It might be the greenest vehicle going, but do their makers match up? Bryony Moore examines the ethical credentials of bicycle manufacturers. With additional research by Tim Hunt.
Even before Bradley Wiggins’ latest Olympic gold pushed cycling to the forefront of Brits’ minds this summer, cycling has been undergoing something of a revolution in the UK. According to Sport England’s Active People survey, 161,000 more people were cycling in June this year than in the six months previously.(1)
And the Olympic legacy promises even more two-wheeled action to come over the next year. Boris Johnson has confirmed plans for the capital to host a two day festival of cycling next year. The weekend-long festival RideLondon is to be held annually and will feature a series of events for casual, club and elite cyclists.
The growth target set by Sport England for British Cycling for 2009 – 2013 is 150,000 more people cycling at least once a week – this is already being exceeded so all in all the future looks bright for cycling.(1)
Scope of this report
For this buyers’ guide we have rated the top selling bike brands, plus some British-made brands. We have included a few higher end specialist brands but this guide is aimed at the casual hobby cyclist or commuter. The buyers’ guide includes brands which make a range of different types of bike, from purpose-built sporty racers and mountain bikes to everyday hybrids and folders.
We have pointed out which of these companies also produce their own brand of bicycle accessories, whether they be helmets, clothing, pumps, lights or bike parts. However, we didn’t have the resources to conduct an in-depth buyers’ guide to bicycle accessories this time around.
The following companies also sell a range of bicycle accessories (including helmets, lights, panniers and bike parts): Brompton, Cycling Sports Group (Dorel), Dahon, Giant, Halfords, Moulton, Pashley, Raleigh, Specialized, Sports Direct, Tandem Group and Trek. Of these, Moulton, Brompton and Pashley were our Best Buy brands for bicycles.
We have included a fantastic directory of grassroots bicycle projects (below) which, although not rated in this buyers’ guide, we recommend you try out. Most have a community focus and are non-profit. While the directory is extensive, we do not claim that it is exhaustive. There are also many, many small, local bike shops which do not appear in this guide. We always recommend supporting local, independent traders over huge multinationals, so if in doubt, head to your local bike shop or project!
Sadly it seems that the bicycle industry cares little for the impact of its corporate operations on the environment and the people who work for its companies. Almost all of the companies received our worst rating for both their environmental reporting and supply chain management policies, seemingly preferring to rest on their CO2-saving laurels by claiming the use of bicycles by their customers as one of their own environmental successes...
There are always a few exceptions to this rule and we have awarded best ratings under our Supply Chain Management category to Brompton, Moulton and Pashley. Although they do source parts from overseas, all these companies are making concerted efforts to source from within the UK wherever possible, plus their bikes undergo at least part of the manufacturing and assembly process in the British Isles.
The other exception is Specialized Bicycle Components. This company, while still receiving a worst rating in the Supply Chain Management category, had made some progress since we last rated bicycle brands in 2007. The company, coerced by the new California Supply Chain Transparency Act of 2010, now acknowledges gaps in the management of its supply chain and appears to be taking steps to remedy this. The Act, which came into force in January this year, requires all companies with a turnover greater than £100 million “doing business in California” to make statements on the extent of its efforts on following issues:
- Verification of product supply chains to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and slavery.
- Auditing suppliers to evaluate supplier compliance with company standards for trafficking and slavery in supply chains.
- Requiring direct suppliers to certify that materials incorporated into the product comply with the laws regarding slavery and human trafficking of the country or countries in which they are doing business.
- Maintaining internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors failing to meet company standards regarding slavery and trafficking.
