on the

road

 

Enter the Chinese. Enter the Bafang BBS02 electric conversion kit. This kit promises to turn every bike into an electric one for an affordable price and with specs a certain high-end Swiss electric bike brand can only dream of. Since it all sounded too good to be true I started a research binge.

 

I came across the Californians of Lunacycle who used this kit to build the fastest fat bike for fat people. The thing could not only transport couch potatoes but also entire couches at dazzling speeds. On YouTube I watched a guy racing this kit at 90 clicks an hour. Another video showed a rider climbing the Mont Ventoux at breakneck Pantani speeds without so much as breaking a sweat. I searched for a bicycle shop that did conversions of this kind, found one (not so local), set up a meet and within a day I was set and underway to undergo the transition.

Would I be able to control this beast?

A few days later I loaded the Moulton (luckily it separates midway) in the car trunk and I drove an hour and a half to the bicycle shop. Upon arrival, it was well after closing time. The shop was dark. I called the owner and a minute later he appeared and flicked on one tiny light.

Although I had called in advance and had warned him of my visit, everything about it breathed the air of an impromptu, hush-hush meeting. I marveled at the occasion. This felt like some real mofo gangsta shit.

 

What followed was an hour-long intake session about my motives. Did I understand what I was about to do? What I was getting myself into? Was it really necessary? Had I tried and exhausted all other possibilities? The whole time it was me who had to do the persuasion. This guy was good.

 

Finally, we talked shop and got down to the specifics. He gave me the choice between a 250-watt or a 350-watt motor. For days I had watched YouTube videos of guys racing bikes with 1000 watt (Lunacycle even has a 3000-watt motor) so I quickly let him know I meant business: I had come for the 1000-watt kit.

 

Finally, he talked me down to a 750-watt model because of size limitations. The only other time he had installed such a powerful motor, he told me, was on a heavy cargo bike. This reassured me.

 

We decided on the size of the battery (huge), where to store it (bag at seat post underneath the saddle) and the way he was going to lead the cables (invisible).

 

Before we finalized the deal, he offered me a ride on one of his converted bikes. He showed me to a gentlemen’s tourer equipped with a 250-watt motor. I did not expect much of it, after all I had set my eyes on a motor four times this size, but I did not want to offend him and so I led the bike outside.

 

This bike took me by surprise in a big way. Through the night air, way past the streets I recognized it zipped, with me barely hanging on. The power this kit generated was incredible. After a few minutes of this I started to feel more comfortable and I managed to tame the beast.

 

The beast I was about to order, would be three times as powerful. Would I be able to control it?

I had to wait two weeks for the conversion to be finished. Those were long weeks. Finally, I got the call. It was time for the pickup.

 

That night I put the children to bed early and told my wife not to wait up for me. I sped to the bike shop and arrived in the same conditions as a few weeks previous.

This time when the owner flicked on the tiny light in the shop I only had eyes for her. At first she seemed the same. The guy had done a tremendous job at hiding all the cables. Even the motor did not attract attention behind the huge chainring.

Still, something was different and in a big way, too, but I could not put my finger on it. Suddenly it hit me. I looked at the guy and we both smiled knowingly. The transition had been a success: she had become a he.

 

You venture into streets, avenue lanes and alleys you otherwise would not have ventured into. Is that not what life is all about?

This is not a real GPS. The device does not give you turn-by-turn instructions on how to get to your destination. Instead, it mimics the navigational behavior of a bee, hence the name of the product.

 

The way it works is as follows. BeeLine’s app on your phone, linked to Google Maps, asks you where you want to go. You type in the exact address. Then you get two possibilities. You can start your route based on the beeline, as the crow flies, meaning the app will send you on a route to your destination resembling as straight a line as possible.

 

On the display, you only see the remaining distance and an arrow guiding you in the right direction. If you are not in a hurry or if you want to discover new streets in an area that you are familiar with, this is your obvious choice.

 

However, for those wanting more guidance, the device gives you the option to add waypoints along the way. The remaining distance to the next waypoint appears on the display. In Google Maps, you can alter these waypoints if you feel that your common sense beats the bee's brain or you can even create all the waypoints yourself and build the route from scratch.

Importing and following existing routes is also possible but that is not this device's main goal. However more conventional this second option may sound; it is still not usable by food delivery couriers.

 

This device is not meant for them: it is for those who want to leave the beaten path and hit the untrodden streets. The result is that you venture into streets, avenues, lanes, and alleys you otherwise would have never ventured into. Is that not what life is all about?

