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Cycles that mean business

FIRST there was the Tube strike, and now a heatwave. Travelling on London’s un-airconditioned, heat-trap of an underground system has never been less appealing. So this is a perfect moment to take to two wheels.

Since keen cyclist Boris Johnson became mayor there have been rumblings about making cycling in London more attractive and less dangerous.
So far this seems to have translated into little more than a few billboard posters of people smiling as they cycle through tree-lined areas that bear little resemblance to any of the city’s major thoroughfares. But as of May 2010, a bicycle hire scheme will be introduced, which will be similar to the successful Velib scheme in Paris.

There is also talk of new bicycle lanes, and of changing the way that junctions work to make them more cyclist-friendly. There is definitely a movement to making London a more cycle-able city.

For commuters the main problem with cycling is getting a bike on the train. The solution is the folding bicycle, a piece of kit that is, according to taste, either a brilliant piece of human ingenuity, or an embarrassing example of geekery gone mad. Our writers tried a few of the top bikes to see just how practical they are.
Jeremy Hazlehurst

Mezzo I-4
WHEEL DIAMETER: 16IN
GEARS: 4
WEIGHT: 11.5KG

The bike came with a DVD that tells you how to fold it, which is good because that’s something that you have to see. But once I’d been shown how to do it, it was easy, it’s fairly intuitive. The Mezzo was quite stable and it didn’t feel wobbly, which was surprising. I used to ride a road bike a lot at university, and you can’t really compare the two. Compared to my bike, which is a bit old and clunky, this felt easy to ride but the lack of suspension was a problem because you are riding in the gutter all the time. Luckily, though, the saddle was comfortable and my bum didn’t hurt after riding it.

I nearly got hit by a taxi once near Cannon Street but that would have happened whatever I was riding because he just pulled in very quickly to pick up a passenger. In general, though, I felt that people could see me, and the fact that my model was red helped. It has a bell too, which is useful in traffic and to warn people that you are coming.

The gears are a grip shift, which made them easy to change. The only problem was that I found it hard to stand up, and I felt that I needed to do that when I left traffic lights, otherwise I’d struggle to get any oomph to get going quickly.

I wouldn’t say that it was hard work, but it was certainly exercise and over a long distance you might find it a bit wearing. I had a massive bag on my back, but I didn’t feel that it was unstable and it has a carrier on the back which is a good touch. All in all, I liked it.
Jessica Mead

COMFORT: HHHII
FOLDABILITY: HHHII
All-ROUND: HHHHI

Price: £599 from www.cyclesurgery.com

Brompton M3L
WHEEL DIAMETER: 16IN
GEARS: 3
WEIGH: 10KG


“I wouldn’t want to ride it more than a couple of miles,” grimaced one experienced cyclist in the office. Maybe so, but the Brompton is by far the most popular commuting bicycle in the City. So I was amazed at the trouble we had working out how to fold and unfold the thing. We eventually realised that the problem was a broken catch. Not a great start.

However, once I got on it, I was seriously impressed. Rear suspension soaked up even City cobblestones and meant that riding in the pot-holed side of the road wasn’t too much of a problem. The brakes were effective, even in the rain, and once the gears stopped sticking (it took about half a mile) the changes were smooth and I got up a fair old speed. I felt a wee bit vulnerable, but I felt that cars could see me. It’s very nippy from a standing start too and I would feel happy using it over short distances, although I get the feeling that a full 10-mile commute might be a bit tough on the old legs.
JH

COMFORT: HHHHI
FOLDABILITY: HHHII
ALL-ROUND: HHHHI

From £595 at www.evanscycles.com

Dahon MU SL
WHEEL DIAMETER: 20IN
GEARS: 9
WEIGHT: 8.3KG


I was reluctant to get on it at first because I have a road bike, and I was sceptical about folding bikes in general because I see them at traffic lights when I am cycling and I look down on them. I go 10 miles to Hammersmith and I go up and down kerbs so I was worried that the tyres wouldn’t hold up or at least that it would be slow and hard work.

But I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely different, I had to hold my body in a different way and I felt I was quite upright and my legs ached a bit, but the gears never slipped and when I was going uphill and the changes were very smooth. It was fine over the curbs too, although I had to stand up as there was no suspension. All in all, it was surprisingly nippy.

I have a stretch of road where I usually go no-hands, but I didn’t dare do that. Even one-handed, you don’t have as much control and if you are a nervous cycler it probably takes a couple of rides to get used to it.

Another plus point was that it was good with a rucksack – there was no problem with it hitting the tyre. It was light – I carried it up the stairs and even for my feeble frame it was fine. There are just three movements to fold it up, and it was the easiest thing in the world to unfold.
Lora Coventry.

COMFORT: HHHII
FOLDABILITY: HHHHI
ALL ROUND: HHHII

£1,075.99 from www.evanscycles.com