Are you a budding blog writer, keen photographer or creative video editor?
Bristol Bicycles is on the lookout for people who share our ethos to help spread the word. Whatever your style of cycling, we want to hear from you if you’d like to become a contributor. From the biggest adventure to the smallest commutes, if you are committed to using your bike and able to create engaging content then we’d love to chat.
Ruth and Oli @intandemstories (Instagram) rode halfway around the world from Bristol to Bangkok on two fully kitted out Bristol Bicycles. They produced some truly amazing content, and lots of word-of-mouth recommendations for our brand. We want to build on their inspirational story and get more people involved in sharing tales of how you are using your own Bristol Bicycles.
Be able to show a strong interest in cycling
Solid plans in place for a bigger trip (if applicable)
The ability to create content (photos, videos, blogs)
Committed to creating content on a regular basis and ability to work with us to promote the brand.
In return, we will give you a Bristol Bicycles CITY bike of your own (or equivalent discount off any other model)!
We would love to know what you are planning or what you could bring to our brand in a way that only ambassadors can. Here are some ideas:
Everyday commuters that use their bikes in interesting or unusual ways for work (possibly small business owners)
People using their bike for fitness (especially if you are committed to starting an everyday bike commute to help your fitness, and you are happy to share your progress)
Electric bike riders (especially if an E-bike has helped you to start cycling or return to cycling)
Online influencers or accounts with a large following (bonus points if it’s based around cycling)
Please send email to [email protected] with the subject of Brand Ambassadors. Explain why you would be a great fit for Bristol Bicycles and what you can bring to the brand. If you have a specific trip or event planned let us know. And if there is a bike in our range that fits your needs get in contact and we can begin to match up the perfect bike and the perfect ambassador!
…thanks to taking the leap and buying my nippy new Bristol Bicycle, back in May this year.
I’ve always commuted by bike or on foot in Bristol. After several years of gliding around on my comfy but weighty Dutch-style tank of a bike, I switched to a custom built ‘Expedition’ model from Jake and the team. Since May, I haven’t looked back (apart from all the times I should do as a sensible cyclist(!).
I chose a soft saddle, a sporty drop bar and heavy duty panniers – knowing well the heavy loads I carry around the city and further afield. Much of my working week is spent cycling between Bristol’s Parks and Green Spaces as the Volunteer Coordinator for Bristol’s Parks Service. The Expedition model has made this a total joy and I’ve built a fairly strong reputation now for always arriving at volunteer activities with bike in tow. As well as the bike, I’m usually able to arrive with a smile on my face, as spinning up any of Bristol’s hills (even St Michael’s Hill!) is now satisfying and fun – a lot easier than on my old Dutchy.
Having my new set of wheels opened up some hugely exciting doors this summer too. She’s become more than just the trusty commuter. Built for the long slog, the Expedition has taken me to Glasto and back, as well as allowing me to lead rides to Boomtown and Shambala, partnering with Red Fox Cycling over the summer. Setting off from Bristol for each festival, we’ve totalled over 300 miles of festival riding together alone, with not so much as a glitch or niggle.
Leading the Boomtown and Shambala rides on the Expedition, I guided a bunch of eco-conscious and fitness-focused festival goers for the Red Fox rides through some gorgeous parts of the English countryside. Arriving at the festivals under our own steam, we cycled across all types of terrain with barely a peep from my hardy Expedition. Admittedly, she’s most suited to the roads or canal surfaces, but still fared well over gravel and the occasional field (even the Boomtown hill, which those of you who know will appreciate).
I’ve been repeatedly impressed by the understated Bristol Bicycle Expedition. Its offering is a robust, speedy ride with just the right balance between weight and responsiveness. If you’re looking for something that will carry your weary legs back from next year’s festivals (plus a lot of post-festival luggage!), look no further. If you need to blast up Bristol’s hills before the rush hour traffic each morning, again, you’re sorted. The best thing for me about biting the bullet back in May has been that I can now do even more of what I love; visit communities and volunteers working in Parks, explore the green spaces our city has to offer and get to festivals sustainably.
