Archive for the 'Bike Safety' Category

Bike blitz and hissy fits.

So cycling has returned to the news this week, with another Bike Blitz underway. Victoria Police have announced another campaign against ‘rogue’ cyclists, with “Victoria Police planning to have a quiet chat with 30,000 cyclists about road safety during October.” Apparently the police have decided that October is time to head out on the streets and hunt down those ‘rogue’ cyclists, because the weather is getting nicer and more people are out on the roads. In this video the Victorian Police discuss what they are searching for when it comes to ‘rogue’ cyclists. It could be anything from not wearing a helmet or lights, but I get a sneaky suspicion that they will be out targeting fixie riders with no brakes. Perhaps they will also be targeting recumbent cyclists, as they are the true ‘rogues’ of the cycling world.

In other cycling related media news, comedian Magda Szubanski went on a tirade against cyclists on ‘comedy’ show Good News Week this week. Good News Week is an example of how something terrible can remain on television for an extended period of time, despite logic and sense. In fact, that describes much of television, especially ‘variety’ and ‘comedy’ shows. GNW is hosted by the forever terrible and particularly unfunny Paul McDermott, who was once bearable as one third of the Doug Anthony All-Stars. Somehow he managed to get his own show, and has managed to stay on air for more than one season. During this weeks show, Ms Szubanski took aim at ‘lycra-clad cyclists on Beach Road’ for being in her way. She also had a go at cyclists who track stand at the lights, both of which I tend to agree with, although watching someone trying to trackstand is definitely funnier than listening to Paul McDermott. Anyway, things got serious when Magda suggested opening car doors on cyclists because they pissed her off. Now, only a matter of weeks ago Ms Szubanski was the butt of a joke by inept sensationalist ‘journalist’ and one time TV host Kyle Sandilands who suggested she should should be put “in a concentration camp and you watch the weight fall, like she could be skinny.” The backlash was typically uproarious, as everyone got in on the anti-Semitic defense. Sandilands is well known for being an arsehole, and Szubanski is well known for being funny, but to see the two personalities merge with tasteless comments regarding violent, antisocial behavior is quite hilarious. Of course there has been a backlash against Szubanski, who responded:

“We all make mistakes and the point is that hopefully we learn from them. Clearly my joke was stupid and insensitive but perhaps it has brought to light that there are frustrations amongst cyclists and motorists.”

Well, if anyone out there wasn’t sure that there was a certain level of animosity between motorists and cyclists, then they will now after Szubanski’s rant. Funnily, it seems that anybody accused of inciting violence against any social, racial or minority group now has the excuse of providing a public service announcement to fall back on. I think Sandilands could take a leaf out of Szubanski’s book when it comes time to apologise. “I’m sorry for suggesting you should be placed in a concentration camp, but I was just trying to raise awareness of genocide.”

Anyway, here is the video for you to enjoy.

Until next time, ride safe, and watch out for comedians opening their doors on you.

Bike stacks hurt.

Last week I had the misfortune of having my first bad bike stack. I’ve had some minor crashes in the past; running into the side of a car that failed to indicate, running into the back of a pedestrian who failed to look before stepping out into those “safe” Copenhagen-style bike lanes, but this was my first major oops-fall-down-scraping-your-helmet-on-the bitumen accident. I must say that it wasn’t much fun either. Now I realise that everyone who rides a bike has fallen off at some point, and that nobody really needs to hear another tale of woe, but seeing as this is my blog, I will continue with my story.

