|Cycle rack in Oxford|
We have been visiting a friend in Oxford, and I have been impressed as usual by the genuine cycling culture that exists there. Bike shops everywhere, bikes everywhere, hire bikes available everywhere. Even out of term and without the critical mass that must be provided by the students, it was still a vibrant and delightful scene.
The sight above, just a typical rack in a back-lot, is nothing unusual for Oxford, even though it would be unheard of in Cardiff if there were no students around. But I was interested in a particularly geeky and anoraky fact after I made a quick study of the form. Not a single bike here had a fully enclosed chain. Not one had a hub brake. Not a single hub dynamo, or any other form of non-battery lighting. Only one of all the bikes here had hub gears.
There is a lot of terraced housing in Oxford. For the first time, I have seen front gardens turned into bike parking areas with cycle racks, which is a welcome change from being turned into a car park as is the norm in other cities. There are lots of student flats and student accommodation. In other words, bikes are stored outside day and night. I would have thought therefore that basic bike practicalities and functionalities such as the enclosed chain and hub brakes I mentioned above would have impacted on what is available for sale in the myriad of bike shops, or perhaps coloured the advice that new students are given when purchasing their new steed. But apparently not yet.
We may be seeing the re-emergence of "utility cycle culture" (that sounds frightening) here again in the UK, but are the manufacturers and retailers keeping pace? They seem to be able to follow the fixie trend well enough for instance, so why can't they make practical features more normal as they are in other countries? Perhaps the mountain bike aesthetic that kept so many small retailers going throughout the wilderness years is too hard to shake off? Perhaps the costs of things like hub brakes mean bikes jump out of an acceptable price range? Perhaps the customers have not yet learned to demand these things? I'm not sure, but it will be interesting to see how the trends develop and how the manufacturers and retailers react, or if they choose to lead instead.