exactly what we too would like to be seen riding. which probably leaves enviolo's automatiq to the legs of the more pragmatically minded.

sometime soon, we might have cause to look a tad foolish.

monday 27 june 2022

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where did we go wrong?

safe passing distance

just over week ago, heading out on my usual saturday perambulations, i was but a mere 4km from the croft and heading past what is locally known as 'nurse's cottage, when i was aware of a following vehicle. the cottage sits on a short stretch of road that curves in the direction of bridgend village, taking cyclists and motorists away from views of loch indaal. seeing the road ahead to be completely clear, i waved on the van behind, the driver of which duly overtook, closely followed by a motor car. as we neared the corner, with both vehicles safely past, a car appeared heading in the opposite direction, when suddenly another van overtook me in clear sight of the oncoming vehicle, the latter having to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision.

as i rounded the corner, a post van pulled past, the driver of which was heard loudly castigating the van ahead which had almost caused an accident. the majority of you will be nodding in recognition of an almost daily happening, one in which it often appears we, as cyclists, appear to be expendable; collateral damage, if you will. for the van driver who overtook at the last minute, there was little advantage to be seen in so doing, but i do wonder why they were so impatient as to carry out such a dangerous manouevre?

my interactions with social media are limited to occasional smart-ass one-liners on twitter, but mrs washingmachinepost pretty much lives by facebook, though for the life of me, i have no idea why. however, like many locations, islay harbours a community facebook page on which, later that day, and possibly totally unrelated to the above mentioned incident, a driver posted a note, pointing out to fellow motorists, that the highway code now encouraged leaving at least 1.5 metres between them and a cyclist when passing on a two-lane road.

this posting, despite being of neutral intent, and perfectly correct in its assertions, subsequently received substantial flack from members of islay's motoring public, making all sort of accusations concerning the behaviour of cyclists, how they should get out of the way of motor vehicles and one or two other niceties guaranteed to raise the hackles of any velocipedinists reading. naturally enough, one or two cyclists weighed in on behalf of the downtrodden, and even one or two motorists did likewise. a gent who had undertaken so-called blue-light training as an airport firefighter, mentioned that his instructor had said, if cyclists caused him problems on the road, then he probably shouldn't be driving.

as i am on record as having stated previously, there are idiots; some of them ride bicycles, some of them drive cars. i have witnessed many a visiting cyclist to the hallowed isle, cycle nonchalantly passed more than a single passing place without a thought for any following motorists. that, to be blunt, is a perfect example of idiocy. if you're visiting the islands by bicycle, you plainly are not in a hurry, and no matter how fast you think you are on a bike, you're never going to be faster than the cars behind. so get out of the way; that's what passing places are for.

when it comes to oncoming traffic, the situation is a tad different, for speed is no longer an issue. it would be nice if the honour system played its part, ie, whoever reaches a passing place first ought to pull in to allow the other to pass. but this is the real world, and nine times out of ten, that's simply not going to happen. the fact is that the majority of motorists are of the opinion that they have priority no matter what (even amongst themselves). after all, it's not as if cyclists even pay (the non-existent) road tax.

and it's that latter situation, along with the often nasty comments posted on the local facebook page (which i believe were later taken down) that has me feel somewhat despondent. currently, the rmt union has called the majority of its rail-workers out on strike. i do not propose to enter a discussion as to the rights and wrongs of that particular situation, but i can't help noting more than a few messages of support for the strike appearing on my twitter feed, despite such action causing many people considerable inconvenience, including those posting in favour.

so why is it that otherwise rational people find it necessary to criticise and even threaten those who have opted for a different mode of transport than their own. it seems odd that striking railway workers can be offered vocal support despite having created often insurmountable obstacles to many people, yet those of us on bicycles who pose considerably less of a physical, tangible obstacle for a few seconds, are often on the receiving end of vitriol.

i cannot deny being found guilty of turning impatience into a virtue, but i would tend to categorise impatience as one of the deadly sins. more often than not, being stuck behind a cyclist is a situation that lasts only a few seconds, yet even yesterday, the number of times i was overtaken on blind corners and blind summits would make your hair curl. if every one of those who passed me under such circumstances had waited often less than ten seconds, they would have seen a clear road ahead and we'd both have moved on in complete safety. why does that not happen?