- Providing company employees and management, who have direct responsibility for supply chain management, training on human trafficking and slavery, particularly with respect to mitigating risks within the supply chains of products.(2)
In the case of Specialized, this Act has turned a company displaying no acceptance of workers’ rights issues, into a company with a decent policy on workers’ rights. It has plenty of work still to do on implementing policies, procedures and staff training to combat labour issues in its supply chain, such as third party audits of factories and working with NGOs for insights into the problems faced. But the important thing is that it has now put its foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
A new study has found that cyclists emit twelve times less CO2 than drivers per Km travelled. The European Commission asked the European Cycling Federation (ECF) to carry out the research to provide the first specific figures for emissions produced by bicycles over their lifespan, as compared to motorised vehicles. Its calculations factored in manufacture, maintenance and the impacts of the extra calories consumed by cyclists.(5)
They estimated that the carbon emissions per passenger kilometre travelled is 21g for a bike, compared to 271g for people in a car and 101g for a bus. At 22g electric-assisted bicycles came out almost as low, meaning even those less able-bodied can make huge carbon savings by cycling instead of driving. ECF also claimed to have been conservative with the figures, fearing that the study wouldn’t be taken seriously if the figures pointed too favourably towards bikes, coming as it does from a cycling federation. Road maintenance, parking and car disposal were not factored into the study, but bicycle maintenance was.
So basically, whatever your bike is made from, be it old or new, and wherever its parts come from, as a cyclist your emissions savings far outweigh those of cars, to the point that emissions generated from bicycle manufacture are negligible. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up!
A genuine alternative to cars?
“But what about when it’s raining? What if you need to transport stuff?” are two of the questions I get asked by non-cyclists when I’m extolling the virtues of cycling. I have my own ways of getting around these issues. I grin and bear it when it rains (and it’s never that bad when you’re actually out in it anyway). And I use large panniers and plenty of bungee cords to successfully (although sometimes precariously) strap all sorts of heavy and bulky loads to my bike. However there are plenty of purpose-made bikes and gadgets out there to offer a genuine alternative to car travel if you have kids or regularly need to carry lots of luggage.
Cargo or utility bikes are bikes built to carry stuff. Many have three wheels so are more of a trike than a bike, with a huge carrying box. Others have two wheels but with extra big carrying racks.
Try www.cargobike.co.uk, www.kidsandfamilycycles.co.uk, www.reallyusefulbikes.co.uk or www.bikefix.co.uk
Bike trailers – there are several different types available to buy, starting at around £50. And there are also DIY tutorials online if you’re a dab hand at welding...!
Try www.instructables.com or www.lifehacker.com
Well first of all, don’t believe the hype. Buying a new bike from a shop is likely to be overwhelming as there’s a lot of choice out there. While bikes have been built for every conceivable purpose, they are robust things and you’ll probably get away with going for a tour on a racer, or commuting on a mountain bike. However, you can get good advice from a bike shop as far as fit and bike suitability go.
If you can’t afford a new bike that’s no problem – a well-made second-hand bike is likely to outlast a badly made cheap new one anyway. You’ll get just as good advice from one of the brilliant DIY bike projects listed in our directory as you will from any big bike shop, with the added bonus of having some cash left over. In fact some of these projects will supply you with a bike for free, if you put in the time to build it and learn how to fix it yourself.
These projects will often collect your old broken bike for free too, and re-use it to create a bike for someone in need.
If you can’t buy or beg a bike, why not borrow one? Both schemes below work on the premise that you pay an annual fee for using the service, plus a charge for each journey you make. The convenience of these services probably depends on your proximity to their docking stations.
Barclays cycle hire
The striking blue and grey ‘Boris bikes’ are now spreading across London, with 15,000 docking points in the city. Boris bikes can be reasonably cheap if your journeys are under 30 minutes each – all you have to pay is the access fee – £1 for 24 hours. However, the scheme is sponsored by Barclays (as are those blue cycle lanes), who when last rated by Ethical Consumer received an Ethiscore of just 0.5. Also the contract for implementation and maintenance of the scheme belongs to Serco, one of the targets of our campaign to stop companies that are using tax havens from receiving public service contracts.
Brompton has partnerships with train line providers as well as councils and corporates. It aims to reach seventeen locations by the end of 2012, and more than 25 across the UK by summer 2013.
