Archive for the 'Commuting' Category

Foreign Correspondent: Cycling In Europe.

Here is a special treat for you. A friend of mine has just returned from a working European Vacation and has lodged a report of his cycling experiences for you to enjoy. Greg does lots of really smart brainy stuff with computers and social thingy whatsits, that I’m not quite sure about. He also runs the great music label Spill. Without further ado……..

Biking in Europe, from your foreign correspondent Greg Wadley

I just wound up a month-long working holiday in Europe during which I biked in a number of cities, for commuting and sight-seeing. I’ll compare the bike experience in these places to Melbourne and to each other.

Denmark
copenhagen
Top billing for biking goes to Denmark. Bikes rule in this country, and the Danes seem to be better off for it, as they are a healthy, happy lot who’ve maintained a pleasant environment while so many countries lost theirs. I biked in two cities and spent a week working in a smaller town, where I had no bike access but got the general idea by looking. Copenhagen is where Melbourne got the idea for its experimental ‘Copenhagen lanes’. They don’t call them this in Copenhagen but they are on just about every street – certainly all the main ones. Unlike on Swanston Street, there’s no ‘traffic island’ separating them from cars, but they are clearly distinguished from both the car and pedestrian lanes, and woe betide the car or pedestrian who strays into them. Cyclists ride with confidence and righteousness – there’s no “please mister car driver will you let me drive on your road” in Denmark – and it’s a normal mode of transport for people of all ages. Danish cyclists are not afraid of commuting long distances (compared to what I’m used to), and they don’t have to worry about aggression or stupidity from car drivers, as car-on-bike violence is simply not part of the culture. It’s kind of a law-abiding, respectful society anyway. My hotel rents bikes to its guests (something I’ve never seen outside Europe) so I used a bike to explore the city and go to work. Something Australian governments need to figure out is that whenever someone rides instead of driving, everyone benefits, so it’s logical to support and subsidize cycling rather than punish it. A lot of the problems of big cities are eased with this one step.
aarhus
I spent two days in Aarhus, “capital of Jutland” and Denmark’s second city. It’s the same story for bike lanes here – they are on most roads, and are not de-facto car-parking or turning lanes as they are in Australia. Here I got to try the famous coin-operated “City-Bikes”. These are great – you just walk up to a bike rack (there are several scattered throughout the city), pop in a coin (equivalent to a few Australian dollars), the lock pops open and you ride away. When you’re done you can return it to a rack and get your coin back, or leave it in any public place and someone will return it for you and keep the coin. What a great system. They are crappy no-gear bikes, but are fine for getting round town, and offer fuss-free cycling for occasional users or visitors. Again, the fact that Danes are respectful allows this system to work, and the city is happy to supply or subsidize the bikes as it is for the common good.

I also spent a week in Roskilde working at the local university. The campus is a long way from town and most students train there, either from Roskilde or in most cases from Copenhagen, which is 20 minutes away. Bike culture was less obvious in this small town but even so there were distinct bike lanes on the main roads.

Berlin and Vienna
berlin
vienna
Second place goes to these two German-speaking capitals. They don’t feature the separate bike lanes that Denmark has, and this makes a noticeable difference, as cyclists have to share car lanes, with all the dangers this implies. But cycling still is a majority habit and doesn’t suffer from the “ratbags and losers” image it has in most of the Anglo world. Both my three-star Viennese hotel and my low-rent Berlin hostel rent bikes to visitors. If you are ever touristing and have only a few days to explore a city, bikes are the winning way to get around. It’s faster than walking and easier than learning a new public transport system. Berlin has nice trams but I had limited time so I biked and saw quite a lot. I was in Vienna a week and did a bit of both (biking and tramming). A nice ride in Vienna is up and down the DonauKanal bike paths – see accompanying photo. The InnerStadt, where most of the tourist destinations are (grand palaces, shops, art galleries etc) is a maze of cobblestone lanes and you can really only walk or ride there. Despite this, some asses try to drive on them and it is immediately obvious to the visitor that Vienna should ban cars from InnerStadt.

