Monthly Archives: December 2012

From: Lucas Brunelle
Sent: 24 August 2012 17:56
Subject: RE: London Calling (sent by contact form at Lucas Brunelle Productions)

They were harassing me for months as well. Then I uploaded footage with the written condition that I can proof the final edit and I was trying to get them to donate $300.00 to the BMEF. They wanted me to sign a release which I have not done yet, the footage I gave them was for review only and not for a final cut.

Months have gone by since I gave them the footage and I haven’t heard from them.

I absolutely understand your stance and definitely won’t sign anything. That spin would be a huge liability.


As some readers will already know, I work in the office of a London courier company. 4 years ago, my boss was finally persuaded to buy a cargo bike.  The deal was that we would supply a bike, with a secure, waterproof box, emblazoned with the company livery, and the rider would pay a daily fee to cover the costs (initial & continuing) of the bike.

The experiment was a success.  Over short distances, carrying loads too big for conventional courier bikes, the cargo out-performed the vans. The riders made money, easily covering the rental fee they were charged for use of the bike.  (I’m not going to go into the detail of the rental fee, but it covers the out-goings on the bikes more or less – mostly a little less.)

A success, but qualified by the reliability of the bike that we had bought.

Every part of the bike (frame, components apart from handle-bars and levers) broke at least twice, and some parts 4 or 5 times, over a 15 month period.  As the bike was pretty much hand-made, and had a number of one-off fabrications fitted, this meant that the bike was often off the road for days, sometimes weeks.

The following summer, 2009, the Bullitt cargo bike became available for purchase in the U.K.. We had been thinking of buying another cargo bike, but wanted something that would be more reliable, and was easier to repair, which meant mass-produced frames & parts.  The Bullitt frame was not only mass-produced, but was fitted with conventional parts, and was much lighter than anything else available, barring the 8 Freight, so we bought a Clockwork, i.e. fitted with hydraulic disc-brakes and an Alfine transmission (the Clockwork is now specced with Nexus 7).

We are now on our 3rd Bullitt, having replaced our first cargo bike with another Bullitt, and having suffered frame failure on the 2nd Bullitt after 2 years.  In that time, we have replaced pretty every part on the 2nd Bullitt, apart from the handle-bars and levers, including the kick-stand.  The front-hub was replaced not due to failure, but simply because I wanted to have a dyno hub fitted to the bike, so that the riders never have to worry about having lights on the bike.

Overall, I am very pleased with the way that the Bullitts have performed.

The spec was just about right, although I would recommend that any commercial user swap out the front hub for a dyno as soon as possible, and expect to replace the tyres straight away, as the tyres that come with Clockwork / Bluebird spec are seriously rubbish, and last about a month.  You do not want to spend any time at all dropping the wheels out of a cargo bike, so puncture resistance and durability are even more important than on conventional bikes.  I don’t actually like Marathon Plus at all, but they are perfect for this application, and well worth the money.

We did break stuff, but it wasn’t a big problem, as even when the kick-stand snapped (the kick-stand broke on both Bullitts – something I think Larry vs Harry have sorted out now, as a decent kick-stand is very important on a cargo bike – it’s seriously inconvenient to have to prop a loaded cargo bike up on a regular basis), L vs H sent us out a new one, which arrived within the week.

Notably, we broke the gear mechanism on one bike twice.  I suspect that this indicated a mixture of misuse, and insufficiently frequent servicing, rather than inherent unreliability of the part, as the 3 year old bike’s hub is only now in need of replacement.  Again, because mass-produced and widely available parts are used, it was a matter of days to get a replacement mechanism fitted.

Did I say stuff got broken? I think we replaced most of the moving parts at least once (calipers, discs, rims, chains, chain-sets, head-sets etc – there are two on a Long John style cargo bike etc etc), but over a two year period, this is exactly the sort of wear & tear I would expect from any pedal bike used for couriering most days, most weeks in London.  My very conservative, not at all well-educated, guess at average daily mileage for the bikes is around 30, so allowing 48 weeks continuous use a year, so I reckon that each bike does at least 7 200 miles a year, in all conditions – even snow, ice & salt.

As I mentioned above, we fitted secure, water-proof boxes to all our bikes, and this is probably the most problematic area for commercial cargo bikes.  You want to be able to secure the load so that it’s safe on the bike whilst the bike is unattended, and you want to be able to carry as much as possible, but clearly the box can’t be wider than the bike (this will make the bike a lot less manoeuvrable, and ideally the box will be light, as well as strong, water-proof & secure.  Too big and heavy a box will demoralise the rider, especially if the rider is asked to ride 4 miles to deliver an envelope only a little bigger than his (or her) hand.  This is important, because, as the old courier proverb has it, “a turning wheel is an earning wheel”, so sometimes it’s good to get some work on board, no matter how small the item, as long as it’s not wildly out of the way.  It’s not a great idea to send a cargo bike to Greenwich, if most of your cargo clients are based in Clerkenwell, and send stuff into the West End.