given that many of the hebridean islands rely on agriculture for employment and income, there are more than a few tractors on the roads, even at weekends, many of which move at speeds marginally higher than that of yours truly and the velo club peloton. yet following motorists are far less likely to attempt dangerous passing manouevres on a tractor than a group of cyclists. worst case scenario, a car or tractor gets damaged; substitute cyclists for tractor, and we could be looking at serious injury or even death. so why do so few motorists give a sh*t?

we're all trying to go somewhere, for work or simply for the sheer pleasure of going somewhere, exercising our rights to do so in whichever manner we please. it costs no money whatsoever to offer a little courtesy to each other.

sunday 26 june 2022

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it don't mean a thing...

jazz drum notation

as mentioned on several occasions, i have regularly visited the local secondary school for the past six years to tutor pupils in the art of drumset playing. this has resulted in my having to re-learn the art of reading a drum score, something i was last required to do in my early twenties. many a drummer, other than those deployed in the realm of studio session work, will be aware that very rarely does one arrive at a gig, only to be handed the drum parts for the evening. in my experience, you're just expected to know what and what not to play, even on songs previously unheard. for the most part, assuming a certain degree of percussive skill, that's pretty much how it works.

the late powerhouse drummer, cozy powell, was a self-acknowledged poor reader, but would get round the problem on recording sessions by feigning a problem with his bass drum pedal. ostensibly not wishing to hold up proceedings due to this fake malfeasance, he would encourage the producer and other musicians to run through the tune, while effecting false repairs to the errant foot pedal. having thus heard the tune in advance, he would appear to read the part when time came to record the first take.

i'm sure many will identify with that scenario.

however, to return from this minor digression, i noticed during drum lessons this week a book of reading exercises left on a music stand adjacent to the drumset. intended for second-year pupils, these exercises were very basic, starting with a simple pop rhythm, moving onto a basic rock pattern and subsequently, a shuffle. the latter, though likely to prove the hardest to master, was still one of the more easy to approach.

but, as a self-confessed jazz aficionado, it was a tad disappointing to note that the book contained not a single jazz exercise. admittedly, when one reaches national five and higher level, the range of exercises improves, but the closest that one gets is by way of a faux swing melody, but which is never identified as jazz. my question would therefore be, how is the current generation going to approach jazz music, if almost entirely absent from the curriculum?

with the exception of the two pandemic years, islay has played host to an anuual jazz festival for twenty-one years, attendance at which is almost entirely confined to a visiting audience. a quick head count at any given concert would undoubtedly return a disarmingly low percentage of local attendance. i figure the latter could be at least partially bolstered if school pupils were introduced to jazz during their formative years, not as a special case, but as a music every bit as vibrant and important as the pop and rock to which they are regularly exposed.

so what on earth has this to do with cycling? well, it strikes me that a similar situation exists with regard to cycling as a means of transport, or as a leisure experience. granted, until recently, the two latter years in primary school often featured cycling proficiency training, or bikeability as it has come to be known. however, my own experience of teaching said proficiency is that it is given no particular context. the children are taught how to ride their bicycles safely, but as an isolated experience, generally unrelated to real life.

perhaps, given the government's current climate change and active travel initiatives, it's time that cycling is introduced to the curriculum within both primary and secondary schools, creating some sort of continuity and generative purpose. nearly all the kids at the local primary school who sat and passed their cycling proficiency, subsequently ignored their bicycles on leaving primary and joining secondary school. though there are a few bicycles in the bike rack at the primary school, other than the head teacher's yellow road bike, the high school bike rack is conspicuously empty.

from such observations, it would appear that neither jazz nor cycling have found favour within the school curriculum. perhaps obviously enough, i have only experience of local matters, and it's highly likely that things are a tad different nation wide. but it does seem a bit naive to promote cycling as a means of transport which doubles as a potential solution not only for existing transport woes, but also as a vehicle that mitigates against climate change, yet obviate any specific reference within the required curriculum throughout the early years of primary and every year of secondary.

the bicycle's potential would surely be more readily realised by the adult population had it not been inadvertently obfuscated during the formative years of education. in many cases, cycling is seen as something that must be endured prior to learning to drive, or simply not mentioned at all. there will always be individual obsessives such as you and i, and that applies to both cycling and jazz, but if the government and regional councils truly seek the future they say they do, aside from providing appropriate facilities, the potential solution strikes me as somewhat obvious.

