urban

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.

Bike Trailers in Ireland – An Opinionated Guide

Featured Image: Human child waiting for bike trailer assembly.

Let’s start upfront and go from there:

Can I transport my Christmas tree in the trailer instead of my kids?

Christmas tree in bike trailer

Yes, you can.

Can I do my weekly shop with the trailer?

Yes.

Should I transport my kids in a bike trailer in Limerick city?

Yes. Do that instead of taking a car.

Won’t this endanger my kids?

Back at you:

  • Do you drive your kids on the motorway at 120kph? (immediate danger)
  • Do you feed them bread and corn flakes? (chronic danger)

Won’t people stare at me?

Yes.

Won’t people think they have right of way because they’re driving their car through the city at 50-60kph?

Yes. See Too afraid to cycle in Limerick city?

So you want to buy a bike trailer in Ireland

Where can I buy a bike trailer?

We got our Thule Chariot from Tri Bikes in Raheen, Limerick. It was on offer at the time, an ex-display model.

Thule are a big brand with bike trailers. So try to find a dealer in Ireland. The list looks very small, so you might well want to buy online.

What kind of bike trailer should I buy?

Walking with bike trailer

Thule Chariot with its small front stroller wheels attached for… strolling.

We got a Thule Chariot Cougar 2. It takes two kids. The 2 means two kids.

It doesn’t have suspension, and don’t bother with suspension – the cost will skyrocket.

It came with removable front wheels to let you use it as a stroller, so you can look like a hippy doing your Milk Market shopping with two kids in it.

What kind of bike do I need?

We’ve used it on two bikes: a hybrid city bike and a lady’s upright bike. You need to screw an attachment to the bike’s rear axel. Easy with a quick-release axel, and needs a spanner or two for an axel with bolts.

As for road racing bikes, I’ve no idea if they connect.

Update: we also have it connected for our Dutch bikes.

What equipment do I need?

  • Your bike
  • The trailer. Keep it simple. Don’t splash out on the suspension models.
  • A helmet for the kids.
  • For added attention-grabbing, I got a couple of kids bike ribbons in Dealz discount shop. They velcro around poles, and they make the trailer be seen a bit better.
  • Taped-on extra reflector tape. (Thanks Dave.) Get in a motor factors.
  • Rear red light, for any low-light cycling.
  • Reflectors that clip on to the spokes.

Tips for riding your bike trailer through Limerick / Galway / Cork / Dublin

Take small roads

I was amazed at how many non-main roads I could find to get to my regular destination across Limerick. There are also lanes and cul-de-sacs you’ll find you can navigate by bike but not by car.

  • Take it as an adventure.
  • Don’t do it under time pressure when you’re starting.
  • Study the map to see how you can do better.

Take space like car drivers do when needed

If the road isn’t wide enough, don’t pull into the gutter to show you’re trying. Move out into the lane to ensure the driver doesn’t try to overtake. When it’s safe again, do make space.

Make eye contact with people who are driving

Actively seek out eye contact. The brain doesn’t go into such auto-drive mode when it sees a face. I’ve gone so far as to use gestures sometimes (such as “hold on a moment there, dear driver, you’re coming too close at me while trying to avoid the obstacle in your own lane”.)

Collection of reactions heard

Here’s the reaction of some people we’ve heard on the streets of Limerick.

  • “Isn’t that the best buggy, the two of them in it”
  • “Look, there’s two babies in the back!” (I should shout this and point at him when he drives past with his kids in his car 😉 )
  • “That’s some machine”
  • “Oh, that’s handy”
  • “That’s a fantastic buggy”
  • “That goes on the bike as well” (said to his wife)
  • “Where did you buy that?”
  • “That’s a great idea. Look, there’s kids inside. That’s a great idea.”

Issues and Challenges

Attracts quiet disapproval

People generally think that the paved ways between one place to another is reserved for trucks and cars. They think that the faster you are, the more you have right of way.

They think that they should not have this cyclist in front of them IN THEIR CITY, when they are sitting in THEIR CAR that the bank owns, and they’ve paid for MOTOR TAX (so did I), and what’s he doing ENDANGERING his kids on the road anyway, I might hit them.

Ill-fitting cycle tracks, although we’re lucky with our Limerick cycle tracks

I’ve come across two cycle paths or paths so far where bollards are there to protect the cycle track from “unwanted” traffic (whatever that traffic is). That means you, the cyclist, won’t be able to get onto that cycle track. But hopefully you’ll figure out an alternative route that suits you.

In Limerick, although the city is being dragged into times with a large cycling population kicking and screaming, we’re very lucky to have cycle paths along water ways. It means that large lengths of the city are accessible via bike track, and it can only improve over time.

Rain

Meh. Get a rain jacket and rain pants.

Attracts attention

I don’t like being the centre of attention. I suppose many people don’t, which explains why they wear their underpants strictly on the inside 😉

In other words, you won’t look normal. But realise this: people invest huge amounts of on-going energy to be normal. Normal is fat. Normal is driving your car on a loan. Normal is ensuring your kids end up with chronic illnesses.