Our first bike (8 Freight) was fitted as big a box as we could reasonably fit, and this was a big mistake.  The weight destroyed the rack, and this was a big reason why the bike was so unreliable.

Repeating the mistake, we initially fitted a flight-case style box, custom made by Quentor to fit the Bullitt.  Even though the box was very light for its size, it was (is) relatively heavy, and the weight dramatically affects the handling of the bike, to the point where I dropped the bike on its side the very first time I tried to ride it.

We looked around for alternatives, and considered getting an aluminium box fabricated to our spec, but the cost was not considered by me to be worth the benefit.  Bullitt now sell a box for £300 (more or less, at it is priced in Euros).*  We fitted this box to one of our Bullitts, and with the dyno-hub, I would say this spec is pretty much perfect for courier work.  Still light enough to make envelope delivery economic and durable enough to give acceptable reliability (I find the idea of fitting carbon fibre parts, or, indeed, any race-quality parts, to commercial cargo bike ridiculous).  The commercial (as opposed to domestic) cargo bike is the epitome of the old truism of ‘light, cheap and strong – pick two’.  On our spec, the total cost is over £3000, which is an absurd sum for what is basically a sophisticated shopping bike, but for the heavy commercial user, it compares very, very favourably with the alternatives (which would be a small car).  So you could say, at least by one measure, that the Bullitt is all 3, i.e. light, cheap AND strong.

Big Blue Bike, who are based in Cardiff, got completely fed up with the weight of a hard box, and have developed a different solution, a foldable, secure, waterproof bag-box hybrid.  I haven’t seen it close-up, but they tell me it will be on sale shortly.

I finally, reluctantly watched ‘War on Britain’s Roads’, which is a documentary recently aired on BBC 1.  I had heard about the documentary some months ago, having been contacted by a researcher acting for the makers.  He told me that they were making a film about the conflict on Britain’s roads, and the role that video footage was playing in it, and were interviewing protaganists in some of the more notorious incidents.

I realised before he went on what was coming next.  No, I wasn’t willing to help the film-makers identify the riders in ‘London Calling’, Lucas Brunelle’s now notorious film.  Not in a million years.  The researcher tried to persuade me that the footage and interviews would be a valuable contribution to a balanced view of the problems on Britain’s roads.  I snorted.

When he told me that Cynthia Barlow was participating, my heart sunk, and I told him that I would die of shame if ‘London Calling’ was shown as part of a programme featuring Cynthia.  Well, despite my best efforts, the footage was shown, and although I haven’t died, I do feel absolutely mortified.

I have been proud of the messenger community for its part in helping, in some small way, to repopularise cycling, by showing that it is a practical, economical alternative to motor transport.  I also like to think that bicycle messengers have had some impact in other, less tangible ways on cycle culture.  I was also proud of having helped to highlight the danger of lorries, when I was chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association.

Now I feel sick that our actions in ‘London Calling’ have been used to undermine the cycling community, and the work of good people like Cynthia Barlow on national television.

And the worst part is that I knew this day was coming.  I feared it, and did as much as I could to prevent it.  I made it pretty clear in this post ‘The Revolutions Will Not Be Televised’ why I thought it was a really bad idea to allow any film-maker near an alleycat.

But once Lucas posted ‘London Calling’ on You Tube, it was only a matter of time before it was picked up by someone, somewhere.

There’s been a lot of talk about the footage, which features some pretty stupid riding by some people I know really well.  The race that features in it was called ‘Lost In The Crowd’, and Walshy, who organised, wrote a report of how the race came to be on Moving Target.  If you read the report, you will notice two things: first, Lucas put up £300 cash prizes; second, he had a very clear idea of what footage he wanted from the race.

In his report, Walshy says:

Brendt Barbur called me a few days later and explained that his friend Lucas Brunelle had a few guidelines for the race. A basic set of criteria was established in the hope of maximising the transfer of excitement, and dare I say danger, from real life onto the big screen.

further on he also says:

We selected lots of short checkpoints so that there would only be one ideal route between them and maybe 1 or 2 alternatives. We were hoping that the riders would bunch up for most of the race so that Lucas could tailgate large numbers kinda like the ‘Running of the Bulls’ where Lucas represents the bull and everyone else represents the heartless and inhumane crowd. Ideally, by the end of the race, every rider would have ridden exactly the same route and Lucas would have sat behind, and among, the main pack catching all the action.

In other words, the idea was to create a race with maximum chaos on the road, and that this was what Lucas was looking for.  To encourage the riders to go as fast as possible, and take as many risks as possible, Lucas also had put up £300 in cash prizes.  At the time, the first prize of £125 would be equivalent to nearly half a week’s wages for most couriers (average earnings have shrunk considerably, and this would now be more than half a week’s wages for most London cycle couriers).

