Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Postal Bicycles in Ireland

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
Walking around the small coastal town of Dun Laoghaire, I spotted what looked like a vintage delivery bicycle propped up against a wall. "How nice that these are still around," I thought, figuring it was someone's town cruiser. Only when I saw the same bike rolled along by a man in uniform later, did I realise the delivery bicycle was in active current use. Apparently at least in some towns, the Irish post (An Post) uses bicycles to deliver mail. 

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
While I've seen postal bikes in other countries, they have tended to look more generic and official - typically being the same make, model and colour, with the logo of the post office clearly visible on the frame. But the postal bicycles here seem to be all different - different models, different colours, even spanning different decades.

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
This yellow one is made by Monark (a Swedish manufacturer) and it looks like a variation of this model

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
There is a backward bend to the seat tube that I initially thought was a deformity from years of heavy use. But the picture of the bicycle I linked to above has the same bend, so it must be an intentional part of the frame design. Any idea why?

Notice also that the fold-down stand that does double-duty as front rack stabiliser has wheels attached to it, so that the bike can be rolled when the stand is employed. I assume there is also a praking brake to prevent it from rolling on its own.

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
The front and rear racks on this one are roomy enough to each fit a huge mail bag or box, whereas the older black bike I saw earlier had a front rack only and a smaller one at that. I wonder whether the route he was assigned to tends to get less volume.

An Post by Bicycle, Dun Laoghaire
In a town of Dun Laoghaire's scale, postal bicycles make a lot of sense and I was happy to see more and more of them in the course of the day. Examining the different styles of delivery bikes that have existed over the years is fascinating; there were a great many!

46 comments:

  1. Attention - frame mounted front rack.

    The bendy bit - going out on a limb I'm gonna guess it's to maximize where the rider can step through while getting the desired set back for perhaps a range of riders, height-wise and may have something to do with weight balance fore-aft to handle properly with various loads.

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    1. BTW This sounds like a great job.

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    2. It's a very social job - everyone knows these postmen and comes out to talk to them, it's pretty interesting to see.

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    3. Need some brogue-to-American app tho.

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    4. Sometimes you don't even have to go out to talk to them. My parents' postman used to tap on the glass and then walk into the kitchen and leave the mail on the counter.

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  2. A *wild* guess about the curved seat tube:

    In many structures that need to resist some sort of load, a part of the structure will be 'pre-stressed' in a direction opposite to the load to be resisted. You can see this in evidence in things such as flat-deck transport trucks (whose beds curve upwards when empty) and violin bows (which are curved in a way that resists the tension of the horsehair the bow is strung with).

    They do this so that, even when substantially loaded, the stress within structure is neutral or only somewhat positive (think of a flatdeck truck with a heavy load--up to a certain weight, the load only actually acts to UN-stress the deck).

    Having said all that, I have absolutely no idea how it could apply to that seat tube :)

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  3. Given the apparent hand to knee closeness in the last photo, maybe the seat tube bend is to give a bit more rider clearance. They could have used a longer reach stem, but maybe that's out for front rack clearance and handling issues.

    Then again, there's enough clearance in the rear to just have a straight seat tube at a shallower angle. Leave space for a model with a larger rear wheel? Or "just" aesthetics?

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  4. But the picture of the bicycle I linked to above has the same bend, so it must be an intentional part of the frame design. Any idea why?


    A few thoughts come to mind:

    1) makes for a way-slack seat angle, allowing feet to lay flatter on the ground, making the bike more stable when not moving.

    2) makes the bike a more "universal" fit: as the seat is raised for tall riders, the effective top-tube length is also increased.

    3) shifts the center of gravity closer to the rear wheel, increasing weight the capacity of the front rack.

    Probably some other advantages, maybe some others can chime in.

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  5. We have various types of bikes for postal delivery here in Australia, I did a post about one here
    It is an e-Trike that is being used in this post but there are other sorts of bikes used too.
    I also have some vintage photos of my father as a delivery man on a bike in the 1940s here

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    1. Thanks so much for the links. The picture of your father with the baby in the bike basket!

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    2. Cute hey?
      thanks for looking at my blog :)

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  6. Replies
    1. Far from quaint, given all that is wrong in our world, these Irish Postal Bikes are eminently sound, practical and inspirational.

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  7. Notice that some Jack Taylor 1950s bikes had curved seat tubes as seen here, a 1952 Jack Taylor Curved Seat Tube. These were described as being for hill climbs and time trials. Link is:http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk/designs/hsjacktaylor.html
    Jim Duncan

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  8. I have early childhood memories of Mr Wallis the postman in our village in Wiltshire, UK. If mother and I happened across him whilst out shopping he would scoop me up and sit me on his lovely roadster, complete with sprung, lopsided saddle. I remember how many miles down the pedals seemed from my little legs and how terribly important I felt!