The Bristol Bicycle’s Expedition is as reliable as it is sleek. Here’s to another summer of pedal-powered adventures. Bring on 2020 ☺
I’ve started to spot a recurring theme: whenever I end up on holiday, it’s always centred around bikes. Some would argue that I do it on purpose, but I think it’s more of a natural attraction. A week in Copenhagen; I can tell myself it was for the Scandi architecture or the “modern art”… but really it was all about bikes and pastries and, you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The land of pastries, bikes and the ten pound pint (yep, I know, THE TEN POUND PINT ). Now I’m a big fan of all three. Well, maybe I prefer my pints towards the three to four pound mark, but when in Rome… It only ever hits home just how hilly Bristol is after you visit a place like Copenhagen. Not a hill in sight, there was barely a derailleur visible too, but then again why would you bother with gears when the biggest hill is the odd bridge here and there? The first thing that struck me was that, although there are loads of bikes, hardly any of them are any good. It’s not like Bristol in the way that if your bike’s not up to it the roads will eat it up and the hills will destroy your legs. In Copenhagen the cycling infrastructure is so well thought out that you don’t need a brand-new shiny bike. The second thing I noticed is that brands are almost irrelevant. No one cares if you have the new flashy on-trend road bike or a five-year-old banger; even bike shops are in on it. Almost every shop I peered into or went in to peruse the shelves was selling bikes by the gear number. It might be £200 for a single speed and then £250 for a double and so on and so forth. It was like a set menu for bikes, what’s not to love?
Another popular sight on the streets of Copenhagen was the humble cargo bike. I have a weird soft spot for the cargo bike, although I have no practical need for one – I just think they are the coolest. I can see why in a city like that they would be so popular; why pay to insure and service a car when most of your needs can be met by a cargo bike, be that kids in the basket or a week’s shopping loading you down? If it all gets a bit much, just get an electric version and you’ll be laughing. After a quick Google I found that the cargo bike was actually invented in Denmark. Lurpak and cargo bikes: is there anything these Danes can’t throw their minds at?
Now in the UK its probably fair to say we are going through a slight housing crisis. I’m no expert on Denmark’s socioeconomic problems, but they must not be suffering quite so badly as we are. After thinking many of the basement-level apartments seemed a bit empty and run down, I quickly realised that they were actually filled with bikes. It turns out that it’s fairly common to use the bottom floor in apartment buildings for bike storage. This must certainly cut down on bike theft! As I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure how popular it would be to turn perfectly liveable flats into bike storage in the UK but if you’ve got the space, why not?
Now I know you what you’re saying, “Oh George this is all great stuff but where is your obvious and tenuous link to Bristol Bicycles?” It’s coming up, don’t you worry.
Hire bikes… now a banned word within my family but I’m sorry Mum and Dad, I’m breaking the silence as we really do need to talk about how shoddy those bikes were. After one morning of failed Donkey bike hire (imagine if the Boris bikes had dropped out of school and gotten in with the wrong crowd… Bingo, you have Donkey bikes) we decided to cut our losses and hire bikes properly the next day. After traipsing around multiple hire bike places looking for that special Dibble price (cheap) we found what were to be our hire bikes for the day. Now these bikes were in no real shape to be on the road, but after having looked at multiple other places it seemed to be a recurring theme. We’re a friendly bunch but were not the most confrontational, so after we had picked up our bikes and found that one (Dad’s) was way too small we did the most British thing possible by keeping quiet and pretending it was all fine. Here’s a little check list of what you want to see in a hire bike (and what we pride ourselves at Bristol Bicycles).
What you want from a hire bike:
no signs of rust
trued and straight wheels
brake pads with meat on
a good lock
gears that index.
Now here’s a check list of what you don’t want to see (and what I got):
not a spot left unrusted
a visibly wobbly front wheel
brake pads – what are they?
a lock attached by a zip tie
hub gears that can’t decide what gear they want to stay in.
In the shop every time we have hire bikes come back we do a good check over and test ride of every bike, even if it’s out for half a day. This really does help save the bike from getting any worse. This chap in Copenhagen was probably not checking his bikes very often. After we got back and explained the issues we found we were treated with a casual shrug and, “Well I wasn’t to know was I?” I’m not one to judge, but I think it may be his job to know. In all honesty we did manage to get a small refund, it seemed to change my dad’s mind and what was a terrible hire bike became a bargain day ride. At least one of us was happy.
