urban

Too afraid to cycle in Limerick City, but don’t be

Cycling in Limerick
My little son breaking all the rules: cycling on the footpath, no helmet, up against a truck.

One week I counted four people I spoke to about making Limerick (Ireland) into a pedestrian-first city. Just friends, neighbours and colleagues, as I had come across an interesting idea about Liveable Limerick (PDF) around that same time.

Each of the people basically said to me:

I won’t cycle into Limerick City. I’m too scared, it’s not worth it. My specific fear is that a person in their car will drive into me. My human flesh and bones are at risk because of people driving in Limerick city.

First of all, what an outrageous state Limerick is in when people are afraid to take to their own city.

The game is rigged. The Road “Safety” “Authority” and friends have the game already won. But that’s not enough of a reason to sit in your petrol-powered wheelchair.

Is it worth cycling into Limerick city? ‘Tis.

This is from my own perspective. I live in the city, 2km from the centre. I don’t have roads with speed limits faster than 50km/h (funny story: the residential road I live on, with my kids growing up there, has the same speed limit as primary city roads!).

OK, to those of you who are afraid:

  • Don’t design your life around fear, without questioning that fear
  • Each of us who gets out on our bikes makes the growing cycling culture in Limerick stronger for each of us. You’re contributing to something bigger than yourself.
  • Drivers are used to people cycling. There’s an old excuse “We’re not used to people cycling”. Ha! Cyclists are a constant feature of Limerick city.
  • The shared bikes scheme has legitimised upright-cycling without helmets
  • If you live in the right area, you can probably go a good portion of your route on cycle tracks (despite our planning of commuter connectivity)
  • You’ll feel better when you get to work. Even if you get pissed off on the road just like everyone else, you’ve done so while building a little exercise into your day. You’ll be more effective at work for it.
  • Get an upright bike, stop leaning forward. Stop racing people in their cars. They’ve paid their motor tax and have a right to use the roads. You also have a right to use the roads.
  • Don’t hold up traffic – yield to walkers at traffic light junctions, and the move through the junction, so you don’t hold up people in their cars when the lights go green
  • Don’t go on the inside left of drivers. Don’t fall for those fake cycle track areas at traffic light junctions. It’s a trap. You’re making yourself vulnerable by others being able to cut you off and “not see” you. Take your place on the road if need be.
  • Wear your normal clothes, not clown reflexive jackets. Do grey cars have to wear reflexive jackets? Indeed they do not. Don’t dress like you’re up for a fight, dress like you’re a human going to your work. The human eye detects motion to an unbelievable extent. By moving on the road, you’re visible. Put your lights on at all times for extra bling (just think of them as fog lights you forgot to turn off).
  • Connect with other like-minded Limerick people. Have a look at what @LimerickCycling are up to.
Electric bike

Why I didn’t buy an electric bicycle

2018, and I was in the market for a new cycling experience. I wanted something a little more laid back and traditional than my hybrid commuting bike. In the end I went with a Gazelle Tour Populair (not electric).

Here were my basic reasons:

  • I’d buy an electric bike if it encouraged me to cycle more instead of driving. However, I was already either cycling or walking to work. An electric bike would have made the commute “easier”, but it wouldn’t have gotten me on the bike more. For other journeys approx 2km, I try to do them on a bike, even with the kids in the back in the bike trailer. If I’m free, I’ll even do the shopping with the bike, but I don’t do that often.
  • An electric bike would gave be 2.5x to 3x times the purchase price of my non-electric fancy bike. And there’s some more added costs you could add like: the added maintenance price with the battery wearing out, increasing my exposure to something being stolen, and the marginal health cost in reducing effort that should be built into my daily life.

Should you buy an electric bike? If it reduces the number of times you hop in your car, please do!

Gazelle Tour Populair

Gazelle Tour Populair – First Impressions

Summary: Order yourself a Gazelle bike now. Stop letting what others will think of you from enjoying cycling to work. (And of course, leave your car at home). If you’re conscious of the price, go for the cheaper Gazelle Classic instead of the Gazelle Tour Populair.

One morning, I cycled to work on my wife’s bike instead of mine, because mine was out of order. It had a kid’s seat on the back. It was an upright ladies bike, but nothing very Dutch about it. I had already made a decision of cycle at my own speed, instead of trying to cycle at the speed of drivers in the city. It was a mentality shift, and that morning commute helped me decide. It was a relaxed commute. I wasn’t racing anyone. If another person had to slow down to my speed because they were bringing their big metal box into Limerick city, then so be it.

So I started my search for “upright” bikes, but I didn’t know yet what I was after. Was it a touring bike I wanted? How did the bike companies even market this type of thing, I didn’t even know. Mixed with all this was the decision about whether to buy an electric bike (which I decided against, that’s for another day).

My search brought me to finding out what kind of bikes are used in the Netherlands. I went so far as to going on Flickr, looking up Dutch cycling photos (of which there are many!) and noting down what brands people were cycling. It turned out Gazelle are a big Dutch manufacturer of bikes, and the seem to be popular enough in the Netherlands.