    I have always had a great fondness of bicycling postmen and their steeds ever since, choosing to assume they are all as friendly and kind to little children as Mr. W.

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    1. I hope it comforts you to know that the bicycling postmen here seem very friendly!

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  9. The bend also lets you have a slacker seat tube while keeping the chainstays relatively short. Surly Karate Monkeys are like that as well. This in addition to everything mentioned above.

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  10. Monark is swedish - we have not bought it yet!

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    1. Of course, now I remember! Thanks.

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    2. and the colour is Swedish postal yellow.

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  11. Most of the mail in this region goes from town distribution points to residences via bicycle. Royal Mail Red, Pashley bicycles with stout front racks with removable plastic sorting trays.

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    1. I have read that the Pashley Royal Mail bikes are being discontinued; do you know anything about it?

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    2. Yes, they are being discontinued (at least here in the UK) in favour of more petrol guzzling delivery vans.

      The excuse given by Royal Mail management is the extreme danger of cycling on the roads and their deep and abiding concern for the safety of their personnel - quite a few of whom will of course be cast off as unneeded once all the new vans get on the road, a great savings all around.

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    3. I agree with Roff....I am a (sometimes cycling, sometimes driving) postman in England. I am also a reasonably keen cyclist who enjoys both mountain biking and road riding, so when I joined Royal Mail I was dreading riding what I perceived to be heavy, unwieldy, badly made, sluggish bicycles. It turned out I was wrong. The bikes, although heavy and slow compared to what I was used to riding, were exactly fit for purpose (at least when they are maintained properly!) and very suitable for the job they were designed to do. Which is more than can be said for pretty much every other piece of equipment they issue us with, including the vans and especially the clothing! Knowing how backward thinking big companies can be, I was dismayed, though not at all surprised, to hear that they were getting rid of them.

      But on the plus side (going slightly off-topic here....sorry!)....my first ride on one of these bikes made me realize how relaxing an upright bike could be for the times I wanted to just go 'for a stroll on a bike' (see Boston greenways!) This sowed a seed in my head. It lay dormant for a while, then a trip to Bespoked Bristol (which seems to be Britain's answer to NAHBS and full of porteurs, which I'd never even heard of before) and then stumbling across this blog combined to convince me that I needed to build another bike....as if I needed an excuse ;-)

      I now have an mtb based 3-speed town bike with VO full fenders, dynohub, front rack, basket, Brooks Flyer, north-road bars, the works. Basically a lighter, better quality, bling postie bike!

      And guess what?

      It gets ridden more times than any of my other carbon wonder-bikes! So all is well in the world again....thanks Velouria for helping to open my eyes. People like yourself, Grant Peterson and others do a great job of reminding the cycling world to take their heads out their backsides and remember that it's meant to be fun and not always about the relentless pursuit of speed!

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    4. I enjoyed reading this, thanks!

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  12. The bike is called a Vario Kombi and it's a really solid industrial/delivery bike with a frame geometry very specifically designed for the large front carriers. It has such low trail that it is absolutely impossible to ride without hands. I tried once and landed on my face. Really.

    We actually have one for sale, and on sale, though with different front and rear carriers. It's in Amsterdam - come and get it:
    http://www.workcycles.com/home-products/special-deals-and-clearance-items/workcycles-monark-vario-kombi

    Answers:
    Various commenters answered correctly about the kink in the seat tube:
    - it makes the frame stronger in an otherwise vulnerable spot.
    - it makes the seat tube angle and top tube length variable similarly to the Workcycles Fr8 Adaptive Seat Tube.

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    1. "The bike is called a Vario Kombi ...We actually have one for sale, and on sale...

      Yup. There is a link to it in this post : )

      Interesting to know about the low trail. Do you know what the trail is on a bakfiets?

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    2. I think that the bent seat tube is to allow the wheelbase to be shorter whilst still giving a pliable ride from the seatpost and fitting a wide variety of riders. If the seatpost was straight the wheelbase might be 2 or more inches longer. The shorter wheelbase will make the bike far more manoeuverable, especially with no trail, just what the postie needs for riding around crowded streets & pavements

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    3. "Do you know what the trail is on a bakfiets?"

      Uh oh. Here we go - Lovely Bakfiets.

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    4. Sorry, missed the link.

      I don't have the Cargobike drawings handy but recall that the trail is approximately zero with the small front wheel and very steep head angle. I've tried all kinds of front end geometries on these bikes and this is the nicest riding, most versatile approach. It just looks really weird so others keep trying "more normal" geometries... that don't work.

