Made in Scotland, from Girders

As I was walking up to Laid Back Bikes on Wednesday, ready to borrow the Paper Bicycle for the demonstration, I started to get a bit concerned about the whole single gear thing. After all, I knew the bike wasn’t ACTUALLY made out of paper, in fact it’s rather solidly built out of steel. And Edinburgh has an entirely unnecessary amount of topography with very steep streets, flights of stairs, roads that turn out to be about 40 foot below other roads and a nice scattering of cobbles to make the cyclist’s life more difficult. While I had been quite happy cycling around the malarial flatlands of South London on a bike with only one functioning gear, as soon as I moved to Scotland I quickly got that sorted. If I didn’t watch my route in Embra, I was going to be spending more time pushing this bike than riding it. And that would be no fun at all.

I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. For a start, Dave of Laid Back Bikes regularly runs recumbent tours around Edinburgh and so was adept at finding routes that avoided the worst of the gradients as we cycled to and from the demonstration. And besides, single gear or no single gear, the Paper Bicycle didn’t seem to have any trouble climbing hills, even with me at the pedals. After the first little ‘oh help, steep bit, change down, oh damn …’ I didn’t really find I missed the gears at all. I’m not saying that hills were effortless, for I was certainly a bit puffed as we came up the first significant hill, but I never had that feeling of running out of gears, and in fact I never even needed to get out of the saddle. Whether it was the geometry, the build quality, the big fat floaty tyres or some sort of hidden engine in the seat tube, the bike just kept on going up and up and up in a way that even my own bike doesn’t (there’s a rather more scientific discussion of why this should be so on Lovely Bike if you want to get all technical on me – see the comments). Of course, that could be because my own bike has spent the last few months cycling along awesomely muddy roads and through floods without, perhaps, the sort of love and attention lavished on it that it deserves. There’s a lot to be said for full chain cases in a Scottish winter. And I suppose, given that it was designed from the ground up in Ayrshire, that is entirely to be expected.

Other than the lack of a rack, which apparently newer models will have, I was generally pretty impressed with the Paper Bicycle. I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technicalities of bikes, but I do know what I like, and I liked it a lot. It didn’t quite give me the upright regal bearing you get on a propr dutch bike (although if I’d had the handlebars a little higher it might have). There’s a level of attention to detail to the design that makes it really pleasing to the eye – like the fact that when you kick up the integrated kick stand it lines up with the chain case thing to look like a little chrome exhaust pipe. It has everything you’d expect from a sensible city bike – full chain case, mudguards, dynamo lighting, reliable brakes – a true get on and go bike. It attracted second glances (even allowing for the fact that I was following a bloke on a recumbent) and admiring looks, which is always nice. In a handsome, dress-up city like Edinburgh it’s nice to have a bike you can ride in smart clothes without worrying about oil. And you can get it powdercoated to order almost any colour you choose so you could even match it to your favourite outfit if you wanted to really work the cycle chic vibe. If I lived in London still, I’d buy one right now and ride it everywhere – although I’m not entirely sure, without the rear triangle, how I’d lock it up. As it is, even as a single speed and with our hills, I’d be seriously tempted. It’s one of those things where you start trying to think of reasons why you need one (it would make a great guest bike! It could be my winter bike! Err, I need a bike that matches my coat!) however tenuous they might be. Dave described it as a ‘Scottish Pashley’ which certainly captures the build quality (and possibly the weight – it’s not a bike for hoisting in the air at a demo, put it that way). But it’s not a retro looking bike at all, just a rather handsome one.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re in Edinburgh at all, book yourself a test ride at Laid Back Bikes (or if you fancy becoming part of a real subculture, go on one of his recumbent tours). He’ll even show you round the city on your own bike, if you want to know the sneaky ways avoiding the worst of the hills. And that alone in Edinburgh has got to be worth plenty of your English pounds.


21 Responses to Made in Scotland, from Girders

  1. WOL says:

    I could go for one of those recumbent bikes — although not in the traffic here! I’d be road kill in about 20 seconds, even with a flag.

  2. disgruntled says:

    I think the feeling is with recumbents is that they’re *so* odd looking that drivers notice you – which is a good start. But I think you do have to worry about being in higher vehicles’ blind spots.

  3. Ragged Thread Cartographer says:

    As you know I know naff all about bikes, can only say I found all that fascinating, esp the bit about the little ‘exhaust pipe’ (is that perhaps where they keep the tiny motor, in there?) but it’s your title which reminded me of the ads for Irn Bru from when I lived in Scotland. Quite funny, they were, and might still be for all I know!

  4. Nigel says:

    My wife recently took delivery of a Paper Bike. Ours has the Sturmey Archer 8-speed hub gear – pretty much a given in our area of short, sharp hills. It also came with a hub dynamo and lights. A carrier was also a must. As you say, we wondered why a carrier wasn’t built in to the design, given that the original design brief is said to have been for a bid for the Royal Mail contract.

    We also found that the weight doesn’t seem to be an issue. It feels heavy and cumbersome wheeling it out of the shed, but once aboard and rolling it doesn’t feel heavy and sluggish at all.

    Lovely bike. And probably destined to become a family heirloom!

  5. Nigel says:

    Forgot to mention: we use the left side chainstay instead of the non-existent triangles for locking up.
    Sadly there is nowhere for a frame fitted horseshoe (aka “nurse lock”) lock to go, something we’d like to see should a Mark 2 version be developed.