saturday 25 june 2022

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law and order

sunshine - joe marshall

ned boulting, he of yellow jumper fame, recently tweeted about his upcoming national tour of the uk. beginning with "summer will one day be over..." he then included his own brand of persuasion to buy tickets for this extravaganza. though entirely of a supercilious nature, i was brought to respond, "i admire your optimism mr boulting, but summer has yet to arrive up here." yes, i have had a word with myself.

though i can think of no ready solution, it is somewhat unfortunate that all of the seasons are portrayed as being absolutes; if it's summer in cornwall, it must also be summer in northern shetland. empirically that may be true; the common idea of summer is that of long, hot sunny, dry days, ideally spent at the beach and punctuated with donkey rides and hours on a deckchair slurping a 99 cone. that might be the case in certain locations across the country, but it's very unlikely to be the case from top to bottom.

oddly enough, on 29 march this year, britain put its clocks forward by one hour to move from greenwich mean time into the oddly named, british summer time. you would be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that summer season began at that very point, but at that time, we had yet to experience the ronde van vlaanderen and paris-roubaix, both major features of the so-called spring classics. so how does that work out?

consultation of the oracles will inform that, in fact, summer season does not officially commence until 21 june. that, if nothng else, leads only to greater confusion, for tuesday 21 june was but a matter of days past, and classified as the midsummer solstice. how on earth can summer begin in the middle of summer? the clocks go back on sunday 30 october, marking the end of british summer time. however, by this method, the year is demoted to summer and not summer, leaving little in the way of space for autumn, winter and spring.

if you weren't confused when you began reading, i'm fairly sure you will be by now.

though most would argue over the 'real' start of summer, even by official standards, mr boulting notwithstanding, we have now entered summer 2022, accompanied, hopefully, by the aforementioned donkey rides, deckchairs and ice-creams. as one of the inner hebridean islands, it would be naive to expect that islay receive temperatures concomitant with the frequently vaunted heat waves forecast for the southern part of the uk. mostly, our participation in such meteorological fancies are confined to temperatures barely into double digits, further cooled by variable strengths of wind.

however, islay's summer may actually have arrived mid-way through this past week. riding to port ellen only the other day was one of the few times this year that i have been able to cycle in shorts and (long-sleeve) jersey, bereft of accoutrements such as a gilet, waterproof or wind jacket. i am not, however, guilty of total recklessness, carrying a stowaway wind-jacket scrunched in a back pocket. you will scarcely bat an eyelid when i advise that i was almost persuaded to don said jacket on the return trip, coolness having descended at the behest of a westerly wind.

however, if we're all agreed that summer is actually all around us, i think it only incumbent on the cognoscenti to get on our bicycles and forcibly enjoy ourselves. for all the talk of aerodynamics, carbon nano-tubes, windcheating clothing, electronic gearing and power-meters, the bicycle is there to be enjoyed, hopefully by as many of us as possible. with scarce thought of top speeds, average speeds or wattage, the correct way to ride your bike is any way you really want to, appreciating your surroundings, feeling the wind in your helmet and the sun on your face.

it's the law.

photo: joe marshall

friday 24 june 2022

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do you come here often?

velo club peloton

cycling's popularity is one of those 'known' facts bandied about amongst fellow velocipedinists with abandon, secure that our smugness is a real thing. it may actually be true, but similar to apple mac users who also tend to adopt the moral high-ground despite owning a mere fraction of the desktop, there are obviously more motor cars on the road than bicycles.

but then membership of both cyclinguk and british cycling has made notable increases of late, so there are presumably grounds for at least a smidgeon of our unbearable smugness. the covid pandemic had an initially beneficial effect on the numbers cycling, but as predicted by many, including yours truly, the novelty of two wheels rapidly disappeared when life returned to some sense of normality.

though i hold a current driver's licence, i am a self-acknowledged terrible driver, and possibly because of that, i generally dislike driving. my only recourse to motorised transport tended to be the annual jazz festival, when i thought it better to hire a car to transport my drumset, rather than impose the iniquity upon friends or family. on arriving at the car hire building on my bicycle (they kindly let me leave it in their garage until the car is returned), the owner asked specifically to see my licence; not because of any possible infringements, but simply because he didn't believe i could drive.

yet, despite the latter being solely an annual occurrence, on arriving at the venue to unload the drums to set them up, nobody, and i mean nobody, expressed any surprise at my mode of travel and i had no need of experiencing queries such as "did you drive here?". nor indeed, was it a question asked by me of anyone else.