I must admit I did enjoy my bike by the end of the day. The hub clicks became part of the charm, and I was starting to ease into the mix of upright ride position with a back pedal brake. I must come back to Denmark on my own bike though, maybe that’s the next tour. In conclusion, is Copenhagen the cycling city its cracked up to be? Well yes, of course. The bike paths are amazing, the flat roads are a breeze, and the general acceptance of bicycles makes it perfect. Not all bikes are built equal and Copenhagen seems to be full of some scary and cheap builds. I’m probably just being a bit of a snob, but it seemed that bikes had become so big in their culture that they really aren’t anything special, yet at the moment in the UK it can often feel like you’ve found a life hack when you start enjoying your bike commute. Also, sort your hire bikes out!
If you are anything like me you will find that driving in a city is a stressful affair. Too many lanes, too many cars, and let’s not even think about the parking nightmare. I’m sure many of you are leasing or hiring vans to do run around jobs, be that contract cleaning, handy work, or door-to-door sales.
Now imagine doing your job without having to drive an overly big van around, imagine cheaper running costs, imagine a more enjoyable commuting experience. This is exactly what an electric bike can offer. Bristol Bicycles E-bikes have all the options you could ever need to carry panniers and racks for all your equipment.
The cost of running a car is massive compared to just having a bike. From a quick google search I’ve found that leasing a basic Citroen Berlingo will cost you around £130 a month, and that’s excluding the running costs and insurance. Buying a E-bike on the other hand comes at a cost as low as £80 per month, with the added bonus that after a year you will own the bike outright!
OK fine… a bike does have a few extra costs such as servicing (at a cost of £60… nothing compared to servicing a car). We would also recommend (especially if you’re riding in the city a lot) some sort of cycling insurance, but this can start from as little as £20 per year.
As well as the obvious cost benefits of riding a bike, the health benefits are huge – both physically and mentally. The E-bike is a great way to get fit whilst also not giving you strenuous activity before arriving at your job. The electric motor will assist you with hills and carrying a heavy load, yet you still get a good level of exercise. Cycling has been proven in many studies to help with mental health, whereas sitting in your car with bumper to bumper traffic can often put a downer on even the most jolly of us. Cycling also allows you more freedom to take the scenic route through your city. We are lucky here in Bristol to have so many parks to cycle through. You will never beat the feeling of casually cruising past traffic whilst others are stuck in their cars.
Don’t take my word for it, The Guardian have written an article about the health benefits to us and the world of not having cars and looking at other forms of transport e.g. cycling.
Or this article from Road cc about business owner Jimmy Cregan from Jimmy’s Coffee, who has swapped his dream car for the E-bike.
With the roads getting busier and the air quality getting worse, I think it’s about time we found a new way to get around. E-bikes just seem to make sense, especially if you are driving an almost-empty car when you don’t really need to. Much kinder on the pocket and a lot nicer to the environment.
Pop into Bristol Bicycles to try one out. Even if you don’t think its for you… I guarantee your first go on hill will put a smile on your face!
On a bike that’s used every day for commuting a certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable, but there’s a lot you can do to slow down the process – and most of these tips will not only save on maintenance costs, they’ll make the bike more efficient and pleasurable to ride too.
1. Keep your tyres inflated
Riding on soft tyres will cause the sidewalls to crack and split, and also makes punctures more likely. All inner tubes are slightly porous and go flat over time, so check your tyre pressures every week, and expect to pump them up at least monthly. Having a good full-size track pump at home or work really helps!
2. Wipe and lube the chain regularly
Every week or two, check to see if the chain seems dry or dirty. If so, lean the bike against a wall and give the chain a wipe with a rag whilst backpedalling, and then apply chain oil sparingly. Then once the oil has had a chance to soak down into all the cracks in the chain, give it a wipe again with a clean bit of rag to remove any surface oil. This way the chain will always be lubricated, but never too dirty or oily. Little and often is the key.
3. Lube your cables
On almost all modern bikes, there are slots in the cable guides on the frame to allow the cables to be removed for cleaning and oiling without having to fully disconnect them or use any tools at all. I suggest you pop the gear and brake cables out every few months and lube them with a little normal chain oil. This not only stops them rusting, it also prevents the plastic liners from getting worn out, and makes the brakes and gears feel nice and slick to use!