I settled on the fancy Gazelle Tour Populair. It’s a real pleasure to cycle. My friend (who laughed at me before for having a salad and wine at a dinner) tried it out and said to me: “Eoin, why do we cycle anything else?!”. You don’t even realise that the contemporary bikes that are all being bought and sold in Ireland are these sports-inspired bikes that possibly help you go fast, but at a real cost of comfort.

First Impressions of Gazelle Tour Populair

Your interaction with the handlebar is completely different

On my old bike, I’d have to lean forward to the handlebar. They were taking my weight. When you have an upright bike, the weight of your body is going down through your back and onto the saddle. Now you’re guiding the handlebars to keep you going in the right direction, but you’re not leaning on them.

This bike feels like a Californian cruiser, compared to my old Giant hybrid commuting bike. Indeed, upright bikes are more like walking (I had been primed by that blog post to get a Dutch bike, for sure).

You might need to do maintenance yourself

I don’t know, but I’m guessing your standard Irish bike shop will not be up for maintaining this bike. The reason is, the parts are different to standard. It’s got roller brakes, which means the brakes are kept internally in the wheel instead of rubber being pushed against the side of your wheel. The drivechain (what’s connected to your pedals to move your bike forward) is different to a standard bike.

The mechanics are special

The bike came with the chain being loose, scraping off its casing. I realise the bike has a bolt that you turn with a spanner, to tighten the chain. What a marvelous idea! On my old bike, you needed a special chain tool to help you size the chain correctly, and there was no leeway. On this bike, you just keep tightening (or untighten) to your needs.

The gears are also marvelous! It’s got an indicator to help you tighten the gears just right, instead of having to tune them “by ear”. The manual says that such an indicator is available at the top of the bike, but the only one I’ve found is under the bike, so I have to turn this heavy bike upside down. But then all you need is a spanner to tighten a bold, until two yellow indicator lines are lined up.

There’s a wheel lock on the back wheel. The key is left in by default, and when you want to make the bike immobile you lock it and take the key with you. That’s not enough for stopping the bike from being lifted away, obviously. It’s also a little source of worry – if I forget to lock this lock, even when I’m using my other bigger U-lock, I’m worried that someone will see the lock, turn it, and take the key with them! At least I’ve a backup key at home, but it’s a little hassle to the mind.

You probably need to buy from an online shop

For looking for where to buy one, not every shop will stock Gazelles. I ordered mine from dutchbikeshop.ie who delivered straight to Limerick. The shop that I was dealing with just didn’t have this type of Dutch bikes.

I later realised The Bike Shop in Limerick sell them and service them. Limerick people, buy there! A full list of Irish dealers seems to be here.

Buy a Gazelle Classic, it’s cheaper

My wife got the lower specced Gazelle Classic (stepthrough ladies frame). It doesn’t have the leather saddle. It doesn’t have the white tyres. And that’s a good thing. It still has roller brakes. It doesn’t have a big splash guard on the front tyre. It still is an upright bike. This particular one only had three gears, as opposed to my eight. We were worried at first that this would be an issue, but it cycles so nicely that it wasn’t a problem (and we live on a hill).

It’s good for rain, except the fancy saddle

The Tour Populair is a functional bike, but the trouble is they made this export version too fancy. The leather saddle looks cool, but I had to keep a saddle cover stocked on the bike, in case I’m leaving the bike outside. For me, this saddle is a step too far, since these bikes are meant to be workhorses, being able to leave them out when needed.

The front wheel has a big splashguard, and oversided one. I’ve tested it in torrential rain (on my way home one day) and it worked a treat. The idea in the end is that you wear your daily workclothes, instead of dressing up in “protective” gear so that drivers “see you” (don’t have an excuse “not to see” you).

It is heavy

Look, it’s heavier that your specced up light bike. It’s made of steel. This thing is a workhorse. If you need to carry it up steps, you will struggle a bit. But this in no way takes away from the cycling experience. The bike is a real pleasure to cycle.

Bike trailer attachment

A note for you hippies out there who have a bike trailer. It is possible to hook up a bike trailer to this one, but you’ll need to get a special extra attachment for your hitch. The part is a “Thule Internal Hub Hitch Adapter for Shimano”. It’s just an expensive extra bolt, to give your bike attachments enough length to fit on the trailer hitch.

Lights: One dynamo, one battery

Gazelle complicated on this one, in my opinion. The rear light is battery rather than dynamo. Perhaps this is for safety, so you don’t disappear at traffic lights! The front light is run by a dynamo. In fact, my front light had a dodgy connection. It was not always lighting. There are connections you need to check at the light itself, and down at the wheel. The light has now stopped working for me completely. I don’t know if it’s the bulb, although the filament in the bulb looks unbroken. I’m getting a multimeter to measure if the dynamo is providing current to the light. When it does work, it works well in any case.

Conclusion

Buy your Gazelle. Buy your upright bike. Down with forward-leaning bikes! Join the urban cycling revolution (it is, by the way). Enjoy your way to work. Marvel in 100-year old technology, with added new fancy technology. If you’ve more questions I can help you with, please leave a comment or get in touch.