Its current locations are: Guildford, University of Greenwich, Manchester Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, London Borough of Ealing, Bristol Temple Meads, Exeter St Davids
Locations coming soon: Ashford International, Bristol, Canterbury, Exeter, Leicester, London Borough of Hounslow, London Borough of Southwark, Maidstone, Oxford, Reading, Southampton, Tonbridge.
The charging system encourages medium and long-term borrowing, however the terms and conditions read that you must not leave the bicycle unattended or locked up in a public place. Even with a folding bike this sounds slightly inconvenient. If a bicycle is stolen whilst in your care you will be charged £500 to replace the Brompton.
There are also plenty of local bicycle hire schemes across the UK which hire bikes by the day or week. Find one near you.
Get involved to make cycling better and safer for everyone.
Sustrans is a charity which campaigns on and enables more sustainable travel. Its 'More Haste Less Speed' campaign seeks to double the number of short journeys (<5 miles) made by foot, bike and public transport to four out of five by 2020.
In order to achieve this it is asking government to invest in the following:
- Encouraging people to change their behaviour.
- Creating safe and attractive walking and cycling conditions.
- Increasing public transport usage by improving and integrating services and reducing fares.
- Ensuring that planning policy and practice reduce the need to travel.
- Reforming taxation and increasing spending on sustainable travel.
The charity also carries out a lot of research so there are several publications available to download from its website, not to mention other useful resources such as maps and apps.
The Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), a national cycling charity, does a lot of campaigning on cycling and public transport, including cycle storage on trains. It admits that at present, unless you have a folding bike, you may not always be able to take your bike on a train within the UK. If you’d like to get involved in the CTC’s campaigns, you can join the Right To Ride Network – a body of volunteers that campaigns for CTC at local and regional level. Call 01483 238323 or email email@example.com to find out more.
The 28th September 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass – a monthly cycle ride which takes place in over 300 cities all around the world, often on the last Friday of the month. Friends and strangers all gather together to ride around their city en masse, celebrating cycling and proposing an alternative to the dominant motorised form of transport. All you have to do is turn up with your bike at the allotted time and place – it’s a great way to meet people and discover new cycle routes in your city.
Critical Mass was born on the last Friday of September in 1992 when a group of San Franciscan cyclists showed up on Market Street for the first ever leaderless bike ride. This soon became a monthly ‘organized coincidence’, and over the years spread to other cities in the US and around the world.
Critical Mass made the news earlier this year after 182 cyclists were arrested by London police during a Critical Mass ride on the opening night of the Olympics. The cyclists were arrested under provisions in section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986, which states that the police can impose conditions on a public procession if they hold the reasonable belief that “it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community.” However, this is an isolated case.
Because Critical Mass describes itself as a celebratory event rather than a protest, it is not required to notify the police of its route in advance. Although they vary around the world, they are generally peaceful and relaxed events which allow cyclists to enjoy the safety of cycling amongst a large group, and are not intended as an attempt to agitate police or other road users.(6)
Find a ride near you.
Six things you didn't known about bikes
• Bicycle use has been falling steadily since the 1970s, despite the fact that more of us than ever own bicycles.
• The energy efficiency of cycling is estimated to be the equivalent of a car doing 1600 miles on a gallon of petrol.
• In the UK, an average car produces about 3.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year
• Cycling contributes zero to green house gas emissions.
• Bikes save space - you can park ten bicycles in the space required for one car.
• At least half of all car journeys in Britain are short enough to be cycled. If they were, car mileage would be reduced by one sixth.
• The amount of steel and other materials in bicycle construction is less than 2% of that found in a small car.
Independent Bike Projects
Compiled by Hannah Armstrong from Re-Cycles in Liverpool.
If you’re looking for a bicycle, or want to get the one that’s gathering dust in your hallway back on the road, there’s an interesting alternative to the big name stores offering brand new bikes and full services. They’re DIY – or, as one such place more accurately terms it – DIT workshops – that’s Doing It Together, and they’re waiting for you to get involved!