It began as any other day, cycling into the city, then onwards to my place of work. The day way clear and fine. The sun was shining. I had made it to the crossroads where I had managed to photograph the evasive RoboCop Cyclist, and before I knew it, I was heading head first towards the bitumen. I could feel my helmet sliding along the road, and then I came to a stop. Picking myself up, I realised that I had had an accident. Damn it. I suppose I was a little out of it. Picking up my bike I made my way to the footpath with the help of a couple of friendly cyclists who stopped to assist me. Looking at my bike and noticing the buckled front wheel was when I actually became annoyed that I had stacked. Until then it seemed like some kind of wonky surrealist hallucination, but seeing my mangled bike brought me back to reality. Of course after that I noticed my mangled hand. By this time a few nice old ladies had come to my assistance, offering band-aids and antiseptic wipes from their hand bags. This was only minutes since the accident had happened, and I was still foggy headed. I checked my helmet, expecting massive gouges from the road surface, but there was only a minor scratch. If I hadn’t been wearing a hemet, I though, my head would be scraped along Swanston St, and there was no way I could have walked away from the scene.

I sat in front of the great old church on the corner. sorting myself out, mopping up the blood. I figured that it might be best if I went home instead of to work. So I made the appropriate calls, and finally noticed the time. The date was the 9th of the 9th 2009, and by my calculations my accident happened at 9:09! 09/09/09 at 9:09am! Can you believe that? Well, do, because that’s what happened. Somehow the universe had managed to gang up on me, and tilt the earth so only I would lose my balance. That’s what I figure happened, anyway. It’s funny, though, because the other times I have had an incident, I have been able to learn a lesson, adjust my cycling habits and move on, a little bit wiser. This time however, the only thing I have been able to learn is that falling off your bike really hurts, and that skin grows back pretty quickly. Perhaps I can also learn that on days when the numerals in the date are all the same, catch the train.

In other cycling news this week, it seems that there has been another famous bike blitz, this time focusing on cyclists who illegally ride though parks. 100 cyclists have been hit with $250 fine for cycling in parks where bikes are banned. Oh well, I say. To me it’s the same as riding on the footpath, unless it’s a shared path, stick to the road. As usual, whenever the newspaper publishes stories about cycling, a massive debate ensues, usually between motorists and cyclists. This time the battle is being waged between pedestrians and cyclists, each side claiming that they are being hard done by. Give it up, guys. Don’t you realise it is just a ruse by the motorists trying to divide and conquer the non-motorists! Please! When cyclists and pedestrians can no longer commute because they are too busy pulling each others hair out, the motorists have surely won. Don’t let it come to that.

Till next time, ride safe, and wear a helmet!

New season, new gripes.

It’s the third day of spring in Melbourne. Mother Nature has rewarded us with three days of glorious weather, which is quite unusual in Melbourne in particular, because spring will usually lull you into a false sense of security and then pelt hail on your head as you commute home in a singlet and stubbies. Last week, to prove to us that it was still winter, we had torrential rain and some crazy winds, something like 100km/h! Oh you crazy Mother, Nature.  Well, so far so good with the spring weather. This morning it was an unheard of 16ºC at 8am! There was glorious sunshine and no need to wear longsleeves for the first time in months. Ideal conditions for commuting to work by bicycle I hear you mutter. And yes, it has been. And it has also been a nightmare on the roads! With the new season comes all of the old season cyclists out of the warm and cosy closets for the first time since before winter. Bikes that have been sitting in the garage since July have been pulled out of retirement faster than you can say Lance Armstrong, and judging by the squeaks and clunks being emitted by these machines, they haven’t had much TLC over the winter break. The riders themselves haven’t had much TLC either, it seems. Getting back on the roads after a substantial break can be daunting, and I would think that starting the season by heading straight into peak hour cycling may not be the best idea. Given the tentative nature of many of the cyclists I have been stuck behind over the last few days, I’d say most of them have just dragged out the old bike, without so much as a touch of Heavy Lube for the chain, and charged off into the carbon monoxide filled cloud of peak hour mayhem without so much as a thought for Road Readiness.

I realise that this sounds like a big old fashioned whinge and I suppose it is, but in my humble and not very educated opinion, I would recommend a few weekend rides to become acclimatised to cycling in traffic once again before heading out in peak hour after several months away from the saddle. Countless times in the last few days I have had to come to a complete stop behind someone who was too uncertain whether to go around the car; whether they would fit through that gap; whether they should give way, etc. I know that as a cyclist you are at risk of injury and even death while out on the roads, but being a tentative cyclist is as dangerous as being a tentative motorist. Ringing your bell at a car that is 20 meters ahead of you to alert them of your approach is likely to be as effective as cleaning your house with a toothbrush, and if you feel the need to be so safety conscious that you have to ring your bell every five seconds, then at least have the common courtesy to stop at a red light!