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  13. The yellow Monark is a bit of a beast isn't it?! I imagine its a bit of a handful fully laden in a cross wind. Sadly the Post Office in the uk has converted many of their rural rounds to small vans in a constant drive to improve efficiency so a reduced number of Postmen can cover larger areas. In urban areas they've switched to hand carts too. I rarely see a delivery bike being used now.
    It was good news for me though, as I was able to get hold of a classic Elswick post office bicycle a few years back. Built, I think, by a number of manufacturers to a generic design it is still going strong today and is one of my most comfortable bicycles I own. The wear on the crank, chain and sprocket is something to behold. This bike has certainly been used! You'll notice a strange frame design with this one too. Pictures and a brief description here...
    http://threespeedandsteel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/one-speed-and-pig-iron.html

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  14. I'm glad your experience with Irish locals has been friendly. We visited Cork in April and had the opposite experience. The stress from the very poor economic conditions, I imagine.

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    1. The economy here is pretty bad as well. I wonder whether it could be a regional thing. A good friend of mine is from Cork, and according to her it is not the friendliest part of Ireland. I've never been myself though.

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  15. I would love to someday live where one could see his mail coming by bike each day...speaks volumes to me about the entire area :)

    The DC

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  16. A lot of Irish people went crazy in the boom and became very unfriendly. We are relearning some humility in the downturn and rediscovering traditional values like making time for other people. In big towns and cities people are less inclined to talk to strangers and the further west you go the more friendly people tend to be. This is a rule of thumb, you will meet friendly people in big towns in the east and rude people in small towns in the west.

    In small towns and in the countryside nearly everyone will talk to you if you engage with them quietly and politely. I solo cycle tour every summer in Ireland and have only occasionally encountered a rude person.

    If you really want to meet friendly Irish people visit some of the islands off the west coast. There is no crime so people are totally unafraid of strangers and the pace of life is slow so they always have lots of time to talk. Bicycles go free on the island ferries and there are good paved roads, a few slow moving cars and tractors, and amazing scenery. When the weather is good it is pure cycling heaven.

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    1. I like this idea of the Galapagos for humans.

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    2. The difference being that the Galapagos are flooded with tourists :-).

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  17. What I find interesting is not so much that the mail is delivered by bicycle - that is after all the most efficient way to go in a town - but that the Mail (or Post Office) provides bikes for that purpose. Dutch posties generally use their personal bikes (ranging from recumbent trikes to step-throughs and electric-assist bikes, with big double panniers) in the same way that they wear their own shoes - it feels better. This tendency is even reinforced now that ever more postmen do this job on a part time basis; the only distinguishing element is their jacket. Those who prefer a bike provided by their employer can have one, of course. But I wonder whether the presence of postal bikes in Ireland points at a preference of the postmen to use a car for their private trips ...

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  18. My grandmother's brothers never left Ireland. One of them, Bernie, was a bicycle postman his entire life in Cliffoney, County Sligo. I've often wondered what such a life would be like. Here's great uncle Bernie dressed for work:

    http://tinyurl.com/czwruvg

    Not sure how long you are staying, but in ten days or so, there is a race in that part of Ireland featuring...Post Office Sprints!!:

    http://tinyurl.com/73mqoyj

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    1. Wow, great photo!

      Post Office Sprints! I am about to take off, but will return in 9 days. Will see whether I can make this.

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  19. What a kick ass kickstand!

    Every day I say hello to a friendly worker who maintains perhaps 1/3 mile of Ft Point Channel path in Boston - sweeps up butts, empties nearly empty barrels. He rides a golf cart-like vehicle. This job would be perfect for a work tricycle but the all-pervading modern fear of risk is why there are fewer and not more work cycles.

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  20. Jacques Tati's 1949 feature film "Jour de Fete" is a celebration of the daily life of a bicycle postman. And a memorial to a way of life that was waning even then. It's amazing and pretty wonderful that bits of that earlier world still survive.

    If you watch the movie get the color print. It would be a great movie even if there weren't a vintage French bike in nearly every frame.

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    1. Wonder how difficult that is to get; will see whether I can get ahold of it.

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    2. Not difficult at all. And the non French speaking will not have to suffer many subtitles since it's all sight gags and bicycle sounds.

      The color print.

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  21. Hi there, was browsing through your blog, admiring bikes, and enjoying your musings- not for the first time- and realised you're visiting Ireland, coincidence! I'm part of a cycling advocacy group called WOW, Women on Wheels, we're recently formed and are having our first fundraiser on May 17th in Rothar Cafe on Fade St, Dublin 2. We'd would die if you could attend - with excitement obviously! Have a look at our facebook page or email us for any further details (please!) www.facebook.com/wowwomenonwheels

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  22. Hi, have an ex Posts and Telegraphs postmans bike, maunfactured by CWS (Co Operative Wholesale Society) of Tyseley, Birmingham.
    Greased her up and took her for a run last sat and 2 other former postal bikes turned up!
    Currently looking for a correct era P&T bag for the carrier.

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