but a matter of weeks ago, which i related in these very pixels at the time, i cycled from bowmore to port ellen village some ten miles distant to the south, to witness a summer pantomime at the primary school. on arriving at the school, dressed in cycle kit and carrying my helmet and track mitts, the head teacher genuinely enquired if i had arrived by bicycle? so unusual was such a mode of transport, even considering i am well-known for cycling pretty much everywhere on the island, that she even mentioned it to the assembled multitudes in her introduction to the panto.

and only yesterday, i pedalled the same parcours, stopping short at the ramsay hall to attend a caledonian maritime assets ltd. (cmal) drop-in meeting to present projected pier works at port ellen in preparation for the two new ferries due in late 2024, early 2025. wandering amidst the information panels, dressed in shorts, cycle jersey and a casquette, with a mini-pump visibly stuffed into a rear pocket, the manager of one of islay's distilleries enquired if i had cycled from bowmore.

sad to say, these are hardly isolated cases; on several occasions have i arrived at an event or appointment, rather obviously dressed in cycling attire, to be greeted with the same "you surely didn't cycle, did you?". granted, it has always been easy to be a large fish in a small pond in the hebrides, particularly if seen to be a little bit different. on islay, cycling will do that everytime. i'm sure it's far less notable in the majority of mainlnd locations, but the look of surprise persists out here in the west.

the tour de france will commence in copenhagen in a little over a week, and it is indicative of some degree of cycling's popularity that where once eye contact would be avoided during those three weeks in july, i am nowadays, far more likely to be engaged in discussion concerning the previous day's stage than was the case even a decade past. but until such times as i, or any of my sunday morning colleagues can arrive at our destinations without incurring a thorough grilling as to how far we've cycled, and at what speed, i think it safe to say that cycling cannot truly be said to have become a part of the mainstream.

i shall not, however, be holding my breath for that day to arrive.

photo: joe marshall

thursday 23 june 2022

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a chain is gonna come

raleigh mountain bike

if you'll bear with me for a moment or two, i will state the glaringly obvious by pointing out several mechanical points on the modern bicycle, all of which are necessary to ensure smooth forward motion, but, in my opinion, are ignored far more than they ought to be. the latter is a common state of affairs across the spectrum; nobody gives a toss about a chainring bolt until it starts to creak when climbing.

however, to return to our discussion, the bicycle features two sets of headset bearings that allow us to avoid any surreptitious obstacle in our way. there's another pair of bearings at the bottom bracket, without which, all aerodynamic advances and power meter training would come to nought. both wheels are home to yet more bearings within the hubs, variable amounts in the rear, depending on the freehub construction, and there are then the moveable parts without which neither caliper or disc brakes can operate. i have a sneaking suspicion that i may have left out something obvious, (gears perhaps?) but we'll live with those for now.

tying all of those together, and without which, no matter the technical innovations developed on our behalf, we are going nowhere, is the humble chain. despite many earnest inventions, such as drive-shafts, belt-drives and one or two unmentionable others, the bicycle chain's place in the velocipedinal continuum remains assured, predominantly, it must be admitted, due to our predilection for sticking with derailleur gears.

it would be foolish to deny that the gates carbon belt-drive has not seen limited success, but in order for all to take advantage, we would have to dispense with our derailleurs and multiple sprockets, converting wholesale to hub gears or a single rear compatible sprocket. and though i would accept that rohloff have satisfactorily demonstrated the effectiveness of a wide-range, internal hub gear, its complexity, shifting arrangements and most obviously, weight, tend to mitigate against its common usage by those in thrall to skinny wheels and bendy bars.

so, until something revolutionary appears in the pages of cyclist or cycling weekly magazines, the world's chain manufacturers can still plan for a secure future. though the tom boonen endorsed classified rear hub promises (threatens?) to render the front derailleur null and void - though i believe single chainring drivesets have already ticked that particular box - it still depends upon a chain to drive the rear wheel.

the staying power of the bicycle chain was highlighted recently, when a neighbour handed me an ageing, but remarkably well conditioned raleigh mountain bike. this was passed to him by another neighbour who had no further use for it, and thought it might be a practical way to get to and from work each day. the most obvious misdemeanour requiring attention was a seriously rusted chain, still threaded through a rear derailleur no longer attached to the dropout, and both of which were zip-tied to the top tube.

