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Guest blog: Is your bicycle safe for the roads? (+ video)

London cycle workshop Handlebars highlights the risks of cycling with worn brakes

London bicycle repair workshop Handlebars, which operates at Monument in the heart of the City and at Shoreditch, is currently running a campaign encouraging cyclists to ensure that their bikes are roadworthy. In this guest blog post, the company explains how they ran a stopping distance experiment to help highlight the risks of cycling with worn brakes on roads where cyclists are already exposed to danger from drivers and road defects, among other things. Here's their post.

Bicycle accidents, like car accidents, are sadly all too common. The effects of both are catastrophic. The most common reason for both types of accident is driver error. However, one of the big differences in statistics between cars & bicycles is those caused by ‘Vehicle defects’.

In the UK, it is mandatory to have a car MOT check every single year once the vehicle is older than 3 years. As a general rule of thumb, services are recommended annually. As a consequence, the number of incidents reported due to ‘car defect’ are low.

For bicycles, there is no equivalent of the MOT. Vehicle defect is still one of the main contributing factors noted by police following bicycle incidents, with a high proportion being defective brakes. With regular maintenance, these incidents should be largely avoidable.

Proportionally, the number of cyclists injured on UK roads is higher than people driving cars. It’s not surprising that 62 per cent of the population felt it’s unsafe to cycle on Britain’s roads. Restricting vehicle check regulation to cars, leaves cyclists who are already vulnerable on the roads at even higher risk.

On top of that, the number of bicycle workshops is dwindling. Small independents have an uphill battle against city centre rents and matching online retailer prices on spare parts. There are an estimated 2,500 bike shops in the UK, with roughly three-quarters of those consisting of independent retailers.

With 4.5 million cyclists riding once or more a week, that’s six repair shops for every 10,000 people. By contrast, for every 10,000 cars there are 13 car maintenance centres. This lack of conveniently placed workshops leaves many cyclists neglecting to take their bicycle in for vital repair work.

Handlebars decided to run an experiment demonstrating the risk of cycling with worn brakes. The team took a bicycle with old brakes on the rear and measured its stopping distance. The brakes were switched over to new ones and then they cycled the exact same stretch again. The difference is both astonishing and terrifying (see the video above).

The results?

With old brakes (simply on the rear), the bicycle took 7 metres to stop. The average car length is 4.5 metres. With new brakes, the stopping distance was reduced to 2 metres. The difference truly is enough to save a life.

To help, Handlebars is running a free safety check campaign.

Cyclists are encouraged to either book their bicycle into one of the London-based workshops (Shoreditch or Monument) or arrange for the mechanics to come out to workplaces around the capital.

Handlebars co-founder Nick says, “It’s truly frightening the number of people who are cycling every day with virtually no brake pads. Just yesterday, we did free safety checks at a local office and out of 26 cyclists, 15 needed their brakes changing.”

Co-founder Jeyda goes on to say, “and this is just brakes. When you factor in all the other parts on a bicycle that get neglected through lack of maintenance, it makes you realise that there’s lots of people cycling today on bikes that aren’t really roadworthy.”

In 2016, 18,477 cyclists were injured or killed in the UK. Given those numbers, any measures to reduce the risks seem highly worthwhile.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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alan sherman | 3 years ago

Were they steel rims?  Repeat that experiment in the wet if so!

Worn pads in most systems lead to less than optimal leverage.  My commuter has V brakes and I have to remind myself that sweatimg the last little bit of wear out of the pads is uneccesary when new pads are so cheap (£2.99 a set).  

ktache | 3 years ago

I thought that there was a lot of meat left on those blocks.

Use a stanly knife to flatten off the block, especially removing the "hook" where the block was not wearing because it wasn't contacting the rim, then setting it all up.

My cantis always worked better when freshly set up.  When they started to make a bit of noise it was time to fiddle.  The back was easy, the front never was and throwing a brake booster on it added power but meant adjustment became a nightmare.  I never could get it right first time.  Rear 20 minutes easy, front at least an hour, maybe more, especially if the rim or blocks started to wear.

There were some Sunday evenings that I would have to give up and prep the good bike for the commute and come back to the getting to work bike later in the week.

I discovered Kool Stop salmons a bit late in the life of that bike too.

Curves, Shimanos were easier to adjust but he Curves had good power.  The bike shop (Cycology in Crowthorne) just gave them to me free when I moved to Brum in '97.

XTR Vs on the good bike, on ceramic rims, only ever had to adjust the bite point on the cables.


ktache replied to ktache | 3 years ago

Another thing with cantis is lengthening the amount of effective post as the block wears, if you don't the angle of the straddle cable at the yoke gets too acute and the power drops off.

There were so many variables to get right with cantis.  Vs were so much easier.  But they did work if looked after and look so good.

eburtthebike | 3 years ago

Possibly the most misleading advertorial I've ever seen.  There is plenty of wear left on the original pads, but they are old and possibly glazed.  A quick buff up on the pavement would have restored them to good condition, followed by adjusting the brake, which would have resulted in vastly improved braking.  Fitting brand new pads with modern compound was guaranteed to make an immediate difference, but wasn't necessary.

Is this the same test the police used for Alliston?

brooksby replied to eburtthebike | 3 years ago

It's not quite OT but I've got two bikes - one has centre-pull cantilevers, and one has modern-ish V-brakes.  Both are adjusted, pads not glazed, etc, etc, but even so the stopping power on the V-brakes is far in excess of that on the cantis (a much greater difference than I'd imagined it would be).  I keep the older bike (the one with cantis) for nice weather: I feel more comfortable riding the bike with V-brakes in bad/wet weather.

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