Already existing all over the UK, with more popping up all the time, they offer workshop space, tools and advice to enable you to work on your bikes yourself. No handing it over at the desk, picking it up two weeks later and never knowing what happens to it. Here you can learn how to fix and maintain your bike with a little help from volunteers. Use of these workshops is often free, or for a small donation or membership fee. These are community organisations with people, not profit, as their priority.
They represent an active and forward-looking part of our society and by supporting them you can be part of building a new type of community – one in which we are conscious of our impact on our environment and other people, where we are resourceful rather than wasteful, and work co-operatively to Do It Together.
The following bicycle projects are listed in alphabetical order by town/city. Where possible, a website address and phone number is given; if none is available, an e-mail address or street address is provided instead.
If you know of a bike project that is missing please contact us and we'll add it in.
“Starting from scratch but with plenty of enthusiasm we gather orphaned bikes, fix them up and bring them back to life.” beCycle is a community-based workshop which not only offers tools, spare parts and competent help to anyone who comes in, but also lends bikes out for free, and organises a weekly bike ride and weekend trips.
Lawrence Street Workshops, Belfast
Sells recycled bikes and promotes cycling through organised bicycle rides.
A workers’ co-operative that recycles bikes and promotes cycling activities (including bicycle polo – see their website for more details!); offers workshop repairs; runs courses in maintenance, cycle training, and wheel building; runs a ‘tool club’ where people can come along and use their workshop. Also sells new and recycled bike parts, and quirky hand-made cycling “aids’”such as “lobster gloves”, made from recycled jumpers!
0121 459 7276
Here, young people work alongside volunteers to recycle bikes they can keep as their own. Other recycled bikes are given to the socially disadvantaged, passed on to a parent project Crank It Up, or sold to the public. Sessions available in cycle maintenance and repair, and workshop space available to hire. They also offer custom paint jobs – send them a sketch and see what they can do!
A volunteer-run, not-for-profit, do-it-yourself bicycle workshop where you’ll be shown how to fix and look after your bike. Recycled bikes and accessories sold. ‘Bike Hospital’ offers mechanics at public events to share bicycle skills.
01273 693 477
The Kebele Community Co-op has an open volunteer-run bicycle workshop which aims to promote and maintain the use of bikes in the Easton area of Bristol. A self-funded, not-for-profit organisation, it depends on volunteers and donations of bikes.
Committed to working with the whole Bristol community, running schemes to empower the underprivileged and marginalised: ‘Freedom of Movement’ works with asylum seekers and refugees, ‘Earn-A-Bike’ gives people the chance to refurbish a bike into one they can keep, and the ‘Fix-A-Bike’ scheme enables them to maintain it. Recycles and sells bikes and parts; provides a repair and maintenance service; runs maintenance courses, women only nights, and ‘supported volunteer courses’ which allow people with mental health issues, learning difficulties and substance-users to volunteer. Bikes for hire, including a tandem and a cargo bike. ‘Dr Bike’ available for hire to events, community groups, schools and companies.
Cardiff Cycle Workshop
Recycle and sell bikes and parts at monthly workshop sales. Bicycle maintenance courses offered through their parent company, Cycle Training Wales.
07808 987798 (Jon, workshop co-ordinator)
Part of the Coventry Peace House (a housing co-operative and a peace and environment centre). Run by a small team of volunteers, who recycle and sell bikes. Profits go towards the community projects run by the Peace House.
Scotland’s largest bike recycling organisation, with branches in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth. Working with employers, voluntary organisations, schools and youth groups to promote cycling as a means of sustainable transport, they sell reconditioned bikes at affordable prices, run ‘Fix Your Own Bike’ sessions, bike maintenance training classes, and cycling tutorials, and offer full bike servicing. Glasgow Bike Station’s ‘Belles on Bikes’ programme encourages and supports women in the city to cycle.
