Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Social Cost of Motoring

In round terms, ...the Government raises close to £50 billion from road users.
The Campaign for Better Transport extrapolates from the Government research on marginal external costs (above) to reach a total cost of externalities of £70 billion–£95 billion per annum at [2009] prices.
House of Commons Transport Committee - Taxes and charges on road users 2009

A great deal of those costs fall on individuals rather than the government, bereavement, noise, congestion, air quality, essentially standard of living costs borne by the wider society. So it might appear that the government raises £50bn but only spends some £9bn on maintaining roads, but the other £41bn goes towards offsetting the costs to society. A non motorist cannot claim back the cost of their reduced standard of living directly from anyone, but by raising taxes from motorists, the government can reduce other taxes paid by everyone. Even so there is still a £20-45bn shortfall between what motoring costs society and what motorists pay. Put another way, £45bn is half of the total raised by National Insurance, an even more direct tax on jobs than fuel duty. In fact, if you raised that extra £20bn in taxes from motorists (increase fuel duty by 40p, probably more like 50-60p to account for reduced sales due to changing behaviour) the income tax personal allowance could be raised to about £12,000, just about the right amount for those who insist on a living wage. OK, some inflation will follow offsetting things a bit, but we're in the ballpark.

Low taxes on motoring is not essentially right wing idealism, indeed, undertaxing it as we are is effectively socialising the cost of motoring.

Thoughtfully a list was drawn up of the cheapest and most expensive fuel around the world, the list of the cheapest countries could almost be a list of the world's greatest tinpot dictatorships. Meanwhile, Norway, the highest priced place in the world for fuel has been found to have the highest standard of living in 10 out of the last 11 years. Not a causal link of course, but I think it's safe to say that low taxes on fuel is not a necessity for making life better. I've been to Norway, I don't need to go to Turkmenistan to know which country I would rather live in.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Gazelle Toer Populair - That's how I roll

A.K.A. A bike too far?

A little while ago a new position became available in my fleet and I knew it was time to get myself a comfy town bike as none of my other bikes fit the role of relaxed cruising around in regular clothes.

Being of a contrary nature I opted against the available Pashley and Raleigh Roadsters for no particular reason and bought a single speed Gazelle Toer Populair with coaster brake. I would have liked a 3 speed but for a couple of reasons 1. It was £250 more and for less than half that amount I can change the hub if I ever really feel the need to move up. 2. For 2012 Gazelle have stopped making the mens three speed with coaster brake and I really wanted a coaster brake as I think it suits the cruising style.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Gazelle Toer Populair finds a new fan
The single speed came with black tyres, cheap black saddle and rubber grips all of which I changed. If you are wondering about the weird statue look here.

Gazelle Toer Populair
New kit
Cream Delta Cruisers, £11 each from Spa Cycles. I'll be keeping these well inflated as taking the rear wheel off is a hell of a job.
  • Remove axle bolts
  • Remove rack supports
  • Take off as much of chain guard as possible
  • Unscrew chain tensioners
  • Unscrew coaster brake
  • Push wheel forwards and take chain off sprocket
  • Pull wheel backwards and unship chain from axle and drop wheel out
  • Then get it all back together without forgetting where all the washers went
When I did get it back together I pulled the chain a bit too tight and could feel some friction in the drivetrain coming through the pedals when riding. So I eased off the tensioners a bit and it's smooth as silk now.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Brooks B67 Aged Saddle
The Brooks B67 Aged saddle actually comes as OEM on the three speed, my impression so far is that it is very comfy.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Nori-San cork grips
The rubber grips that came with the bike were hard on the hands and sticky when warm, these cork grips by Nori-San from Hubjub are soft and cool. The bell is nice too it's of the r-r-r-r-ring rather than ding! variety.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Axa Defender Lock
The lock is quick and simple to use, these are quite rare in the UK, I wouldn't use it as a primary means of security, but if I'm in a shop and the bike is outside but visible to me it would befuddle a thief long enough for me to run outside.

Gazelle Toer Populair
The little clip holds the stand to the rack strut
The rear stand folds up and the clip snaps it to the rack strut although it is stiff enough to hold itself up, but a nice touch.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Head badge
One very minor disappointment, from other photographs I thought the fork crown was chromed, but it turns out it is some sort of cover just sitting over the top.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front Light
Not had the opportunity to use the light yet, it looks the part but would be nicer if it was full chrome rather than half chrome, half plastic.

I can't remember ever having sat on a roadster type bicycle before and the first impression was, "Damn, that steering is light, and that front wheel is a long way away!" After a few yards it was no problem.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Just the one brake lever for the front drum brake which is not that powerful, but the rear coaster brake certainly is. I'm 5'9" with a 29" inseam, this is the smallest 57cm frame but i still have the saddle quite low and have raised the bars up quite high.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Rear Light
The rear battery operated light and large reflector. The mudguard support loops around to form a little protective barrier in case you reverse the bike into anything.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Really good stretchy straps
These straps are very strong and very stretchy, I strapped down a full 10kg backpack confident that it wouldn't shift about, and it didn't!

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front mudguard detail
A little flare on the front mudguard.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Fork crown cover
Another view of that fork crown cover.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Bottle dynamo
Bottle dynamo, not seen one of these since my brother's Raleigh Grifter.

Gazelle Toer Populair
Front drum brake
The front drum brake connections, quick and simple to remove.

I have a variety of bikes from all out road, to CX to Shopper, but none of them is anything like this to ride, and that was kind of the point for me. On the other bikes you are always leaning forward, a bit or a lot, nose pointing down, weight on your palms, the Gazelle is a totally different animal. You sit up, way up, in a way that most people under 40 in the UK have probably never experienced a bike. Get the wheels turning and it glides along smooth as silk, of course it takes a bit of effort to build up speed, but once up to speed the momentum of that weight and centrifugal force of the wheels lets it roll along at 12-15mph almost effortlessly on flat ground.

The 635 x 40 (or 28 x 1 1/2 if you will) Delta Cruisers are lovely and smooth my CX has 35s with small knobbles and other bikes have 23s or 25s at 100+psi, so a 40 road tyre with <60psi is a further revelation, no crashing around, no vibration, no tyre noise. The combination of tyre, steel frame, Brooks saddle and 22kgs manages to damp out all unwanted stresses yet the steering still inspires confidence.

Add in the practicality of fully enclosed chain, full mudguards, skirt/coat guard, big rack, straps, lock, lights and stand and it fulfills most of my daily biking needs and does so with no small degree of aplomb.

That's the practical and physical side covered, but how does it really feel... You're sat high up, you're facing ahead not down, you can look at the world again, lay back and cruise, smile at girls, wear regular clothes, leave the road warrior red mist at home and enjoy the ride. The only thing I can think to compare it to are three things I can't compare it to because I've never been in any of them, a Range Rover for the view, a Rolls Royce for the stateliness or if you're a motorcyclist something like a Honda Goldwing. In fact it is so composed and nonchalant I am sure had the need arisen Major Carlyle would have commandeered one on his Dutch vacation.