4. Lube your mechs
Even easier than lubing the cables – simply put a drip of oil on each pivot of the front and rear derailleurs (mechs). What we’re aiming for is to lube every moving part of both mechs, so if in doubt just watch what moves when you change gear and then oil it. Change gear a few times afterwards to allow the oil to soak in, then wipe down the mech with a rag to clean off any excess oil. This will prevent the mechs from corroding, and will slow the rate of wear right down.
5. Check and adjust your brakes
Brake blocks wear out with use. They are cheap to replace, so no problems there. But if, as they wear, they come into contact with the tyres, very quickly a hole will be worn into the tyre sidewall, meaning that the tyre and probably the tube will have to be replaced. And if the brake blocks completely wear out, or pick up some gravel or debris, they can wear out the rim requiring a whole new wheel. So if you have normal rim brakes and they start making a funny noise, check it immediately (a squeak or squeal doesn’t matter, but a scraping or grinding noise definitely does!)
6. Fit mudguards
How does this effect the longevity of the bike? As well as protecting you from mud and water, mudguards will prevent the chain, gears and brakes from getting so dirty too. Less grit and water means less wear and corrosion, which the chain will definitely appreciate in the long term.
7. Get your hubs and headset serviced
Every year or two on more expensive bikes it makes sense to have your bike’s main bearing systems disassembled and re-greased instead of having to replace them when they rust or dry out, potentially at a cost of a couple of hundred pounds. Just give us a call if you’d like to book your bike in for a bearings service.
8. Don’t store your bike outside
Even the most expensive bikes have a steel chain and bearings which will rust if exposed to rain or moisture. Keeping your bike indoors if at all possible is ideal; if not then a shed or bike store is sufficient, or get a good quality bike cover as a bare minimum.
9. Don’t stomp on the pedals
Getting into a high gear and standing up on the pedals is not only a good way to wear our your knees, it also wears your chain much more quickly too. Much better to get used to shifting into a lower gear and then spinning the pedals faster but with less force. This is biomechanically more efficient, and is also kinder on the bike’s gear system too.
10. Change into a larger rear sprocket
As above, it’s better to spin the pedals fast than stomp on them slowly. To achieve this you could change into the smallest chainring on the front. But this would mean a higher chain tension, and could easily lead to over-use of the smaller sprockets on the rear. A much better way of achieving exactly the same gear ratio is to change into a larger sprocket on the rear. This means lower chain tension, less wear on the chain and teeth, and more efficient power transfer.
“The best frame material really depends on what you’re going to use the bike for, and what you want to prioritise” says Jake Voelcker, designer of Bristol Bicycles’ frames and forks. “Is it low weight? Or is it strength and durability? Or is it the appearance of the bike?”
Is steel real?
“A lot of people talk about steel frames being comfortable. They say there’s an inherent springiness or suspension in a steel frame, and that aluminium frames are too harsh or too rigid.”
Perhaps controversially, Jake disagrees: “That’s completely not true” he says. “It’s a bit of a myth that’s built up around the whole ‘steel is real’ and ‘steel is better’ and ‘steel bikes are much more comfortable’ thing, but it’s not true and I’ll show you exactly why.”
For a frame to be comfortable or to have any degree of suspension, it has to be able to flex in a vertical direction, and the only way that a frame can actually do this is if it’s broken.
“That sounds surprising, but because the front and the rear triangles of the bike frame are completely triangulated, there’s no way that they can flex. There’s no way that they can absorb a vertical bump from the road unless the frame is actually broken.”
Jake goes on to explain that the supposed comfort of a steel frame is actually entirely in the fork. Because the fork is only attached at the top, it’s effectively a long lever and so there’s a lot of flex possible (in both the fork and the steerer tube).
“That gives a high degree of vertical flex exactly where you want it for suspension” says Jake.
“So a steel frame isn’t any more comfortable. What you want from the frame is stiffness and strength to be able to carry luggage and to resist pedalling forces particularly when you’re accelerating or going uphill.”
Why do Bristol Bicycles use aluminium frames?