Unless you are in a hurry.

 

a wonderful achievement of British bicycle engineering

This is my wife's bike. When commuting she used it to get from the train station to her place of work (a 2k ride) and back. It got her out of more than one difficult situation (missed train, subway strike etc.)

 

Mind you, this bike is made for short rides and for folding and carrying, not for recreational day trips in the country, bike packing, and other more daring adventures. It is a crucial piece of equipment to get around the city and to fill in the blanks in a city's public transport system. It is quite hefty (with all the add-ons the weight of the bike is at least 11 kilos) so carrying the folded bicycle should be limited to climbing stairs and entering and exiting train and subway carriages.

 

In all other circumstances, you ride it or you unfold the bike partly so that steering the bike while walking next to it becomes possible. The folding process of a Brompton should take less than 30 seconds whereas a trained Bromptoneer can speed up this process by completing the task in less than ten seconds.

The appearance of the bike might look a bit odd to people not used to urban hustle and bustle but a closer look unveils a wonderful achievement of British bicycle engineering. It is no coincidence that this bike featured at the recent London design museum bike exhibit amongst other iconic bikes like the Moulton.

 

I searched high and low, long and hard for proper bike bags for my Moulton. The usual brands did not offer what I was looking for.

 

Admittedly my wish list contained a lot of points: nothing too technical, nothing too large, they had to be front rack bags, had to be aesthetically pleasing, had to visually match the Moulton, had to be easily taken on and off the bike, had to be easy to carry, should double as school bags etc.

 

Ticking off this list I ventured into a very small niche market. Then I came upon a small English manufacturer called Carradice. They offer a wide range of lines but I quickly settled on their Super C series bags.

 

They come as front and as rear bags and Carradice also makes a bag that can be mounted on top of the rear rack. Looking back at my initial wish list, these are everything I needed. They are just perfect.

 

Talking about perfect, when I emailed Carradice to ask them about optional reflective rain covers, they sent them to me within the week, free of charge.

These are everything I needed. They are just perfect.

 

Thanks to this helmet I feel safe again

On one of my first rides with my brand-new Moulton, my front mudguard came loose, jammed my front wheel. As a result, I was catapulted off my bike, somersaulted through the air and landed hard on my chin on a patch of cobblestones.

 

Luckily my teeth were not affected, my jaw was not broken or dislocated and to my surprise, my bike did not have any damage to it. On the inside, however, things looked worse: I had suffered internal mouth injury: an 8-centimeter tear inside my mouth had to be sewn up and so I had to be taken to the hospital for surgery.

 

One week later, when my stitches had healed and my initial fear had receded, I mounted my bike again. The helmet I had been wearing the week before had not protected me whatsoever, so I left it at home and put on my new helmet and goggles.

This bicycle helmet is made for downhill mountain bike adventures and thus has full-face protection. Still, it is possible to detach the chin bar if you want the half shell look. The goggles protect me from insects flying into my eyes.

 

Being a former Vespa rider, I don't mind wearing a somewhat heavier helmet. On the contrary, the feeling of being in an enclosed space and looking at the world is a feeling I welcome, and it brings me back to my scooter days.

 

So what if people passing me by give me a funny look? Thanks to the Giro helmet I feel safe again.

 

an audiophile's dream listening room

Once I heard somebody proclaim that the car brand 'Lexus' is an acronym for 'luxury cars for export to the US'. I don't know whether that is true but when we got our Lexus ct200h we knew we had never known luxury like this before. This was a 'luxury car meant for export to Brussels'.

 

This hybrid urban hatchback consumes less than 5l/100k (although the Lexus advertising promised 3,6l/100k) because when driving below 50km/h, the car switches on its electric motor to save on gas.

The use of this electric motor makes this car super quiet. The combination of the absence of the sound of a combustion engine and the thick layer of soundproofing material used in the chassis makes this car a wonder of silence, a meditation haven, safe from the unruly traffic. Being cut off from the sound outside, only confronted with your respiration and comforted by your heartbeat is quite an eerie experience that I still cannot get used to, so I hardly do it.

 

Listening to audio sources like audiobooks, podcasts or even radio broadcasts proves effortless and is non-fatiguing. It is like listening to audio with earphones on. Every sound, word, syllable, every sigh even, comes out crystal clear. This experience is created by the sound engineers at the esteemed Mark Levinson factory, creators of superb sound solutions.