though every bit as rusty, the five-speed freewheel runs as smoothly as it probably did when new; re-attaching the straddle cables to the cantilever brakes and inflating the inner tubes has left the bicycle in a fit state to receive a new chain and have the derailleur re-attached on receipt of a drive-side axle nut. perhaps not at all oddly, it took a bit of a search to find a retailer with a five-speed compatible chain in stock, though it was pleasant to discover that they cost around 10% of the price of a campagnolo record twelve-speed chain. and nor will it require a £150 chain rivet tool to fit.

judging by the tubing profiles and diameters, as well as a glance at the tread pattern and thumbshifters, this particular machine was born in the eighties, when screw-on freewheels were still a thing. however, the very fact that it's still possible to acquire a new chain (and a wheel nut) around forty years after this model was released from nottingham, is testament to the basic design of the bicycle, one that has been effectively all but wiped out in the past few years.

but once i've fitted the chain, derailleur and gear cable, adjusted the gear changing and given it a bit of a wipedown with a cloth, i have every faith that its new owner will ignore its moveable parts every bit as effectively as do we.

wednesday 22 june 2022

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when life gives you lemons

brompton bike hire

today, tomorrow and thursday, the rmt union has called a national rail strike over pay, working conditions and redundancies. the strike, as many will already know by now, will cause widespread grief and difficulties for those attempting to get to work, not so long after the governments north and south of the border, advised a return to the office as opposed to the many months when working from home was the de facto standard. up to 40,000 rail staff are expected to have participated in the strike.

it would be naive of me to make any comment on the rights or wrongs of this particular strike action; for starters, there are no trains on islay; the nearest railway station of which i am aware is that in the mainland town of oban, around 120 miles distant by ferry and bus. however, it does seem a tad counter-productive after two years of lockdown restrictions that saw many eschew public transport, including train transport, for fear of infection, many commuters relying on personal car transport, walking or cycling. you may recall that the latter gained many adherents during 2020/21, while cycle shops were categrised as essential retail to sell or maintain an increased number of bicycles.

those days are, essentially over, with a noticeable increase in motorised transport within the world's inner-cities, despite many claims by city leaders that they would not allow their towns to return to the congestion and pollution levels experienced prior to the covid pandemic. many will recall the silver-lining that was all but empty roads during the first period of lockdown in march 2020. and though rail services continued unabated during the majority of the lockdown periods, all services, includng the london underground, reported substantially fewer passengers travelling.

it is but one month snce the queen officially opened the so-called crossrail project after 13 years of construction, well behind schedule and drastically over budget. it seems a shame that it will celebrate its first month of use by closing for three days. after everything that the uk has suffered follwing the pandemic, brexit and the cost of living crisis, it seems a shame to inflict more pain upon the majority, though i'm sure that the railway union feels it has a substantial and strike-worthy case.

however, as the sayings go, 'it's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good.', or even 'every cloud has a silver-lining', though i'm conscious that not everyone will view matters in that light. for those in possession of the active gene, or are domiciled close enough to work that they might choose to cycle, brompton bicycles are offering the opportunity for those close enough to a dock, to join brompton bike hire as a member for a mere £1 and gain five days hire free of charge. should those taking advantage of this generous offer find it very much to their favour, hire of the brompton can continue for only £5 per day.

granted, this offer will greatly favour those south of the border, living in one of the greater conurbations. stories have appeared in the scottish press claiming that the strike has effectively cut off those living north of the central belt, and with the only three brompton hubs in scotland based at oban railway station on the west coast and inverness and elgin train station on the north-east coast, in this respect, scottish commuters don't have much to feel happy about. however, finally, there is a velocipedinal endeavour of note, one not existing at the behest of either cyclinguk or british cycling.

that is surely worthy of our approval. (with a £1 charge for five days of cycle hire, brompton can hardly be accused of profiting from others' misfortunes).

though suffering at the hands of union strike action at any time is not something that anyone would wish on others, at some point in the very near future, britain (and the rest of the western world), is going to realise that it has to make some very unpopular and unpalatable transport choices. yes, for some, riding a bicycle to work or to the shops is unlikely to be the top of their lists, but life's full of difficult choices, as in this case, some of them engendered by others.

come the revolution, etc.

brompton bike hire locations

tuesday 21 june 2022

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