Speaking of red lights, there is another Bike Blitz going on at the moment. I was alerted by a friend to this press release by the local constabulary, which details their current program to target cyclists who disobey the road rules. Funnily, before being alerted to this campaign, I had noticed an increase of police standing by the side of the road, especially along Princes Bridge and the start of St Kilda Rd. Funnier still, another cyclist and I pulled to a stop a red light directly next to a couple of police who were studying cycles and cyclists intently. Even more hilarious was the fact that while we were stopped at the red light, a car tore straight through it without even so much as slowing. The police didn’t seem to care whatsoever. Perhaps instead of focusing on one particular aspect of road safety, the entire spectrum should be covered holistically. And if police do wish to target cycle safety, as they claim in the press release, then I will happily point out several ‘black spots’ where pedestrians daily flaunt the laws forcing cyclists to backpedal, so to speak, in order not to hit them or become road kill themselves.

End of rant.

Bike bits, and age old arguments.

I have been away from blogland for a week or so, having being travelling and not really having anything of interest to say. But today I feel like I have graduated, in bike terms at least. Today I got back to my cycling commute, this time with……. drop bars! Yes, the cycling part that most cyclists take for granted is now on my bicycle. I am a relative newcomer to the world of commuting as a cyclist. For years I only had a crappy old mountain bike that was given to me, which I let degrade into a rusty of pile of rubbish. Needless to say I didn’t ride it much. About a year ago I got an urge to get my bike back on, so I enlisted the help of a friend who kindly built me up a reliable steed to take me to work and back. It’s true what they say about just getting any old bike and you will start to find what you do and don’t like about it pretty quickly. So that was coming up to a year ago, and I have just let loose with the latest iteration of my bike. I can count on one hand the amount of components that are still on my bike from my original build. One brake, the chainring, freewheel, cranks…… I think that’s about it. Every thing else is new. Frame, wheelset, saddle…. and now the bars.

Having not ridden drops since I was at high school, it is a little different that the good old risers that I have been used to, but they are great! “Yeah yeah,” I hear you moaning in the back. “We know.” I understand that this is pretty fundamental stuff, but I have proven in an earlier post that I am an imbecile when it comes to cycle knowledge. So the first difference I noticed was that the brake is in a different spot. Duh. Well, you get used to riding in a certain way. But I found myself to be instantly more maneuverable, and that was great! I also noticed how most cyclists on the road use riser bars. I had never noticed this before, or perhaps I just hadn’t paid much attention to it, but the fact was there in front of me….. Risers everywhere. I immediately felt at one with the drop bar community, until I realised that I was indeed being fooled by my new found freedom, and that it is still a battleground out there.

Speaking of battlegrounds, I recently saw this article from Sydney dragging out the age old debate about the compatibility between bicycles and cars. As it comes from the Motoring section, it is not surprising that the argument is geared towards cars. For example, here is the opening from the article…..

Cars and bicycles get on reasonably well in some European cities ??? but that’s far from the case here.

Picture yourself driving to work during the morning rush hour. Ahead of you in the clearway of a main arterial road is a cyclist travelling in the centre of the lane at 15km/h less than the traffic flow.

 

Do you: a) recognise the right of the rider to occupy a whole lane and praise their contribution to reducing carbon emissions; b) shrug your shoulders and change lanes to get past; or c) squeeze past in the same lane while fantasising about opening your car door?

I would like to, as a member of the non-existent cycling community like to pose a series of questions in response to Rachel Browne’s little hypothetical.

Picture yourself cycling to work during the morning rush hour. Ahead of you a motorist talking on their mobile phone turns very sharply into the bike lane without indicating, cutting you off.

