Where's my flying car?
August 23, 2007 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick an unusual transportation method for a short commute.

I (will) live in Cambridge, UK. Come this October, I'll need to travel about 4 miles a day, in moderate traffic conditions – sometimes in the small town centre, sometimes on quiet roads. The conventional solution is, famously, the bicycle. I can't be bothered with that, and I'm reluctant to just walk, so I'm looking for something a bit different. My specifications:

1. Cheap. By this I mean below about £200 ($400), the cost of a good new city bike. I don't want crap, but I can't afford 'the best'.
2. Faster than brisk walking.
3. Interesting.
4. Reasonably easy to ride (can be learnt by next month).

I do have a favourite at the moment: an electric scooter, of the standing-up-on variety. Any specific suggestions on this or whatever else you think of?

To finish up, I need to know: how likely am I to get myself arrested riding whatever you suggest in Cambridge? Something like a pocket motorbike is right out, but I don't know about the less noisy, chavvy alternatives. I can handle the occasional stern talking to. I'm looking for how this goes in real-life, not according to the DVLA.
posted by topynate to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:02 PM on August 23, 2007

Unicycle? There's a guy in my neighborhood that gets to the train station and back with one. I guess he likes it because he can carry it on the train.
posted by indyz at 4:09 PM on August 23, 2007

What about a folding bike? There are dozens of varieties, but this one's driven by a kevlar strap thing instead of a greased chain and gears and looks rather neat - and they're UK based, so it'd be easy (relatively) to get serviced - and it's right about in your budget, cheaper than a Brompton or a Bike Friday. Cambridge, I imagine, isn't exactly Himalayan in its topography, so you wouldn't need too much power to get moving, and it folds up! Wikipedia article with other Strida links.

Also: rollerblades. Crap in the rain, though you'd develop godly thighs.
posted by mdonley at 4:13 PM on August 23, 2007

Penny-farthing bicycle.

While you're on it you can ride about yelling "I am not a number, I am a free man!" That would be interesting.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:13 PM on August 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

A used motorized shopping cart
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:14 PM on August 23, 2007



Walking backwards? Walking on your hands? Rollerblading? (actually, I see people commuting to work in downtown Oakland via rollerblades on a regular basis.)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:14 PM on August 23, 2007

bah! didn't see mdonkey's reply!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:15 PM on August 23, 2007

old-fashioned roller skates!
adult tricycle
recumbent bike
penny-farthing bike
pogo stick
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:15 PM on August 23, 2007

I've noticed youngsters scooting about on trainer/rollerblade hybrids with fold-out wheels, and they look like wonderful, neck-risking fun.

Oh, and this is my first post.
posted by Ted Maul at 4:17 PM on August 23, 2007

How about the new Curve Extreme Board?
posted by sneakyalien at 4:19 PM on August 23, 2007

posted by marionnette en chaussette at 4:19 PM on August 23, 2007

Ah, that's what I was talking about marionnette. I was thinking about getting a pair for myself!
posted by Ted Maul at 4:21 PM on August 23, 2007

In Montréal, commuters are split about 70% bikes and 30% in-line skates. My commute on skates was mundane here, but in the United States, it was totally spectacular to the crowd. In-line skates as a commuter device is just unheard of in Providence and Boston.

I found this web page full of special, unusual and alternative bikes. Recliner bikes are perpetual attention catcher.
posted by gmarceau at 4:23 PM on August 23, 2007

Sheer self-will.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:23 PM on August 23, 2007

Oh, and this is my first post.

Great! My first AskMefi. I feel like a real MeFite, now.
posted by topynate at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2007

My very first thought was a nice piggy back ride on Geri Halliwell's trainer but I don't know how much that would cost. Have you considered rickshaws and pony carts?
posted by iconomy at 4:26 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is also a handful of commuters in Montréal who travel on longboards, and a bunch of fixed gear bikes.
posted by gmarceau at 4:26 PM on August 23, 2007

You're unlikely to get arrested. But if you ride any sort of vehicle on a pavement, on a street limited to foot traffic (e.g. Petty Cury, Sussex Street), or the wrong way down a one-way street in the centre (e.g. Southbound on Sidney Street by Sainsbury's), you will eventually run into one of Cambridgeshire Constabulary's periodic stings and might get a £30–£50 fixed penalty. So make sure you get something you'll be comfortable riding on the road with car traffic.
posted by grouse at 4:29 PM on August 23, 2007