Edinburgh - 0131 668 1996, Glasgow - 0141 248 5409, Perth- 01738 44 44 30
A not-for-profit social enterprise based across two sites in Gloucestershire, selling refurbished bikes, from racers and vintage to mountain, town and Dutch-style, as well as children’s bikes. ‘Free Wheeling’ workshops teach Gloucestershire residents bike maintenance and repair free of charge, ‘Supported Volunteer’ programme works with adults overcoming substance abuse, and ‘Chain Reaction’ teaches children aged 11-19 bike skills.
01452 690979 (Maureen, Project Co-ordinator)
CycleRecycle, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
Sell recycled bicycles.
A women-run co-operative that refurbishes and sells bikes and parts, runs a ‘Tool Club’ for people to use tools, stands, books and the kettle (including women-only sessions if requested), and assisted maintenance sessions. Service and repair bikes. Run Dr Bike sessions for schools, community groups and other institutions. Check out their blog at spokeswomen.org.uk
A co-operative of volunteers who run drop-in sessions for people to learn how to repair their bike. Small membership fee for those who can afford it, and donations accepted, “but no one will be turned away due to lack of funds. The emphasis is on anyone can fix their bike. We have tools, books and time for you.”
Committed to keeping you on your bike without the hype. A walk-in workshop, selling refurbished and (occasionally) new bikes, parts, and components.
0113 274 5229
A community enterprise that recycles bicycles and offers training, activities and bicycle servicing.
A volunteer-run Community Interest Company that offers a free-to-use DIY workshop, with volunteers on hand to help you fix your bicycle. Also run Bike Doctors in the community and organise monthly group rides.
No.2 Bicycle Company, Liverpool
A bike repair workshop which specialises in selling custom-made bikes (including frame building) and vintage bikes. The workshop is a hub for cyclists, who often stop by for a cup of tea and a chat about anything bike-related, and is also used to run workshops teaching bike building skills to disadvantaged children.
2 Roscoe Street, Liverpool, L1 2SX.
A charitable social enterprise with an open DIY workshop with a full tool library, mechanics on hand to help, and courses to build bike skills, including Intro to Bike Maintenance, Wheel Building, Total Overhaul and Long Distance Tour Preparation. Also holds women & gender-variant nights, monthly rides, bike-related events (including the infamous Bicycle Bingo) and Members Only Perks. Income subsidises classes and shop time for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, allowing them to gain access to bikes and bicycle education.
A not-for-profit, community-run space based in the Infoshop Social Centre. Volunteers run space for repairs with tools and spare parts. Second hand bikes for sale.
A local cycling campaign group in the East End of London. Main objectives are: to encourage more people to cycle; improve conditions for cyclists; to raise the profile of cycling in the East End.
This involves bringing the issues to the attention of the local council and other authorities. Hold a bicycle workshop on the third Saturday of every month at Limehouse Town Hall. Also run cycling community projects and organise social rides and events to bring cyclists in the area together.
Bikeworks, Tower Hamlets, London
A social enterprise offering cycle training, repairs, bicycle reycling, travel planning and sales of new and refurbished bikes. In September 2012 they completed a 270 mile cycle through three countries in three days, travelling from London to Amsterdam “to help support disabled people to get cycling”.
Waltham Forest Bike Recycling recycle bikes to sell, and run bike 2 day maintenance courses.
A collaboration between Transition Town Stoke Newington and Hackney Cycling Campaign, this volunteer-run maintenance workshop takes place three times a month – twice in Hackney and once in Stoke Newington. Tools supplied, bring your own parts.
Transition Heathrow is a grassroots action group working to build resilient Heathrow communities, capable of collectively coping with the injustices and threats of the economic, ecological and democratic crises. The bicycle workshop, which runs once a week, is a recent addition to their calender, and invites people to come together and learn bicycle repair and bicycle building skills.
Earlier this year some of Transition Heathrow’s crew joined PEDAL to cycle over 7000km, through 18 different countries, from London to Palestine, in response to the call-out for international solidarity from Palestinian civil society. Find out more at www.100daystopalestine.org.
A grassroots community group that encourages and supports cyclists to organise for themselves, whether it be a bicycle ride, bicycle dancing (check out The Spokes, an “all-woman-all-bike-loving bicycle dance troupe”, or bicycle polo. A platform for the promotion of bicycle activities and events, including Manchester Critical Mass and various bike festivals.