Do you: a) recognise that motorists rarely check for cyclists and assume that bike lanes are there as an extra turning lane, when needed; b:) carefully swerve around them, narrowly avoiding injury or death because there is a scooter about to run you over from behind in the bike lane and continue on your commute; or c:) fantasise about taking your U-lock and smashing it through the drivers’ side window. 

Most of you would of answered b of course, because this is a daily occurrence as a commuting cyclist. It seems quite ironic that the motoring article is being written from the perspective that cyclists are a nuisance, something irritating like that aunty that no-one wants to talk to, or that mosquito buzzing around your bedroom at night in summer, whereas the reality is that cyclists are at risk of injury or death from careless motorists. The example cited by Ms Browne for her article may well happen everyday and cause a temporary headache, and so does the example sited in my article, but instead of headaches, this incident can cause severe head trauma!

Anyway, there has been enough written about this debate, so I will leave it there for now. If any of you have any more ideas about Rachel Browne’s article, feel free to leave them in the comments, or email the The Age.

Small victories and bad juju.

flatbed

This morning I had yet another run in with a motor vehicle while on my commute. This time is was with a massive flatbed truck, exactly the kind you don’t want to mess with. The truck was going to turn right, and to make enough room for himself he veered left into the bike lane, right in front of me, cutting me off. Funnily I was suspicious as soon as I saw him, in the sixth sense spooky way that you sometimes get while on your bike in peak hour traffic, so I wasn’t altogether surprised when he cut me off. I was still a little pissed of though, because he could have killed me, so in my zen Buddhist kind of way I rode over and began to yell at him to stop and wind his window down. Initially he was quite defensive, as most people are when being yelled at by a loser on a bike. I told him he cut me off, and he responded that he had indicated. I pointed out that he didn’t indicate as he veered left into the bike lane, but did indicate that he was turning right. He thought about it for a minute, and then did the strangest thing I have ever seen in my time as a commuter. He agreed with me! “Sorry mate” he said. I was taken aback, in all of my communications with motorists it is a very rare thing for a driver to acknowledge that they may have been in the wrong, but he did. I thanked him, giving him a thumbs up, and continued on my merry way. Perhaps, I thought to myself, he will look next time. I understand the difficulties he must have driving such a massive thing, and maneuvering it must be a bit of a nightmare, but if my little spat at him will help him look that little bit harder next time, maybe I might help someone else from getting run over in the future. How self important I am, I thought as I trundled down the road.

Speaking of that strange feeling you get when badness is looming out there on the streets, I noticed a whole big bag of bad juju as I headed home from work a couple of nights ago. It’s the strangest thing, that feeling of dread that seems to hang over the city at certain times. I’m not sure if it was because of my notion of doom that perhaps I rode more cautiously than usual, but I made it to the city without incident. Then as I was climbing the hill to RMIT I had to weave through a large group of people who were waiting for the tram to pull up, but felt it was better to wait on the road than on the footpath. “You’re supposed to stop” a woman’s voice called out. I turned to see a middle aged woman glaring at me. I agreed that cyclists are supposed to stop for trams, but once the tram had indicated its stopping with those funny little orange flashing lights on the side, and that she shouldn’t be waiting in the middle of the road. She huffed at me and told me that she would remember that the next time she was driving and “you run a red light.” I told her I didn’t run reds, which isn’t strictly true, although I don’t make a habit out of it, and she replied “you must be the only one in creation.” She then boarded the tram and was out of my life. But she wasn’t out of my head, damn it. I wish I had a chance to talk to her in greater depth about the issues that were raised in ire. I wish I had a chance to tell her that two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that other self righteous crap, but the thing that bugged me most was her “you cyclists” mentality. I am a single cyclist, and by no means do I claim to represent anyone else out there in the world who cycles, nor would I want to. To be fair, I sometimes tend to lump motorists into one evil seething bag of distrust, but mostly out of safety’s sake. I find the safest way to not get killed on the roads is to not trust motorists one little bit. But to lump all “us cyclists” in together seems a little harsh. Of course there are bad cyclists out there, the ones that mountain bike jump onto the footpath in order to run a red light etc, but seriously, come on lady! Maybe if you got in the saddle once in your life you would see what it means out there on the streets.