 

They managed to cram 14 speakers and a high-end amplifier into this car, making it an audiophile's dream listening room. The only thing you are not allowed to do when feasting your ears is... close your eyes.

 

As someone who always told himself he was into skinny blondes, I fell in love with... a work of art? A beautiful piece of engineering? A mad scientist's invention?

A Moulton.

One day, I was still in my teens, I went to the library and instead of getting a work of fiction as I had planned to do, I took out the Encyclopedia of Iconic Bikes.

 

For the first time, somewhere in the middle of that book, I came eye to eye with a Moulton bike. I did not know what to make of it. The thing wasn't a race bike yet it sure looked fast. It was not an off-roader but with its full-suspension it doubtlessly stood its ground off-road. Back then most people, myself included, had a dichotomous view of the world of bikes. 

 

Today’s more likely categories in which to place this bike (dirt racer, touring bike etc.) had not yet been invented. This thing was… what exactly?

 

As someone who always told himself he was into skinny blondes, I fell in love with... a work of art? A beautiful piece of engineering? A mad scientist's invention? I closed the encyclopedia, brought it back to the library and dreamed of one day owning such a thing.

 

Then came the summer of 2017.  A few months previous I had sold my Vespa GTS scooter for a decent sum (Vespas in black always find a new owner) and thus I had the necessary funds for a different set of wheels: the long-awaited Moulton. 

The late Vespa I used to commute to work (18 kilometers each way) so the Moulton had to be able to do the same. I got a black TSR 22 speed. Moultons in black… With the wide gear ratio, the mud guards and the comfortable Brooks saddle it was up to the task. It weighted around 11 kilos, which was not bad for a fully accessorized bike.

 

The Moulton’s stiff frame and the tiny 20 inch wheels made for a very agile bike and the full-suspension offered me the much needed comfort for daily use.

 

Then I took her for a test ride. The road to work is an easy one. It is flat and so it was great for her maiden voyage. I felt my knees buckling.

 

I was going to be so ex...hausted. The wind blew head on and although I am not in the worst shape, I could not get her above 25 kilometers an hour. The commute lasted 45 excruciating minutes.

 

Previously with the scooter, I had done it in 15 minutes. Above all, I sweated profusely and I was in no condition to start work. Had I made a mistake by putting all my eggs in the Moulton basket? It sure looked that way.

 

How many times have you heard the expression 'the Rolls Royce of…'? Does that still make sense? It feels as if other car manufacturers have become more attractive than the British icon. Can one say 'A Bugatti is the Rolls Royce of cars?'

with a Rohloff

you enter the fascinating world of IGHs

through the main gate

When I got my Moulton TSR, it came with a Shimano eleven-speed cassette on a Moulton freehub. This would surely have sufficed for its original use, but I had different plans with the bike. It underwent a conversion to an electric speed pedelec using the Bafang kit, so the torque on the rear hub increased somewhat.

 

Riding my bike on a good day I might be able to produce an output of 300 watts. With the Bafang kit, this has increased dramatically to values between 500 and 750 watts and with peaks up to about 1000 watts. Something’s gotta give… and that was the original Moulton rear freehub. After a few hundred kilometers the freehub not only spun freely when not pedaling: it also did so when turning the pedals. I was stranded.

I complained to the Moulton people but when they heard the bike had been changed - to them it probably sounded like 'tampered with' - they voided all warranty and I was left with a broken beast. Of course, I did not want to relieve it from its suffering and put it down like a rabid dog. There had to be another way for I did not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 

I looked at other options but finally, I succumbed to the siren call of the Rolls Royce of hubs: the Rohloff speed hub. It has 14 evenly spaced gears, making it impossible to find a hill it cannot climb but more importantly for my purpose it is indestructible.

 

When I informed the Rohloff people of my plans to put extraordinary torque on their hub they laughed and in an email they confirmed that their product would not suffer in the least from a bit of abuse. They assured me it would not budge. Comforted by all such confidence in their engineering skills I huffed up the money to go through this second conversion from external to internal gears and I entered the fascinating world of IGHs through the main gate.

 

I have had the Rohloff for more than 18 months and so far it has not let me down once. It shifts when riding and when I am at a standstill. When I go all out on the highest Bafang setting (PAS9), riding at 50k/h, on speed 14, it whirrs away comfortably.

 

There is hardly any maintenance to be done (oiling every 5000km or once a year, whichever comes first) and cleaning the hub is a pleasure compared to getting your hands stuck in the derailleur.

