Posts Tagged ‘Ultegra’

The key to preventing bike thefts

October 31, 2013

I’ve had an idea how manufacturers could help prevent thefts of their bicycles. It’s not going to happen now, but I think it could happen in the future. To explain, I’m going revisit the recent past.

A few months ago I wandered into a shop which sold only electric bikes. The owner’s enthusiasm for his products was tempered by a smugness which I thought was unwarranted. Thanks to his bike’s motor, he could get from his shop to central London within 10 minutes – but then so could I, and I can enjoy the exhilaration of riding a bike rather than the tedium of operating a clunky electric machine. He pointed out all the bicycles in his shop were fitted with a disabling system (which I presume contribute to their two grand price tag). It’s basically a small electronic card that fits into a slot on the handlebars and it functions in a similar way to a car key: without it, the bike won’t start. He said that as a result of the disabler, he had only one bike stolen in the past seven years. Well, none of my bikes have a special electronic key, and I haven’t had one nicked for more than a decade. Maybe knowing where you can’t safely leave your bike unattended is more worthwhile than having an expensive anti-theft device.

I doubt electric bikes will sell particularly well in the UK over the next few years. Apparently they’re the coming thing in China, the Netherlands and Germany, but these are countries that each have had their own cycling cultures for generations, so I suspect a lot of long-term riders are converting to electric when age or its attendant infirmity or injury prevents them from using regular bikes. Countries such as Britain that have recently caught the cycling bug may take longer to convert. Here in London, some of the Barclays hire bikes will go electric for a trial in a hillier part of the capital, and I imagine they will prove popular with the more, shall we say, leisurely rider who doesn’t want to sweat it when the road heads upwards. But realistically, how many Londoners would end up spending the price of a decent second-hand car on an electric bike of their own if they could use one for £1 a pop?

The disabler, though, is a useful idea. I wasn’t aware that such a facility existed – and neither, I suspect, did the thief who threw the shopkeeper’s bike into the back of his van, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken it. Surely what we need is a gadget that can fit onto the next generation of ordinary, pedal-powered, mass-market bikes; that way, every thief would know about them, and its presence would act as a disincentive to theft because the bikes would be much harder to sell on without that “key”. But what would that thing be?

I think it already exists. It’s the electronic groupset. Take the battery out of the slot for Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 and my Ridley Excalibur is not much use. Yes, you can still ride it in whatever gear you left it in, and I’m not suggesting we all buy expensive, Di2-equipped carbon bicycles to go down the shops or get to work. But the prices of electronic groupsets are coming down as their popularity increases, which means, like all kinds of consumer goods, it is probably only a matter of time before they make it into the mainstream. So maybe we could one day see an ordinary commuter bike that a thief couldn’t easily sell on because the bit that makes it fully operable is in the pocket of the owner. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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So I’ve bought a new bicycle…

March 22, 2013

…and it’s green. Like a laser beam.

Merlin Excalibur seatstay

It has a computer brain.

Merlin Excalibur brain

And it’s adorned with a reference to the director of Blade Runner.

Merlin Excalibur top tube

So basically it’s a robot bicycle from the future. A Tron bike. A carbon fibre Terminator. An X-Wing on wheels. The Ridley brand is steeped in the heritage of Belgian cycling, but this looks like the sort of bicycle Kraftwerk’s robotic doppelgangers would ride (if they didn’t have aluminium poles for legs).

Merlin Excalibur profile

I’ve been interested in this particular Ridley Excalibur since Pearson Cycles tweeted a photo a couple of months ago. There are a few reasons why I decided to buy one: the price tag is quite attractive; I wanted to reward myself for being a very good boy money-wise throughout this financial year; and I wanted to try a carbon bike, especially one crafted in the traditional way – by anonymous factory workers in the Far East. More importantly, The Green Machine looks like it couldn’t give an anodised nipple what I or anyone else thinks of it, and that appeals to the obstinate side of my nature.

As a new owner in the first flush of joy, you’re not going to get anything remotely objective out of me at this stage. You may recall that bit in the Alan Partridge Christmas special, where he repeatedly presses the eject button on a CD player in a branch of Tandy (overseas readers: Tandy is, or was, Radioshack) and marvels: “Nice action… very nice action… that is a very nice action.”

Well, that’s basically me dicking around with Shimano Ultegra Di2 during the past couple of days. Changing gears electronically has its own peculiar fun, mainly because it’s so… soft. Light. Gentle. I’m enjoying it immensely, although it will probably be only a matter of time before I yearn for the manly clunk of the 2006 Chorus groupset on my Merlin Cyrene.

I rode up the small climb in Richmond Park against a headwind, and it feels noticeably zippier and more responsive than the Merlin. My emotionless android bicycle does not fear bad weather – but sadly, being human, I do. So I won’t be taking the Excalibur out if it snows or pisses down this weekend. You’ll just have to wait until next week to see it.