Anyway, needless to say, the bad juju wasn’t that bad. I just had an annoying run-in with an annoying pedestrian. It could have been much worse. At least she wasn’t driving a flat bed truck.

An idiot’s guide to bicycles….

If anyone needs further proof that I am an imbecile when it comes to bicycles, please read on. A couple of weeks ago I noticed an odd clicking sound and feeling coming from my cranks. I assumed it was the bottom bracket and thought that a bearing must have popped out, or something. I mean, bottom brackets have bearings, don’t they? So, seeing as I have neither the tools nor knowhow to investigate the inner workings of my BB, I tried to ignore it until an opportunity came to visit my Bike Pimp for some assistance. I kept cycling as usual, despite the persistent clicking and the feeling that things weren’t quite right “down there. ” Feeling like one of those strange STD ads that seem to be everywhere, I knew I needed a check up, but was continuing with my head buried deeply in the proverbial sand in order to keep my commute commuting. So yesterday, while adjusting my seat height I looked down and noticed, to my horror, that the master link on my chain was snapped on one side. It wasn’t that the link had come undone, it was physically snapped in two. Evidentially I have riding 30 odd kilometers daily with my chain being held tenuously together by good luck and a small piece of steel. Realising that I have been incredibly lucky that the chain hasn’t snapped on my daily commutes, and that I have been riding as normal, getting out of the saddle and pushing hard, I felt a sinking feeling. It’s funny. When I thought it was the bottom bracket playing up, I was happy to ride as usual, but now that I knew that is was the chain itself, I dreaded the cycle home. I left work and stopped in at the closest bike shop, an ubiquitous triathlon styled store specialising in $3000 Orbea bikes and the like. I frantically dashed in, anxious to at least get a new master link so I could make it home. I asked about the link, and the shop guy grumbled something about how many speeds I had. When I replied that I ride a single speed, he scoffed, saying he kept nothing for single speeds. It was as if I had stormed into a Catholic church asking to buy a crucifix to use for my Satanic ritual that evening. I realise that he probably didn’t have any single speed parts, but he didn’t need to be such an arsehole.

I got back on the bike and set off on my commute as normal, well as normally as I could knowing that there was a hairs breadth between a functional and non-functional bike and the possibility of a long walk home, if I avoided the potential injuries that might come with my chain failing at a rather inopportune moment. With luck I made it through the city without incident, but as I came through Carlton and onto the bike path beside the cemetery I felt something give beneath me. Luckily it was just the chain coming off, so I quickly put it back on and aimed for the next bike shop. having already come 10km, i knew if all failed I could always walk home if it came down to it. I made it to Lygon Cycles and dragged my bike inside. When I showed the shop guy what was going on, he looked at me with an expression of combined amazement and bewilderment. “You are riding on this?” he asked. I explained my idea that it had thought it was the bottom bracket. He understood and went out to find a new master link. As it turns out, my chain was a Shimano, and Shimano chains aren’t compatible with master link adaptors, hence the reason why it had snapped. After all of the shop guys had a look and a laugh about my extreme luckiness, they wheeled my wheels out the back to install a new chain for me. It came back a few minutes later with a brand spanking new white chain! I got my first ‘colourway’ without even trying. Thanking the staff profusely for saving my proverbial bacon, I headed back onto the road and continued my journey home. It’s amazing what a difference a complete chain feels. Cruising home with my my new colour co-ordinated bike, I reflected upon my idiocy and sheer stupid luck that I have made it that far. I must once again give “mad props” to the guys at Lygon Cycles for firstly not scoffing at me, and secondly for fixing my steed and making me look cool. I suppose I will have to get a pair of canvas Vans to complete the look now.

white-chain

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Further proof that I am indeed a fool when it comes to bicycles.

To make a short story long….