 

The only regret I have is that I did not immediately order the Moulton with a Rohloff. Trying to save money ended up costing me more… I feel there is a valuable life lesson in this observation and am trying to find a matching idiom. So far no luck.

 

These tires don't run flat. Period. They have been on my bike for 5000km and so far, nothing. Knock on wood? No need. My daily commute takes me through alleys and cycle paths littered with broken glass, along gravel roads and onto streets with the occasional pothole. Still, these babies are tireless.

 

I used to be cautious to avoid risks at all times but with these tires, I don't pay attention anymore. Avoiding a flat tire was always on my mind when I used to cycle, but now it is no longer the case.

 

These Marathon Plus tires are like car tires. You don't get into your car praying that you will make it without running a flat, right? Since using the Schwalbe Marathon Plus, the same has been true for my bike.

I feel a first flat tire

is near...

Of course, these Marathon Pluses weigh a bit more than the competition and the rolling resistance is a tiny bit higher too. Still, with a powerful electric motor, these things don't count.

 

What it finally comes down to when commuting is reliability and that is what these tires have given me in spades.

Rereading my text, I have the sense that my unwavering praise of these Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires might have jinxed the situation.

 

My common sense tells me that riding with these tires is like continuing an unbeaten record in sports. The longer a winning streak continues, the closer you come to a defeat. A flat is near.

 

I don't deny it. I am a middle-aged man who wants to stay in shape. To achieve this goal, I run at least twice a week. Correction: that is what my schedule tells me. In reality, foul weather and a constant lack of time hinder me to keep up with any schedule.

because there is

no such thing

as a quick outdoor run 

Soon I put more energy in starting, abandoning and restarting schedules than in keeping up and finishing them. The birth of my two darling kids seems to have made matters worse. There was the sleep deprivation that often left me without the energy to even consider going for a run, and when I managed to carve out a bit of me-time (between the children's naps of unpredictable length) I was stuck inside the house.

 

That is when I started to see the advantages of a treadmill, a product I had always associated with abandonment (check the listings on auction sites) and overpriced gym subscriptions. I regarded it as the jacuzzi of fitness equipment, as a bringer of joy, twice: the day you buy it and the day you get rid of it. The other days it is just staring you in the face, blaming you for its underuse and for having spent money on it.

 

That all changed when I realized that a quick outdoor run does not exist. Getting ready, stretching, warming up, the actual run and the winding down takes at least an hour. On the treadmill, however, a quick run all of a sudden became possible. I put on socks, lace up my running shoes, make sure I am wearing underwear and off I go. Half an hour later I have run 6km knowing my exact pace as well as the road's incline, my heart rate, the number of calories burned etc.

 

The best thing about this is that I can now train while the kids are napping, playing or watching tv. While training I watch tv shows I would not have been able to watch with my wife. There seems to be a win for everybody.

 

Is it boring? Is boring always bad? Can we use it to live a more mindful life? Can we use it as an antidote to the constant stimulants every day vying for our attention? Is it a form of meditation? Does the monotonous activity of running on a treadmill help us to stop being bored with boredom? Does it, therefore, offer not only physical but also psychological training?

 

Who knows? Think about it during a 45-minute training session. If you can't decide and you need more time, go for a run outside.

 

These lights don't just shine and let you see in the dark. They also possess a rare quality often overseen by other manufacturers of bike lights: they are inconspicuous. These lights are so small that they do not take anything away from the design of the whole. They shine by letting others shine, which is quite something. They blend in.

 

When I got them from the people at Supernova and I opened the box I thought parts were missing. Two tiny black boxes were all they shipped me. It turned out one micro box contained the front light whereas the nano box contained the other, even smaller, backlight. The way these lights were packaged, in tiny tins, put the packaging people at Apple (or should I say Foxconn) to shame.

Not attracting attention

is what these lights

do best 

Their beauty rattled me and for a moment I was tempted to put the boxes on my bike instead of their contents. When I finally regained my senses, I installed the lights, hooked them to my battery and off I went.

Letting others shine may be a very worthy cause but sometimes it is a bit much. Lately, I have had several complaints from oncoming cyclists that my lights blind them, that the beam they produce shines way too brightly.

 

Adding the possibility to switch between a high and a low beam, one to see and the other to be seen, would be a welcome improvement. That way these lights would be even better at what they do best: not attracting attention.

info@first-world-products.com

 

© Passionately created in Brussels, Belgium 2020

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