Not Evangelism

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cycle2Work: Choosing a bike to commute on

My company has (finally, after several months of waiting) introduced a Cycle2Work scheme through CycleScheme, and I have ordered a new bike.

Cycle2Work is a scheme introduced by the UK Government to encourage bike usage in employees; effectively the company buys the bike and leases it to the employee (that's me!) over a fixed term.  At the end of the lease period, the bike can be bought for "a nominal sum". From the employee's point of view, it's kind of like a cheap loan (except the company owns the bike until the end of the scheme).  The lease payments are taken direct from salary, before tax and national insurance are charged. This arrangement reduces the tax and national insurance paid by the employee, and means that ultimately the bike is cheaper than it would be to buy directly. Up to £1000 can be spent on a bike and other equipment (helmet, lights etc).

The scheme has more subtleties and complexities than I've included above, but the fact of it is getting a new bike for less money.

A bike for cycle commuting

I've chosen an On-One Pompino Road Sport, a steel-framed singlespeed/fixedwheel bike made by a British company based in my native Yorkshire.
I'm very excited.

The Giant SCR2 that I've been using for my commuting and other riding for a couple of years cost me £550 brand new (from the excellent AW Cycles).  The equivalent bike these days is the Giant Defy 2, retailing at around £800.  In other words, the bike that I can buy with the £1000 from the Scheme is not much better than the bike I already own.

So I chose the Pompino, a singlespeed/fixed commuter that I've lusted after for a long time. The frame is steel so is robust for the month-in, month-out mileage. And it's singlespeed so doesn't have any complex shifters or mechanisms to get attacked by the salty winter roads. It takes wide tyres for grip in the horrible weather and has clearance for mudguards. It's a thing of beauty.

Singlespeed: one gear

The Pompino has one gear. That's right, just the one gear. In a time when people are buying bikes with more and more gears, why would anyone go the other way and buy a bike with fewer gears? Worse, why would someone buy a fixedwheel bike, where the pedals turn at the same time as the back wheel? Just like those  bikes the track riders use, you can't stop pedalling whilst the bike is in motion.

Well, a singlespeed bike is a pared-down machine, untroubled by shifters and mechanisms and all the moving parts and cables needed for a multi-geared bike. That ought to make maintenance easier - there are fewer parts to maintain. And it's somehow a little purer; the connection between man and machine is a little more direct, more immediate. I like that.

The Pompino can run either fixedwheel or freewheel. Riding fixed means pedalling whenever the bike is in motion. It promotes a smooth pedalling style - you've probably seen those track riders tearing 'round the velodrome in the Olympics. Done properly, fixed wheel riding requires (and develops!) legs of steel. When riding freewheel the rider can at least stop pedalling without being thrown over the handlebars. In either case the single gear means that every ride is a combination of high-resistance muscle building (when climbing hills) and low-resistance aerobic exercise (when descending). And a lot of fun.

A fixedwheel bike is theoretically less attractive to thieves, too. Mostly likely they'll fall off horribly if they try and ride off on one.

Of course, just one gear means choosing the right gear; the right balance between easy enough for the hills, and hard enough for the flat. Choosing the gear ratio was challenging, and I'll keep you posted on how successful my choice was when the bike arrives. I've already picked the bike, tweaked the components and filed the forms.

Now it's just a case of waiting until all the paperwork has been done and my new bike arrives.

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