The advantages of an aluminium frame are twofold. The first is that aluminium is a much lighter material. The second advantage of an aluminium frame is that when it’s correctly designed it’s a lot stiffer than a steel frame.
Are there any disadvantages?
“I’ve heard people say that for a expedition bike or for a touring bike there’s going to be used for a round-the-world trip they would always choose steel because at least if the worst comes to the worst, steel can be repaired” says Jake.
“Aluminium, because it needs expensive industrial heat-treating after it’s been welded, basically can’t be repaired if it ever breaks.”
The problem is that a steel bike frame of any quality is going to be very thin walled tubing and a pretty specialised alloy of steel which is very difficult to weld.
“Anybody who’s used to working on farmyard equipment (or welding car chassis, or that sort of place where you would take the bike to be repaired if you were stuck in the middle of nowhere) isn’t going to have any more luck welding steel than they are welding aluminium because the type of steel that quality bike frames are made from needs very skilled, pretty low temperature brazing rather than agricultural welding technologies.”
For Bristol Bicycles we’ve gone for the best of both worlds. On the one hand we use an aluminium frame which is both lighter and stiffer, but on the other hand we use a steel fork which gives a nice degree of built-in suspension through its inherent flexibility.
Customers sometimes express surprise that their everyday commuting bike needs two new wheels or a whole new drivetrain after only a couple of years of regular use – often at a cost approaching the current value of the bike. We normally explain that it should be viewed as a running cost, and point out that it’s pretty cheap compared to the cost of e.g. bus fares or owning a car. But what is the total running cost of a bike spread over several years? Are some bikes cheaper to own than others in the long term?
An average urban commuter who lives say 3 miles from their workplace, and mostly travels to work by bike as well as using it semi-regularly on the weekends, might clock up 1,500 to 2,000 cycling miles a year. The most common type of bike for this kind of use in the UK is a hybrid. Assuming a new mid-range model with mudguards and luggage rack, puncture-resistant tyres, and the addition of aftermarket LED lights, then:
(including purchase cost)
annual service + brake blocks
annual service + brake blocks; chain & cassette
annual service + brake blocks; all cables; tyres
annual service + brake blocks; chain, cassette & crankset; new wheels
annual service + brake blocks
annual service + brake blocks; all cables; chain & cassette; tyres
The trend amongst hybrids (as well as most other types of bikes) over the last couple of decades has been towards lower weight and better performance, but to the detriment of longevity. Put simply, high-power brakes wear down the lightweight but soft aluminium wheel rims over a few thousand miles; and slick, easy-changing, 9-, 10- and 11-speed gear systems wear out even faster.
So are there any real alternatives?
Some are tempted to buy the cheapest bike they can find, pointing out that if it will wear out anyway, then why pay more? The example budget bike below is a bottom-of-the-range mountain-bike-style model bought from a mail order website or department store for under £200. There are no lights, mudguards or luggage rack so these are added to the purchase price.
(including purchase cost)
annual service + brake blocks
annual service + brake blocks, chain & cassette; tyres
annual service + brake blocks; wheels; bottom bracket; pedals
annual service + brake blocks; chain, cassette & crankset; all cables; rear mech
annual service + brake blocks; headset; tyres
annual service + brake blocks; chain & cassette; wheels; shifters
Another option is a Dutch bike of the type not commonly seen in the UK, but they are available from a few retailers. The one in the example below is assumed to have 7-speed hub gears and hub brakes, and a fully enclosed chain, so the wear-and-tear to these should be minimal. It has mudguards, luggage rack, puncture-resistant tyres, and integrated dynamo lighting included in the price.
(including purchase cost)
basic service, no parts required
annual service, gear hub rebuild & lube, no parts required
For comparison, a typical new mid-range road bike would cost at least £650 to get components of a similar quality to the mid-range hybrid above. Again assuming the addition of lights, mudguards and luggage rack (assuming they can even be fitted, which is not always true on road bikes):
(including purchase cost)
annual service + brake blocks
annual service + brake blocks; chain & cassette; tyres
annual service + brake blocks; all cables; chain, cassette & crankset
annual service + brake blocks; chain & cassette; new wheels; tyres
annual service + brake blocks; chain & cassette
annual service + brake blocks; all cables; chain, cassette & crankset; tyres
Over the 6 year period the first three bikes have an almost identical cost of ownership. Perhaps cost is not, therefore, a significant factor in deciding what type of bike to purchase, if the choice is between these three at any rate. Much more important is the question of what style of bike you want and need.