Sector 9 Nosewalker Longboard (or really any longboard)

(on preview, yes, what gmarceau said)
posted by The World Famous at 4:30 PM on August 23, 2007

In Holland the cargo bike is very popular. But it's only suitable for innercity commute.
posted by Psychnic at 4:52 PM on August 23, 2007

A man rides one of these around town Recumbent bicycle
posted by JujuB at 4:55 PM on August 23, 2007

This curious contraption is certainly unusual. The writeup indicates it averages 8mph, which might be too slow for your needs.
posted by fermion at 4:55 PM on August 23, 2007

Trikke !
posted by hindmost at 4:56 PM on August 23, 2007

How about a donkey?

It was good enough for Sancho Panza. You don't think you're better than Sancho Panza, do you?!

(sorry. it was the first thing that came to mind before I clicked through.)
posted by jknecht at 5:08 PM on August 23, 2007

Big Wheel
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:11 PM on August 23, 2007

gmarceau, that link is really great. I'm aware of the cost of recumbent things (bike or trike), though, so that may be a problem. I might look into 'semis', they look really comfy.

I've never seen anyone ride roller-skates/blades routinely in the UK. Those Heelys are ubiquitous amongst 5-10 year olds, although it doesn't look like you can actually develop a good rhythm on them.

Has anyone seen a penny-farthing for sale anywhere? I would cheerfully risk killing myself if I could own one for under £200, but I have a suspicion that it might cost me a bit more than that...

The Trikke is a new one on me. I'll check it out.

The Strida looks the business, but I'd like something a bit less bicycle, a bit more whoa.
posted by topynate at 5:16 PM on August 23, 2007


No, seriously. I've been considering this for a while now. Get a racing chair and wheel yourself around on your commute and get huge, gorgeous freakin' shoulders and massive upper body strength. I got the idea when I saw a guy whipping down the side of a highway in a racing chair; his arms were huge.

I've got a wheelchair I use for my desk chair, and they can be fast and nimble.

gmarceau's link has links to wheelchairs, and from there I found this link to some nice-looking racing chairs so you can see what I'm talking about.

The drawback to this form of transport is the very real possibility of people getting upset when you stand up from your wheelchair.
posted by lekvar at 5:45 PM on August 23, 2007

I recently put in a few miles on the road in a not so rural area with a 1953 super c tractor and found it interesting, people wave, smile, give me the thumbs up, mothers walking their children stop and point and give the kids a little education.
One guy actually pulled to a stop, window went down, head came out the window and then his jaw went down like he had never seen such a thing
Trying to get through a busy intersection at three MPH was not much fun especially as it tries to throw me like a bronc when I let the clutch out but if you wear overalls and your local has right-to-farm laws you can try it.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:07 PM on August 23, 2007

This isn't especially weird, but I've been madly in love with my Xootr for years. They're indestructible, lightweight (you don't have to worry about locking it up - you just stick it under your desk or whatever), and absolutely not to be confused with those little things that have rollerblade wheels. Having this thing completely changes one's perception of space and distance; I routinely travel 10 blocks for lunch, because it's less than 2 minutes' ride.
posted by dmd at 6:13 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Spandex is optional.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:29 PM on August 23, 2007

I've been in the same situation for years and mainly used a foldable scooter.

I just stepped up to a trikke and a kickbike

The trikke is awesome fun as has been mentioned, but would make for a tough commute. When you have momentum it is awesome though.

The kickbike is ridiculously light and easy to ride. Slightly higher clearance is also useful. They do sell them in the UK.

And if you're really interested in flying cars, check out firebox, they list one there.
posted by kaydo at 7:08 PM on August 23, 2007

Hoppity Hop
just kidding, but serious, there is a kid on my campus who uses a unicycle
posted by melissam at 7:48 PM on August 23, 2007

How about some a curved spring under each foot? You can run mad fast. Poweriser.
posted by Netzapper at 7:52 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Has anyone seen a penny-farthing for sale anywhere? I would cheerfully risk killing myself if I could own one for under £200, but I have a suspicion that it might cost me a bit more than that...

