Why Are There So Many Bike Brands? And Why Are None of Them Selling The Bikes We Need?

Specialized, Trek, Giant, Scott, Cannondale, BMC, Cervelo, Bianchi and hundreds of others I could list. What’s the difference? Well, if you’re looking for any kind of road or mountain bike, honestly not much. There are differences, but they’re so subtle that no normal person would notice. Put it this way, even professionals who basically live on their bikes have to ride whatever their team’s bike sponsor provides. Mark Cavendish has won on all sorts of bikes for example on road and track.

If you walk into your local bike shop, they are likely to carry one or more brands. If you’re looking for a road, hybrid style or mountain bike then you’ll find one to suit without going to another store. They all use the same components, generally either SRAM or Shimano. The only differences will be in geometry and any number of gimmicks, for example the Lefty fork from Cannondale, or the specialized Future Shock suspended handlebar design. They’re not things that will make huge differences. The frame and rear suspension linkage designs on mountain bikes do differ, but again, unless you’re a very serious rider, it won’t matter.

I don’t like agreeing with Lance Armstrong particularly, but he was right when he said that when buying a bike, just go with whatever brand you like, and which colour you like. Because they’re all basically the same.

While this is true for road and mountain bikes, it isn’t the case if you want something else. If you want a folding bike, there is an enormous variance in folding mechanisms for example. Brompton being by far the best in my opinion.

If you want a bike for commuting, I’d personally recommend a Dutch style upright bike and for those, you’ll have to go to a specialist retailer or online if you’re in the U.K. As we’ve lost our minds and sold mountain bikes as commuters for some reason I can’t fathom.

When you get to e-Bikes, it gets more complicated as the different motor systems actually do make enough of a difference to the point that you might want to do your research, and then figure out which dealer you need to visit. And if you want something really special, such as a belt driven, full suspension urban e-Bike with full fenders and wider tyres, then Riese & Muller are there for you.

Simply put, the mainstream bicycle industry has lost its way completely and the only way to buy the types of bikes that in my opinion, most people would benefit from, you have to go to niche brands. That cannot be right.

The types of bikes that are popular in the Netherlands, where cycling is a normal, daily activity that almost everyone does are upright bikes with chain cases and heavy duty luggage racks, and cargo bikes which are incredibly useful and will be indispensable tools in fighting air pollution and congestion in our towns and cities.

We’re not going to solve all of the transport related issues we have in the U.K. with road bikes and mountain bikes. It’s not going to happen. Things need to change, and quickly. We need the infrastructure to be built first and foremost, but we also need to be seeing huge numbers of Dutch and cargo bike shops opening up.

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Talk about Climate Solutions (and make changes yourself)

The biggest problem with the youth climate movement right now is that there’s not enough talk about the actual solutions which we can implement in our own lives as well as from a political and business standpoint. The science is clear. And we have to unite behind it. But people don’t know what that means, and this is still the biggest stumbling block. I want to focus on individual action and list all the things I’ve done so far. Or at least everything I can remember. Individual action is incredibly important, and I’ve realised how much recently. Just going out on the streets to protest is effective, but without voting with our wallets and our behaviours, it’s probably not going to cause significant change in the short term. Politicians aren’t yet worried about kids who aren’t old enough to vote, and businesses are unlikely to change unless they see strong trends away from their current products or services. Or because they’re being forced by regulation, which is obviously less likely due to the previous problem I just mentioned.

Here’s everything I’ve done so far:

  • Decided not to have kids (obviously we need people in the future, just less than now. And I don’t want to put any kids I could have through our likely disastrous future)
  • Cut out red meat entirely and cut back on chicken and fish
  • Insulated home
  • Switched to green energy supplier
  • Bought an EV (smaller / more efficient the better)
  • Cycle (buy a nice bike or e-bike. You’ll thank yourself for it)
  • Bought a reusable water bottle (and don’t buy a bunch of them, just one or two)
  • Use reusable coffee cup or flask and ask Starbucks or Costa to fill them up
  • Avoid as much single use plastic as possible.
  • Switched to LED lightbulbs (Philips Hue)
  • Don’t buy stuff I don’t need
  • Limit new technology purchases where I can. I still have my iPhone 6 (2014) and iPad Air (2013), original Apple Watch (2015). Need to replace them all soonish though. But 5 years is a good lifespan for tech. Don’t buy a new one every year or two.
  • Buy only digital games and other media.

If many more of us did these and other things, it would be impossible for governments to ignore the calls for massively increased climate action.