If you require lots of gears and good brakes for hilly terrain and you want a relatively lightweight bike, the £515 hybrid is a good option. It will need more replacement components over the years, but you may consider this a price well worth paying.
If you prefer a very upright riding position, can live with a smaller range of gears and a heavyweight bike, and minimal maintenance is a priority, the Dutch bike is better. At £700 it’s more expensive to purchase, but repays the difference over a few years of ownership.
If, on the other hand, you want a heavy bike which is unpleasant and inefficient to ride, has lots of annoying maintenance issues, but still costs no less to own and run, then the budget bike is the one for you!
The road bike works out more expensive overall, because despite costing more than the hybrid or the budget bike to purchase, it cost no less to service and maintain. Road bikes can also have additional problems for commuting such as a lack of tyre clearance for fitting mudguards, and the difficulty of fitting a pannier rack.
Do you always get what you pay for?
The road bike could equally have been a similarly priced mountain bike, and the calculations and potential problems would remain the same. Interestingly, it could also have been a £750 hybrid bike: evidence that a higher purchase price does not necessarily mean lower running costs. Whereas if you spend too little and buy a budget bike your running costs will be higher, conversely if you spend too much and buy a £650 hybrid bike instead of a £400 one your running costs will also be higher. This is partly because the components are more expensive (assuming you replace like-for-like components as they wear out and don’t want to “downgrade” the bike with each service), but it’s also because some components (e.g. wheel rims, aluminium chainrings, 9- or 10-speed drivetrain) will wear our more frequently thanks to being optimised for low weight, performance, or simply marketing hype rather than long life.
(All of the above assumes that you are in the position of having to buy a new bike. However, if you’re fortunate enough to already own a thirty or forty year old racer or tourer in working condition, I suggest you hang onto it for as long as possible! Provided you’re content to have only 10 or 12 non-indexed gears and less powerful brakes, you can avoid most of the durability problems associated with modern components. However, such bikes are becoming increasingly rare, especially in good condition, and new sprockets and chains of comparable durability are simply unobtainable, so when they do finally wear out you’ll be in the same position as the owner of a modern bike. There are also very good reasons why bikes of this type went out of fashion: not everyone gets on with friction shift gears and drop handlebars, and having a narrow range of gears can be a real drawback to many cyclists, especially in a hilly city like Bristol. Perhaps worst of all, the braking power afforded by chromed steel wheel rims is woeful in wet weather, to the point of being dangerous in modern traffic.)
Use beyond 6 years
After the 6-year period, the differences in running costs become more pronounced.
The budget bike will probably be very broken and, as if it hasn’t had enough money thrown at it already, its repair will certainly not be financially viable for much longer.
The hybrid bike may now need components such as derailleurs, bottom bracket, new wheels again etc. but assuming it’s maintained in this fashion there’s no reason why it couldn’t go on for another few years, costing an average of a little over £100 per year or not much more to maintain. There are plenty of 15 or 20 year old hybrid bikes still on the road today.
After 6 years the Dutch bike is barely middle aged. It too may need a new bottom bracket, headset or wheel bearing rebuild but these are all very worthwhile on a good quality bike of this value. Unless crash-damaged or abused it ordinarily should never need new wheel rims, brakes or gear hub, and rarely a new sprocket or chain. It’s not unusual to see hub-geared, hub-braked bikes of this type still in use after 20, 30 or even 40 years. And they hold their value well, so if it does ever need to be sold it should easily fetch £200 or more.
For higher mileage users the trends are accelerated: if you commute 10 or 20 miles a day all year round, the Dutch bike will repay its higher purchase cost after only 3 years or so, and will work out comparatively cheaper and cheaper thereafter. However, arguably a high-mileage commuter is more likely to want a fast hybrid or road bike for greater efficiency and speed over the longer distance. It would cost more to maintain, but some may well consider this worthwhile.
Whichever of the bikes above we choose, the lifetime cost is much cheaper than owning and running a car or using public transport for the same period. Depending on what monetary value you place on your time, it may even be cheaper than walking!
