22 August 2011

It's an It Chair, isn't it?

My ardent fans, i.e. no-one, will remember that some time ago I wrote a post expressing my desire to be the proud owner of an "It Chair"; a wondrous Spanish-made device that allows one to carry ones offspring on a Brompton. I struggled to find one, noting that they rarely even appeared on e-bay. I made a pilgrimage to their Spanish retailer whilst in Barcelona, only to find the stock cupboard bare. I reported that the renowned Brompton up-grader Steve Parry had withdrawn from making his own version due to the potential risk of litigation from anyone who might be hurt whilst using one. In the end, I placed a reserve note with Velorution knowing that they couldn't get them either and forgot about it. The boy stood on the crossbar whilst I wheeled him to nursery - nice, but not as glorious as it could have been. Just imagine us zipping along, the wind in our hair perched together on our steed; the stuff of dreams.

Well, those diligent chaps at Velorution kept their eyes peeled and obviously managed to get their hands on some stock. They put the word out and I jumped at the chance. I know the boy is a bit too big now. I know it was mega-bucks...

But come on, how cool is that?

It is made of steel tubing, with a clamp that joins to the Brompton seat post, with a matching Brompton-style clamp. The other end sits snugly over the top tube, but also has a shaped steel section that hooks under the Brompton's own top tube clamp and keeps the device steady and positively located. You need to provide your own saddle (a bit ridiculous, bearing in mind the ridiculous price) that sits on a cantilever tube projecting from the shaped main section. The child places their feet on the flip-down foot rests, and then holds onto the bike handlebar. A necessary "benign dictator" role needs to be taken by the adult pilot, as the junior co-pilot can sometimes try to choose the direction you are travelling in. This can throw your balance a bit. Pedalling is straightforward, even if a bit "bow-legged" to avoid your knees banging into the passenger in front. A small saddle is helpful, as this makes pedalling perfectly normal once the passenger has disembarked. Folding is ok, even though I still haven't got the technique sorted. I sometimes end up looking like someone struggling with a deckchair, in stark contrast to the 10sec slick folding method I had down to a tee before. The folded package is slightly larger and quite a bit heavier, but acceptable if not carrying a great distance. The bike flexes much more when riding, due to the extra weight. Neither the boy or I are particularly bulky though, so it feels fine. Some may prefer the harder suspension block, which might eliminate some of the flex.

You can have a great conversation whilst riding and the child gets a brilliant view of proceedings. The boy now sings all the way to nursery, so it seems to work for him. He loves it, even if he's not allowed to steer. Yet.

11 August 2011


We were there. During our recent rip to Copenhagen, we were caught in the most amazing deluge I have ever seen. After an amazing trip to the art gallery at Louisiana, where the weather was like this:

We returned to Copenhagen in late afternoon. Arriving at Norreport Station, we stepped off the train and into a storm of biblical proportions. Hiding in the station, we watched as traffic ground to a halt and the skies darkened as though night had come. It rained so hard, for almost two hours, that the station roof started leaking and it rained inside too. I read on Copenhagenize that there were 5,000 lightning strikes those two hours. It felt as though the paparazzi were lurking outside, flashbulbs popping.

Of course, the rain did eventually stop. We were able to return our hire bikes in time (through deserted streets) but the ensuing traffic chaos resulting from the flooding caused us no end of problems - trains were delayed, buses diverted and traffic jams appeared everywhere. How we wished we'd hung on to the hire bikes, as the Copenhagen citizen cyclists kept on rolling.

9 August 2011

the Incredible Shrinking City

More thoughts, slow in gestation, from our recent trip to Copenhagen:

The steady pace of cycling in Copenhagen's cyle lanes, combined with the subjective safety they create in ones mind has the excellent effect of shrinking the city to a different scale. We happen to be well versed in the art of walking around cities and understand the scale and possibilities of distance and time as pedestrians. But this bike contraption thingy shrinks distance and opens up opportunities in an incredible way, when combined with the simple device of a safe, dedicated cycling infrastructure. Freedom from the mysteries of public transport, freedom from the motor car and the niceties of parking, directions, maps and getting lost. This exhilarating sense of freedom in all senses must have been what drove millions of people to take to the bicycle a century ago.

In urban planning, we often see masterplans prepared which attempt to consider the idea of "walkability" - whereby facilities and functions, or connections to other transport opportunities, are designed to be within certain walking times or distances. This is clearly a sensible and laudable way to proceed. But, I wonder what impact there might be on the flexibility and practicality of masterplans were an additional layer of "cyclability" to be added.

If the infrastructure was to be put in to a new development from the beginning, to allow this secondary layer of cyclability to operate beyond the normal walking radii, many possibilites might open up. Putting the car just a stage lower down the mental priority list might also help cut the short, local trips that get in the way of the journeys that the car is clearly very good at - long, fast trips from point to point over a regional scale. Not the quick trip to the shops or picking the kids up from school. And I hold no truck with the idea that just because it hasn't been done before, or done elsewhere that this would be a waste of time. Presumably, the City of Copenhagen started with just one cycle lane somewhere. Look what they managed in the meantime.

With the simple addition of "Cyclability" into the design mix, the Incredible Shrinking City would have neighbourhoods that were more civilised, more attractive and just that little bit more gentle of pace.