The Quirks of Dutch Bikes, and Don’t Ride without Fenders

Yesterday I was fitting a new saddle to my Batavus Personal Bike, and because it was the second one I’d bought for this bike (had to take it to bike shop that time because it was so tight from the factory), I had a spare Ergon model. I’ll get back to that later.

Fitting the new seat, you have to deal with the Dutch style seatpost clamp, which allows the seat to slide side to side. This makes lining it up straight unnecessarily difficult. It’s the same thing I found with the Dunlop / Woods valves. The Dutch have a way of making everything so practical, but at the same time have this little quirks which contradict the overall Dutch cycling experience in the country.

Perhaps the reason they get away with it is because everyone in the Netherlands takes their bikes to the shop for maintenance and to inflate the tyres, but I can’t imagine that’s really the case. It’s something I think they really need to address.

As far as the spare Ergon saddle, I thought it would be a good idea to fit it to my brother’s single speed commuter bike. There were two lessons learned from this. Firstly, the seat clamp on that bike was so much simpler. You just have two bolts underneath the clamp, and the way it’s designed forces the saddle into a straight line. There’s no chance of it being off to the side, which makes it so much easier.

The second thing I noticed was that the clamp was really dirty. The bike hasn’t really been cleaned thoroughly ever, so all those days commuting in the rain, the tyres flicked up the dirt into the area. Something that would not happen if you run with fenders. Yes, on a road bike it maybe doesn’t look so cool but on an urban bike, the hassle just isn’t worth it. At least not for me. And fenders just look cool anyway. It’s a no brainer.

Are Most EV Drivers Climate Deniers?

I’ve been part of my local EV owners group for getting on for a year now. Who do I see there? Well, mostly older people with disposable income. Buying 2 ton cars from Tesla and others. They have petrol cars as well, big detached houses, go on far flung holidays etc. It’s not enough to have an EV and solar on the roof, and a Zappi charger. There are some Leafs, some Zoes, Niros and Konas etc, and then there’s me with my “cheap” Smart ForTwo EQ. A bargain at £17,000 for my fellow poor millennials. If you don’t live at home, you probably can’t afford it.

What people in the group tend to talk about most include the new electric cars coming out, cost savings over fuel, 0-60 times, and charging infrastructure. Things that I care deeply about, some of which are the main reasons I bought an EV: climate, pollution, congestion, cycling, micro mobility and more, basically never come up. Unless I bring them up. Even autonomy and RoboTaxis have never been mentioned to me at least, once again, unless I bring them up.

I’ve watched Bjørn Nyland on YouTube since 2013 when he got his Model S. I think I was a little late but I went back and watched the videos I’d missed, and haven’t missed one since. I commented on a recent video of his road trip, and in particular one where he was in Bern. He met multiple followers who had flown around the world, and I made a comment questioning this American guy’s sustainability credentials.

The response I received from Bjørn took me by surprise to say the least. It was scathing. He brought up meat, enjoying life(?) and flying, which is the one thing I actually brought up in my comment. Because obviously flying has a gargantuan impact on your footprint. I’ve watched many videos of Bjørn flying around the world and eating meat, often in the same video, and said nothing. He has brought up the issue of Tesla drivers littering superchargers, and the problem of food waste, so he’s doing a lot of good. And you can’t argue with what he’s done in selling hundreds of people on EVs they might not have bought otherwise. I just hope he keeps progressing and carries on taking the next steps, because that will send a huge message to his 150,000 subscribers.

As EVs have progressed and gained somewhat mainstream traction, it seems as if they’ve lost their way in terms of the message they’re sending. While I understand why Tesla have focused on straight line performance as a way to attract petrol heads and other non-environmentalists, with the other automakers it’s a different story. They refuse to compare EVs to fossil counterparts, refuse to talk about their pollution reducing aspects in many cases.

Luckily, Tesla are about much more than just acceleration times. RoboTaxis, Trucks, Solar, Storage, eBikes? (fingers crossed). But regardless of whether or not Tesla do an eBike, I feel like it’s becoming ever clearer that micromobility is where the real action and change is right now and going forward. So many form factors, so much innovation, and it’s so simple. We just need to open our minds up to a new way of getting around. And also open up to the idea of better quality vehicles, not just £300 scooters that can be dangerous on our bumpy roads (once they’re actually legal). Once we do that, the opportunities are almost limitless. I just wish people would talk to me about these things for once, not just the other way around.

To go back to the title of this post, I don’t think most EV drivers are deniers. But the majority are most certainly not environmentalists. I think the true environmentalists are about to shun car ownership entirely, shun big detached houses and flying. Among other things.