  6. disgruntled says:

    RTC – I’d say it’s very much a bike for someone who doesn’t know much about bikes but wants to have something to ride about and not worry about it.
    Nigel – ooh, purple! Nice. I was wondering about a frame lock – it’s a shame one’s not available. I think it’s still under refinement so I’m sure an email to the manufacturer would be in order?

  7. I’ve never had a problem being seen on my Windcheetah, in fact it’s much more of a problem being seen too much: I’ve had a few cars nearly crash into a queue in front because they were too busy looking at my machine!

    In moving traffic I find a recumbent much more visible, given much more respect, and hence safer, than an upright bike. An upright is slightly better for squeezing past stationary traffic, but not by much.

    Recumbents are excellent, especially in windy places, but you do need smooth road surfaces.

  8. kfg says:

    “I didn’t really find I missed the gears at all”

    Ah, yessssssssss! One step closer to The Dark Side, my preceiousssssss.

  9. disgruntled says:

    Anthony – yes it’s the ‘being seen’ part that puts me off a recumbent!
    kfg – ah but there’s a big difference between single speed and riding fixed gear…

  10. kfg says:

    ” . . .there’s a big difference between single speed and riding fixed gear…”

    Indeed. Single speed is merely piddling in the shadows where one can at least realize that Light represents Good is a lie. But in the shadows one cannot tap the power of the Dark and thus realize that Dark represents Evil is likewise a lie.

    Dark does not represent Evil. Dark represents strength.

    And as Gandhi himself noted, nonviolence is not weakness. Only the strong can be nonviolent. Therefore it is the duty of those who wish to cultivate nonviolence to cultivate strength.


  11. David says:

    The editor at City Cycling magazine says LB has ‘a most eccentric collection of bikes’. In response I’d say there is little point in selling the global Chinese/Californian brands now as people just browse their smartphones/tablets and order up. Add to this the buyer frenzy as people online share the best deals on forums (re-advertsing the adverts).

    With the Paper Bicycle one frame size fits all – so in ideal world you could have a fleet to do guided tours. Add to that the fact you can have it in various RAL colours and it is quite different from the norm. Drum brakes are weather proof, look neat and don’t squeal.
    The other upright machine I’ve sold a few of is the Circe Helios. Again it’s one frame size but with the ability to take on an additional active passenger (as it’s a tandem). If you have two children then you can take a childseat as well. If you have twins you can take two child seats (yes really). Lightweight frame.

    Recumbents… well if we believe that roads are to connect houses and not just to race cars on they should work. Edinburgh has year on year slower car speeds so I think cycling generally will increase. This should include niche cycling (fixie, cruiser bikes, comfort bikes, Dutch bikes, recumbent bikes and trikes).

    Little has been done to improve cycling for a few years now in Edinburgh city centre but rates are up to 20% of road users on one of the main routes in rush hour. Generally it is around 4% of vehicles. Recent radio debate was worried that cycling could become too popular and may ‘get in the way’ of powered traffic. So another reason not to encourage it too much in the view of some.

  12. Nick says:


    I’m glad you enjoyed the bicycle. The rack will pop into existence in the next week or so, though normal racks fit already and its easier to lock/carry than it looks.

    The front edge of the frame loop on the left side is designed to make it easy to lock the bike to things with a small D-Lock.I have adaptors to let ring locks be fitted to the bikes but I can never really work up any enthusiasm for selling them.

    The left frame loop also works as a carry handle, which is actually pretty easy to use. Its just above the bikes balance point, which makes it really manageable (honestly). Carrying the bike up stairs one handed ready to fight my way through my flats front door was a must have feature when I designed it, as was being able to cycle no handed and in bare feet.



  13. Nigel says:

    I think the only negative point I have about the bike as supplied is that the pedals, although lovely to look at, tend to be very slippery when wet. We may have to change them for something more grippy.

  14. kfg says:

    Nigel, MKS still sells pedals with natural rubber blocks. Unlike plastic and synthetic rubber, natural rubber retains grip when wet.

  15. Kim says:

    “The editor at City Cycling magazine says LB has ‘a most eccentric collection of bikes’.” Humm, the words pot, kettle and black, spring to mind, Dave 😉

    @ disgruntled, finding Laid Back bike looks like being a lucky find for you… 😉 Good to see that it all worked so well.

  16. Ruaraidh says:

    Pollock Halls to KB to Chambers Street to KB to Pollock. Every. Day. For FOUR YEARS. Look at the gradient profile of that run!

    Then cycle training on a Weds pm. Then cycling everywhere to go drinking/socialising.

    Then just plain cycling around for the pure hell of it eg seeing just how far you COULD pull a wheelie along Princess Street on a 14spd Reynolds framed 700C tyred racing bicycle with toeclips?!? Oh and then the casual trackstand when you had to drop the wheelie for the inevitable red light while still clipped in….

    Oh yes, student cycling in Edinburgh was fun…. Shame was when I moved DARN SARF, I’ve never recovered that 45bpm resting heart rate… THen again, that could be beer and ageing….. 😉

  17. disgruntled says:

    Kim – no small thanks to your good self
    Ruaraidh – you never know, nothing turns back time quite like taking up cycling again!

  18. […] regular blog readers will know, I’ve got a bit of a thing for the Paper Bike and would dearly love (but have not quite yet managed to manufacture) an excuse to buy one. And as […]

  19. […] Bike, and my first on one with gears, and I’m not sure there’s much I can add to my first impressions, but it undeniably has presence. The only way to ride it is bolt upright, nodding regally from time […]

  20. […] Made in Scotland, from Girders […]

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