So I’ve been off the blog for a while, as well as being off my bike (and some might say, off my rocker, but that’s another story…). A few weeks back I was the recipient of a rather nasty throat infection. It was a whole heap of pain, delirium, anguish and remorse. I was beginning to empathise with emo kids, but I think that was just the fever. So I was off work for a few days, and then wasn’t feeling up to my usual cycle commute, so I resigned myself to utilise the Public Transport. It had been some time since I had regularly used the trams and trains of Melbourne, and I am happy to report that the ticket inspectors haven’t become nice, and the trains still nowhere near being on time. There are some good things about PT, reading, although I had finished my last book, and had no new one, and listening to music. Some manage to do one or the other, sometimes both while cycling, but I prefer to use my ears to listen out for motorcycles in the bike lane and my hands for braking if required. So not much had changed. A week or so after my brief but debilitating illness, I was ready to jump back in the saddle and resume my daily commute. Mother nature, however had different ideas about that. Now, strangely, because we are in a severe, long term drought it hasn’t rained for a long time, but for a solid week and a half it seemed to be raining every day. I’m not talking about light showers, I’m talking pissing down all day kind of rain. Add to that the occasional hail storm, and it wasn’t making for ideal weather for my to get back on my bike, so I continued my PT commute for longer than I expected/wanted to. I could have, of course, just cycled anyway, like many others do, but I was still feeling a bit off and didn’t want to push it and get sick again. That’s what I told myself at least. I did feel a bit guilty sitting on the (packed) tram on the way to work while it hailed outside, seeing the other cyclists urgently seeking shelter. That guilt didn’t last long as I arrived at work dry, but the PT was beginning to take its toll. Firstly, once you become used to ‘luxuries’ such as not having to wait for ages for a train, little things like that can drive you a bit mental. It’s different to the type of mental you can get while cycling; that of being cut off by a BMW 4WD might encourage a tinge of road rage, but the missing a train and waiting 20 minutes for the next one is more like ‘boredom rage.’

So in the last days of my extended PT session, my bike pimp called me up to let me know he had a few frames that he was going to take to a swap meet to offload, and wondered if I wanted one. I did want one, as my current frame was a touch too small for me, so we met up and built up a new bike from bits of my old build and new bits that would fit the super tight clearances of the new frame. After the build was almost complete we were delighted by the spectacle of the front tube exploding. It was quite loud. As we had no spare tubes, in fact it was the spare that had exploded, we abandoned our mission to be resumed the next night. In between that first build night and the next, my illustrious bike pimp had a change of heart regarding which frame I should have picked. We went for the newer, fancier looking ‘Mirage’ which I have never heard of, and doesn’t seem to exist, at least in the annals of the Internets. But I must say, it is one smooth ride. It’s so much better to be higher in the saddle. The only problem being that I have lost my cycling fitness. What used to be easy climbs are now more painfully difficult. I suppose it will take another week or so until I am back to match fitness, but boy, it’s great to be cycling again!

During my hiatus I did notice a few strange cycle-related things while being on-foot. The strangest one was a cyclist riding a Kona Paddy Wagon, one of those out-of-the-box fixie/freewheel jobs, which is nothing unusual, but he had disconnected the cable to the rear brake. The stranger thing was he had left the rear brake caliper on the frame. Now, only having a front brake is fairly standard, nay, expected on a fixed gear bike, but it seemed rather silly to detach the cable, but to leave the brake in place. I couldn’t see whether he had removed the lever or not, but I can only imagine that he was in a hurry to get on his bike, and didn’t want to ‘accidentally’ use his rear brake. This way if he did try to use it, it at least wouldn’t work.

Kona Paddy Wagon, with rear brake cable intact.

In other cycling news today, the state government have introduced harsh new laws for cyclists who injure or kill somebody, or damage property. This is all well and good, as I don’t think cyclists should get away with murder, but if this proposal is aimed to reduce the road toll, then they are barking up the wrong bush, so to speak, as cars manage to kill/maim/damage more people and property in a week than cyclists can manage in a year.