Each bike was assumed to have had an annual £60 service. On top of this, additional parts and labour charges were differentially added for components which typically wear out on each type of bike. If you do your own bike maintenance the £60 cost can of course be omitted, in which case the higher maintenance bikes work out comparatively cheaper – although arguably you should place some value on your time spent doing so.
The hybrid bike was assumed to be a mid-range sensible, solid, reliable model with V-brakes, 24-speed derailleur gears, mudguards and luggage rack included, but no unnecessary extras such as suspension or disc brakes. The Bristol Bicycles sold by Jake’s Bikes are exactly this kind of bike. They have good quality puncture-resistant tyres as standard, but no lights, so aftermarket LED lights are added to the price. Other examples are the Ridgeback Anteron, Kona Dew, Claud Butler Urban 400 and Dawes Discovery 301. The advantage of this kind of bike is that it’s relatively light at 14kg (31lb), but still has a wide range of gears (approx a 450% range) and powerful brakes. The disadvantage is that the gears will wear out more quickly than on a Dutch bike, the chain is exposed to rain and dirt, and eventually the wheel rims will wear out from braking.
The Dutch bike in this example has 7-speed hub gears and hub brakes, a fully enclosed chain, and mudguards and luggage rack as standard. It too has puncture-resistant tyres, but unlike the hybrid it has integrated dynamo lighting included in the price. The Azor Jersey, Batavus Cambridge or Gazelle Primeur are examples of such a bike, all of which are available in the UK. The advantage of this kind of bike is that its gears, brakes and chain are all enclosed so are clean and low-maintenance. The disadvantages are that it’s significantly heavier at 18kg (40lb), has fewer gears (approx a 225% range), and somewhat less powerful brakes.
The budget bike was a bottom-of-the-range mountain-bike-style model from a mail order website or department store. It has basic 18-speed derailleur gears and no extras such as suspension or disc brakes. There are no lights, mudguards or luggage rack so these are added to the purchase price. The Falcon Storm, Dawes XC18, Integra Matrix or Claud Butler Trailridge 1.1 are examples of just such a bike. The tyres are cheap knobbly ones, so in the calculations above it is assumed that these are worn out after less than a couple of thousand miles and replaced with better puncture-resistant ones. The wheels are the cheaper single-walled, freewheel type so that they too are damaged more easily and need to be replaced every few thousand miles. Headset, bottom bracket, shifters and derailleur are also assumed to break and need replacement during the lifetime of the bike. In addition to the low purchase price, the advantage of a bike like this is that it has a pretty wide range of gears (approx 400%) despite their basic construction, and it is potentially less at risk of being stolen than the others. The disadvantages are that it’s heavy at around 18kg (40lb), unpleasant to ride thanks to the knobbly tyres, cheap saddle, plasticky brakes and gears etc., and maintenance will probably become a nuisance thanks to the low quality components.
The road bike was a mid-range model of the sort typically used for winter training or commuting rather than serious sport or competition. It has 18 derailleur gears, and no lights, mudguards or luggage rack so the cost of buying these separately has been added to the above calculations. Examples of road bikes in this price bracket are the Claud Butler Torino SR2, Dawes Giro 500, Giant Defy 3 or Specialized Allez Double. The main advantage of a road bike is that it’s fast and efficient and light, at perhaps 12kg (27lb). It has an intermediate range of gears (maybe 350%), at somewhat higher ratios than on a hybrid, so will be fast but not quite so easy uphill. The disadvantages can be that it’s less comfortable to ride on city roads thanks to the drop handlebars and hard, narrow tyres; and it may be necessary to fit compromised mudguards or pannier rack because of frame clearance issues and lack of frame eyelets.
Any other purchases and costs (e.g. pannier bags, helmet, repair after minor damage etc.) were assumed to be the same for all bikes, and so excluded from the calculations above.
This is a question we often get asked, and there are several considerations to take into account before making a decision.
The advantages of rim brakes (whether V-brakes or calipers) are:
Lower overall weight
Lower purchase price compared to discs
The disadvantages are:
Lower power in wet weather
The need for fairly frequent brake pad replacement
Over time rim brakes will wear out your wheel rims
There is also the danger with rim brakes that a worn or misaligned brake block can come into contact with the tyre, quickly wearing a hole in the sidewall.
