Since we are still not able to go away touring, my main project in the last few weeks has been decluttering the house, which is sadly necessary after many years of not making good decisions about items accumulated.  I found a way to incorporate cycling into this today by hiring an Urban Arrow cargo bike from the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling via Laid Back Bikes in Marchmont.  Turned out to be great fun!

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First challenge was getting the hang of steering with so much bike and cargo bay in front of me.  It felt very strange for the first half hour but after a couple of circuits of the Meadows I felt confident enough to venture down Lothian Road – not my favourite cycling route even on my familiar touring bike, but the UA coped beautifully with the usual selection of potholes and drivers passing far too close. It has good suspension, continuously variable hub gears and electrical assistance.  I know the last is cheating, but when fully loaded and cycling uphill it’s extremely welcome.

Over the course of the day, I cycled from the West End out to the storage site at Balgreen and back four times with loads of around 35-40kg a time – boxes of books, parts of a wood lathe and various other bits and pieces.  What I hauled in the end would have been only one car load, even in my small hatchback, and I didn’t even half empty the storage locker so it was not the most time efficient way of moving loads.  As time is not my issue at the moment, it was a joy cycling along in the sunshine and watching the reactions of passers by to the unusual bike.  I wound up rather tired, but probably as much from heaving things around when loading and unloading as from the cycling itself.

Cycling to and from Marchmont, touring round the Meadows and four round trips to the storage site came to something over three hours of pedalling in total, so I think I gave the bike a pretty good try and we definitely bonded.  I was struck by the differing reactions of drivers.  People mostly passed me from behind much as they would on my normal touring bike, as in most gave me a reasonable amount of room but a fair few passed too close.  At junctions where traffic was head-on or side-on to me, though, I noticed that drivers gave me a lot more room, and several gave way to me to let me out at junctions, which doesn’t happen to me so often on the normal bike.

One challenge was dealing with traffic lights when leaving the Meadows to get back onto the road.  There is a joint cycle/pedestrian crossing – but there was no way I could reach the button without sticking the front end of the bike right into the road.  Fortunately another cyclist came along and solved the problem for me.  Another challenge was manoeuvring the bike when I was not riding, especially when it was fully loaded.  It is actually handles very well given its size, but I’m not used to a bike that needs three point turns!

I have used hub gears with a twist shift before but the continuously variable gear – no fixed gear ratios, just any position you like between flat road and steep hill – was a pleasure to use once I got used to it.  The display is particularly cute.  Since there are no numbers for gears, it shows a picture of a bicycle on a variable slope to give you an indication of the gear you are in.  The range of gears was good and the low gears came in particularly handy when the battery ran out on the return journey up Lothian Road in the afternoon. At this stage I was not carrying a load so I managed to get back up the hill to Marchmont without assistance.  The battery drained faster than I was expecting.  I kept it on no more than half power most of the time and had understood that even on full power it would have lasted all day, but I expect these are things you have to learn from experience.

Overall, a good day, and a mini-adventure here in Edinburgh.  Thanks to David at Laid Back Bikes for a great briefing session to get me started.

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