Previously, I have deliberately avoided criticising Lucas Brunelle directly, because there seemed little point in starting a fight over something I couldn’t change.  It was pretty clear to me early on in his career as ‘film-maker’ that he seemed intent on building a reputation as a ‘bad-ass’ who could hang with the ‘craziest bike racers in the world’, and was unlikely to listen to anything I had to say, or read anything I might write.

I was confirmed in this view when I saw ‘Line of Sight’ (it’s on You Tube, and you can find it yourselves – I’m not going to link it) at the cinema.  After an interminable opening 10 minutes of ‘race footage’, the film cuts to a panaromic view of New York’s skyline, and then Lucas appears in the fore-ground (hence my ironic titling of him as the ‘the King of New York’), and then he gives an entirely fatuous monologue on alleycat racing, intercut with more race footage.  It’s notable that Lucas’ choice of sound-track for his movies is similar to the choice of Leopard Films for ‘War On Britain Roads’ – wailing guitars, thrashing drums and portentous, thumping bass.

Peter Walker, of the Guardian, tweeted last night that:

Blog doesn’t even point out the footage is six years old, or that cameraman is not ‘involved in race’ but professionally filming it

Peter, you don’t know the half of it.  Lucas is not a professional film-maker.  He runs, according to this Bicycle Magazine interview, an IT company.  This allows him to fund his hobby of going around the world to participate in, and film, alleycats.  I have no idea whether he manipulates all or any of the other races he films in the way that he manipulated ‘Lost In The Crowd’, by determining course routing, and putting up cash prizes to encourage increased participation.  By the way, in the Bicycling interview, Lucas is quoted thus: I love cars. Fuck bike advocacy.  There’s no way of telling whether Lucas is being serious, but it fits with the whole ‘fuck you, I’m not going to do what you tell me’ attitude.

In no way could his film-making be described as ‘professional’.  The double head-cam set-up is well-designed, the images are pretty high quality, but that’s the extent of his craft – that, and his ability to ride a bike as quickly as some of ‘craziest bike racers in the world’.  The films that he produces have little artistic merit, in my opinion.  Once you get beyond what’s happening on the screen, they are boring, and way, way too long.   The novelty of watching people make ill-advised manouevres wears off pretty quickly.  I always come away from the films thinking: what a bunch of idiots, and what a waste of my time.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the wisdom or otherwise of alleycats here;  I put down my thoughts in a blog post on Moving Target, after the death of a participant in the Da Tour de Chicago.

However, I will say this:  many people (indeed some of the cyclists watching the ‘London Calling’ footage for the BBC programme) say that the riders shown in Lucas’ film are demonstrating ‘skill’.  I disagree.  There is no skill in cutting through a junction and hoping that the cars crossing your path, who have right of way, will stop for you – it’s just rude, stupid and dangerous.   Skilful riding in traffic is cutting through the flow without making waves, not barging to the front of queue, forcing other people to get out of your way.  As for the incidents involving pedestrians, really, truly shameful.  Criminal, as the police officer says in his comments in the programme.

Charlie Lloyd, on behalf of the London Cycling Campaign, put out a press release in which he described the racers as ‘professionals’.  Charlie was being very, very charitable.  A lot of the guys in that race were couriers, so their profession was using a bike to deliver parcels – they were not professional racers.  If they were that good at racing bikes, they would have gone on to win real races.

The numbers of professional road racers who were couriers is very small.  I only know of one of note, and that is the legendary New Yorker, Nelson Vails.  Maurice Burton was a London courier, but only after his racing career had ended.  Ray Eden, who was a London bicycle courier, and then went on to race, was probably good enough to race with the pros, and if he  had been part of the current British Cycling programme, I think he would have done.  These guys are the exception, not the rule.

I heard from other people that the film-makers had contacted, people that had been in the race.  They had all refused to participate.  The film-makers were persistent.  I know for a fact that a couple of were contacted multiple times, and one was offered £500 to participate.  I spoke to the guy who was offered the money, which was tempting to him, because, like Lucas’ £125 prize, it was a lot of money for someone in a low-paid, dangerous job.  I told him that it would only be worth doing if he received enough money to be able to leave the country and not come back.

I am proud that no-one participated.  However, I am genuinely ashamed that the London messenger community has, however inadvertently, brought shame on itself in this way.  I had nothing to do with the race, did not ride in it, but please accept my apology.

When I spoke to the film-makers, I explained the context, as I have outlined above, in which the film was made. They told me that Lucas had been contacted and had consented to let his footage be used.  This made me angry.  I suggested to the researcher that the person they should be putting in front of the camera was Lucas, so that he could explain why he organised that race, and what role his camera played.

He created the race, he encouraged the riders to go as fast they could, and he filmed it.  Why?

In the original version of this article I stated that the first prize was £300.  This was incorrect.  The total prize fund was £300, with the first prize being £125.