A community project providing bicycle education to share skills and promote self reliance for people of all ages and backgrounds. Offering one-to-one bike maintenance classes, cycle training, a tool club, bike hire and bike rides.
A “bike project for wimmin” committed to promoting the benefits of bicycles to women by providing access to affordable equipment and education. Providing training in bike maintenance and cycle training, and a range of bicycle rides for all abilities, including Ambling Rides, Roadie Rides, and Wellbeing Rides. All sessions are run by qualified and experienced women.
A community project whose trained mechanics and volunteers recycle bikes for sale to the public. Supporters of Re-cycle, a project in Colchester which sends bikes to Africa (learn more at www.re-cycle.org/). Has a shop selling cycling accessories. Run basic bike maintenance classes, as well as National Standard Cycle Training for those who want to learn or improve their cycling skills.
A recently established co-operative enterprise from the folk who run Beryl’s Night (berylsnight.org). Teaching group courses at all levels around Oxfordshire, running fortnightly women’s bike mechanics workshops, and promoting cycling events and rides.
Re-Cycle (Bikes to Africa) is a registered UK Charity that sells refurbished second hand bicycles. The revenue from the sales helps to support our work - collecting unwanted bicycles and shipping them to partner organisations in Africa. To date 43,000 bikes have been sent to 15 different countries. Please see www.re-cycle.org
Encouraging the use of bicycles as a resource for the local community by recycling bicycles to sell. Running Active Cycle Maintenance Sessions to provide training and employment opportunites and promote cycling as a worthwhile and healthy activity.
Formed by riders who wanted to build on their shared experience of the 2005 G8 Bike Ride and organise future events of a similar nature, Bicycology is an independent, non-hierarchical group run directly by all its members through regular meetings that rotate around the country. They pursue their vision of a just and sustainable world through a combination of education, entertainment and creative direct action, taking to the road to bring Dr Bike sessions to communities throughout the UK. Visit their website for a range of downloadable resources (including building your own pedal-powered energy generator), as well as details of upcoming events and actions.
Since 2006, Bike Rescue have saved almost 5,000 bicycles from the scrapheap. A not-for-profit Community Interest Company, they have a team of skilled mechanics who service and repair bikes, specialising in keeping older classic bicycles on the road. They offer a full service, one to one “Get to Know Your Bike” sessions on Saturdays, and Roadside Repairs group courses. They run regular Bike Doctor sessions at York University and recycle bicycles to sell.
Made Good. On the Web
Made Good is a small non-profit organisation that provides free info on cycle maintenance. They've got hundreds of high quality videos free for anybody to view on-line.
Platonic matchmaking for cyclists
Good descriptions and tips on how to avoid the most common cycling collisions
AtoB magazine – very useful information about travelling with your bike on trains
1 Sport England Active People survey reveals sharp increase in cycling participation. Available at: www.britishcycling.org.uk/about/article/bc20120622-Sport-England-Active-People-survey-reveals-sharp-increase-in-cycling-participation-0 [Accessed September 11, 2012m].
2 SB 657 Senate Bill - CHAPTERED. Available at: info.sen.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/sen/sb_0651-0700/sb_657_bill_20100930_chaptered.html [Accessed August 30, 2012k].
3 World of Steel, Available at: http://www.worldsteel.org/faq/about-steel.html, [Accessed September 1 2012].
4 recycling metals - aluminium and steel. Available at: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/21130258/resources/InformationSheets/metals.htm [Accessed September 4, 2012i].
5 Cycle like the Danes to cut carbon emissions, says study. Available at: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/12/cycle-like-danes-cut-emissions [Accessed August 30, 2012c].
6 Cycling arrests raise questions about legacy Olympic organisers want to leave | Environment | guardian.co.uk. Available at: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2012/jul/30/critical-mass-arrest-olympic-games [Accessed September 11, 2012].