While I doubt that you could acquire either an antique or a reproduction highwheel for less than £1K, Hawk Cycles will sell you a scaled-down, modernized penny-farthing for £150. For £275, you could buy the more attractive Quax Penny Farthing, which has a larger (non-standard) front tyre. On the upside, they're pneumatic tyres instead of solid rubber.
posted by mumkin at 8:27 PM on August 23, 2007

Land Rollers
posted by hortense at 8:41 PM on August 23, 2007

hortense, how do Land Rollers compare to normal inline skates?
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:54 PM on August 23, 2007

Get a well-built and well-maintained used bike. Preferably a hybrid, with tire width between that of a road bike and a mountain bike.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:01 AM on August 24, 2007

Land rollers have large wheels that allow you to go off road on grass, dirt paths and such. and there is this....LandRoller Skate's Advantages are numerous:

* GREATER STABILITY: Over cracks, rough surfaces and other roadway obstacles: LandRoller skates were worn by Steve Coogan while he was skating over cobblestone in the Jackie Chan movie, "Around the World in 80 Days." (Please be sure to wear protective gear at all times!) All skaters can benefit from the superior stability of LandRollers.

* BETTER MANEUVERABILITY: Skaters can navigate with more control. Once you master the subtle technique differences between inline and LandRollers, you will find that you can turn sharper, quicker, and with greater ease.

* MORE RESPONSIVE BRAKING: Braking on LandRoller skates is more effective than with inline because the geometry of the two-wheel design makes it easier to apply force to the heel brake.

* SMOOTH, CHATTER-FREE RIDE: The large wheels provide an incredibly smooth ride - increasing the pleasure and comfort of skating. In turn, this reduction in chatter or vibration reduces fatigue allowing the skater to ride for longer and in more comfort.

RADICAL STYLING:LandRollers are a social phenomenon. They are amazing attention grabbers and conversation starters. Prepare to be noticed while skating!
posted by hortense at 1:19 AM on August 24, 2007

hortense, I meant: Have you tried them? Are they different and better?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:37 AM on August 24, 2007

Dog pulled chariot?
posted by zackola at 7:00 AM on August 24, 2007

Could you elaborate on your comment "Can't be bothered with that"?

Is that English for "I'm looking for alternatives to..."?

BTW, I'll second the idea of a Kickbike.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2007

Wild_Eep, nice bicycles get stolen in Cambridge, and all bicycles lose their wheels sometimes. Some people bend the wheels if they're also chained up. No one's going to steal, for example, a folding scooter, if I'm carrying it around with me. Bikes are also heavy and bulky for short distance transport.

Kickbikes look pretty good, I might go with them. They're a bit bigger than the other options, but light, and I guess I can chain one up to a bike stand.

Anyone got any thoughts on the A-bike? It looks pretty effortful to go fast on one.

I just realised that if I were 20 years older, I would probably have a Sinclair C5 in the garage. I guess the market for cheap power-assisted recumbent tricycles isn't all that big.
posted by topynate at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2007

I don't have any direct experience with the A-Bike, but it was featured on the Blue before, an the overwhelming response was "meh." The linked video does its best to make the A-Bike look fast and dynamic though editing tricks and still fails to invoke confidence. It looks clumsy, slow and unstable. I think I'd sooner get a $10 scooter than an A-Bike.
posted by lekvar at 12:50 PM on August 24, 2007

To follow up, after trying out a few very grossly underpowered electrically propelled devices, I tore a ligament in my toe, which meant I needed to find something that worked better than walking, fast. I now own a very nice old hub-gear bike(4 speeds, shifting is very smooth) and I have a six month warranty on it.

I did have the option of getting a 1970-80s Raleigh folder, but the single, rusted locking pin did not look very sturdy. The asphalted cycle-usable footpaths running north out of the centre of Cambridge are a joy - I'm really kicking myself for spending three years without a bike. Or I would, if I didn't have a torn ligament in my foot.

For anyone thinking of buying an electric stand-on scooter, don't. I weigh barely 110lb and I can't make my own running pace on one. Added to that, they're dynamically unstable.
posted by topynate at 12:37 PM on October 11, 2007

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