The advantages of disc brakes are:
Reliability in all weathers,
Low running costs (usually) thanks to long-lasting pads and the fact that they don’t wear out your wheels.
The disadvantages can include:
Higher initial purchase cost
Susceptibility to contamination by oil or dirt
Many disc brakes are harder for the average user to repair if anything does go wrong
The conclusions we’ve come to at Bristol Bicycles are these:
Cheap disc brakes are awful, so for any bike with a purchase price below £500 or £600 we’d recommend a model with V-brakes or calipers instead. A £400 bike will be supplied with either cheap and nasty disc brakes, or good quality V-brakes or callipers – and I know which I’d prefer!
For an average-distance commute on a ‘normal’ bike, rim brakes are probably best. If you’re not doing a huge mileage the brakes probably won’t wear out your rims for several years, and although you will need new brake blocks more often than with disc brakes, these aren’t expensive. Rim brakes are also easier to adjust and maintain than discs for the average user.
For a high-mileage commuting bike, disc brakes make good sense. They should be cheaper to maintain in the long run, thanks mainly to not wearing out your wheels rims. The potential disadvantages are contaminated brake pads and the possibility of costly repairs if the brakes are ever damaged (especially for hydraulic models), but generally reasonable quality disc brakes should be ‘fit-and-forget’ apart from changing the pads every few thousand miles, and eventually replacing the disc rotors if they wear thin.
Disc Brakes on Touring Bikes
Disc brakes are also becoming an increasingly popular option for cycle touring. The greater power, all-weather performance, and lack of wheel rim wear are very beneficial on a high-mileage, heavily-laden touring bike. The major disadvantage can be serviceability in the field. On an expedition to remote locations, the simplicity and ease of maintenance of rim brakes can literally be a life-saver. Leaking hydraulic fluid or worn out brake discs with no spares available would be a serious problem in some parts of the world.
For a touring bike used in Europe, North America, and more developed areas of the rest of the world, disc brakes are usually a really good option. For a round-the-world trip which includes travel through some pretty remote and undeveloped areas, rim brakes are probably a more sensible and less risky choice.
Bristol Bicycles design and hand-build bikes aimed squarely at the commuting market. These are the the VW Golf of bikes: not pretending to be a racing bike; not trying to be a mountain bike. These are good, practical, reliable bikes pure and simple.
“I’ve always been a cyclist and I enjoyed messing about on BMXs when I was a kid” says founder Jake Voelcker. “Then I got into mountain biking a bit later as a teenager. I was repairing bikes for friends and I ended up with so many bikes in my bedroom and my shed and my attic that I either had to get rid of them, or find a small workshop.”
Having rented a workshop, very quickly the business grew and within the first year Jake had taken on an employee. That was ten years ago this month, when Bristol Bicycles started off as Jake’s Bikes, a workshop offering servicing and repairs and selling reconditioned used bikes.
“The business has grown every year since, and around five years ago we were having to turn away more people than we could serve with second-hand bikes so we decided to look into selling new bikes as well. We couldn’t find anything on the market that was the right mix of quality and not a ridiculously high price. That’s why we launched Bristol Bicycles: our own brand of bikes which we build here in the UK.”
By taking inspiration from Dutch and German bikes that are very practical and have a comfortable, upright riding position, Jake realised that Bristol Bicycles could offer something similar but lighter, and with more gears to suit hillier British terrain.
“And what is very exciting is the the new electric bikes that we’ve just launched”, Jake continues. “They can reach a much broader range of people – for example people who haven’t quite got the fitness to cycle a normal bike, or people who used to cycle but find it a bit more difficult now, especially the uphills. Electric bikes just completely solve those problems.”
Asked about the future of the business and what he looks forward to most, Jake said “We are hoping to expand the business to reach more people and make a difference in other cites. We’ve got big plans for either licensing or franchising in the future.”
“For me the real standout moments come when someone who wasn’t previously a cyclist or someone who maybe had an injury and thinks they can’t cycle any more actually then has a go on a Bristol Bicycle or maybe an electric bike and thinks ‘I can do this!’. I’m very grateful to be part of empowering that change in their life, it’s very humbling.”
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