This really isn’t so much about bike trailers, is it? Nope.

Thanks to Colman and Lena

In Freiburg, Germany (a real hippy town), they showed us it can be normal to use a bike trailer. I was in awe, and doubted that it was possible to use in Limerick. I had already been introduced to the idea of a bike trailer by blogger Mr Money Mustache. My wife saw the trailer on sale, we got it, and I can say it was a worth-while life-improving purchase. I hope I’ve encouraged you to do the same.

Irish Commuter Connectivity — Our Goal is to be Kept Apart

Too Long, Didn’t Read: I wanted to reduce my cycling commute distance by 29% by having better connectivity to a nearby “bike commuter route”. But I realised that since people want to be kept at safe distances from “anti-social behaviour”, they’ll seek to maintain that distance, and car distances make it sustainable to live far enough away from each other.

From where I live, this is the best route to take by bike or by foot to get to the city centre of Limreick, Ireland. It brings you along the River Shannon, past the old Guinness Bridge, along the old canal, and into the city centre. The route is 2.7km:

Current route in Limerick
The existing situation: no connection from housing estate to canal.

My current commute by bike. It takes me on to the road, in through another estate, until I get to the river. There, it’s a “commuter smart link”, with no cars. Although there is the odd swan that gets in the way.

And here’s my suggested route tweak to get the ~200 people living in this housing estate 29% closer to the city by bike or walking:

Shorter route in Limerick
The proposal: connect the housing estate to the core “commuter greenway”. Aha, we don’t want to, we want to keep eachother apart as far as possible.

There’s currently a high fence at the back of the housing estate. For this proposed shorter route, there would need to be a pathway made to connect us directly to the existing canal route.

My home city of Limerick was given part funding to help implement a “smarter travel” policy. It’s funding infrastructure development.

The project’s stated objective is to “have a significant positive effect on smarter connectivity across our community” (link to PDF). Public servants are doing this in order to help hit their government-set targets of reducing the proportion of car usage.

How would you implement a “smater travel” policy?

My naive approach to implementing this “social habit change” would be to:

  • Prioritise bikes and pedestrians over cars in infrastructure decisions
  • Make it as short as possible for bikes and pedestrians to get to their work place and shops
  • Maximise the usage of pathways with no cars. Limerick has historical infrastructure of the Shannon river and a connecting canal, which used to bring horse-drawn barges in and out of the city.

Objections to connectivity

Our housing estate is right on one of the three commuter routes being developed for cyclists. However, there’s no direct access to the estate from the route. I suggested my idea to connect our housing estate directly to the commuter route, and these were the main objections I heard:

  • Objection A: “Anti Social Behaviour” could make its way more easily into the housing estate
  • Objection B: Children would be at danger, having access to the canal
  • Objection C: Local Travellers would be walking their horses into the housing estate

For “Anti Social Behaviour”, my interpretation is that people feel that making it easier to walk between the city centre and the housing estate, that there’s more a chance of people from potentially poorer areas making their way into the housing estate to Cause Trouble.

If you follow this logic to its conclusion, surely wouldn’t you close off all access to the housing estate, blocking it off from the roads that lead to the city?

At the very least, it says to me that people are happy to drive a little further and feel more protected than to live effectively closer to the city.

For the danger to children and water, I do find this to be a reasonable objection. Following this logic again, though, if you valued the safety of your children you wouldn’t allow cars to drive at speed through the length of your hosing estate. The car rules, even inside our housing estate.

On the objection of horses being walked into the estate, that’s probably a question for the Gardaí or the court system if something is being done illegally. It’s not a valid reason to not improve quality of life.

Living reasonably distant is the goal

Underlying all this is that people happily live reasonably far from amenities, including the city centre, in order to feel protected in their cocoon.

What makes for a reasonable distance in the mind is enabled by our cars (this isn’t a judgment, but an observation). What’s another 90 seconds driving along a 1km road, if it means our houses are effectively safer and further away from perceived threats?

My original intentions

In my naive view, here was how I thought increased effective connectivity would look like, bringing everywhere closer together:

My thought on connectivity

I suppose this is close to my ideal view of the city of Limerick. Residential areas would be effectively as close as possible to the city centre by means of connectivity.

Acceptance of reality

However, I’ve accepted that this is more the reality of how Irish society wants to be laid out geographically, made sustainable by our cars:

Actual connectivity in Ireland
Our shared assumptions results in us living FURTHER apart, despite living in the same city.

Residential areas would effectively like to be further apart than “as the crow flies”.

Despite Limerick’s civil servants’ stated objectives of innovative commuting in order to hit their targets, they’re embedded within our car culture. I only found resistance in the smarter travel project to increase our “community connectivity”, and it’s ironically against a backdrop of car commuting. Car commuting, in effect, held back the ambitions of the funding project that set out to reduce car commuting.

The ultimate conclusion is this: if you want to live within easy distance of the city centre, then live right there.