England
london
The old dart is a mixed bag for cyclists. Inner London is crazy busy and I didn’t see many people riding, nor find a rental or bike shop. I was only there a few days, so longer-term residents might give a more complete picture. This is the loudest city I’ve experienced – even louder than NYC I think. The streets are mostly narrow and lined on both sides with old medium-rise buildings, like you see all over Europe. This makes vehicle noise echo up and down the street, more so than in Australian cities, so that if you’re conversing on the footpath you have to shout. This makes it unpleasant to be on the street – unless you’re inside a vehicle, setting up the same catch-22 that plagues American and Australian cities. Still, if you could find a bike and were willing to brave the traffic, you could see a lot of classic scenery quite quickly.
oxford
I spent two days in Oxford with a cyclist colleague and we were able to find a bike rental store near the “covered market” in town. Oxford is classically beautiful, with ancient University buildings, picturesque river paths and some not-so-old suburbs that are worth a look. Again, you can see all this stuff by PT or on foot, but if you have limited time, a bike will take you more places more quickly. It’s good for exploring because if you take the wrong path you can quickly double back without the tedium of walking lost, up and down streets. The only bad bits are, of course, busy roads, where cars make life dangerous and annoying for everyone else, as they do in most parts of the world.

I also had two days in Manchester, which is kind of a cross between these two. The bit I was in was mighty ugly-urban, and I didn’t see many bikes or evidence of a cycling culture (eg shops or rentals). Still, if you found one, and were willing to brave the frustrated car-drivers, you could see more, quickly.

Lessons learned

Seeing a range of bike-friendliness across several cities in one month allowed me to learn things from the comparison.

• Biking improves a city’s quality of life, not just for those who do it but for everyone else too, by reducing clutter, noise, and pollution.
• Bikes and cars don’t really co-exist, and the only real solution is to put them in separate lanes. Denmark, the alpha biking country, does this. The relative anonymity and ‘social distance’ afforded by the car’s little metal box brings out the worst in people. Drivers are frustrated because there are so many of them that they can’t drive quickly or park. Unfortunately they are anonymous cowards too, and take it out on cyclists and pedestrians rather than each other. Fence them off and tax them to pay for it.
• Helmets are not compulsory in any European city. I noticed about a third of people use them voluntarily. Let’s face it, these are forced on Melbournian cyclists not to protect them but to imply that damage done to cyclists by car drivers is the responsibility of the cyclist, and to inconvenience and humiliate cyclists so that commuters will choose cars instead. Cities that are serious about promoting cycling makes helmets voluntary.

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 Lanes Campaign: I Need Spy Glasses!

So I am back on my bike after a week and a half forced hiatus due to the gravity-induced stack I had recently, and I am back with a campaign. That’s right, I am on a campaign. Since I have been back on my bike, I have missed out on photographing some amazing things, so I am appealing to the community to help me fund the purchase of some really ugly Camera Glasses. I realise that the readership of this blog is limited to not very many people, but, if all of those not very many people were to donate two dollars, I would be able to entertain you with amazing 1.3 megapixel photographs of the exciting world of action and adventure that happens on my daily commute.

If you doubt the amazingness of the sights I witness while cycling, then listen to this…. The very best thing I have seen since cycling again was definitely a guy on a fixie which had been converted from a crappy old ten speed. He found no need to get a new rear hub, he had just pulled off the derailleur and chose the gear he liked best, leaving the rest as ‘bike bling’ or whatever the hell you would call it. Come to think about it, I’m not sure it was fixed, but he had no brakes, but that doesn’t mean much these days. OK, so all of that is not amazing in itself, but let me tell you about his mud guards (or fenders, for the hemispherically challenged readers out there). Seeing a fixie or singlespeed with mud guards is pretty rare anyway, and we have all seen people’s innovative/desperate efforts at keeping their arses dry in wet weather while riding, but this one tops everything I, and probably you, have ever seen. Instead of going out and purchasing a nice neat pair of mud guards, this rider has fashioned a pair out of corflute. You know, the corrugated plastic coated board that is often used to make real estate signs, well it also makes stylish, low cost mud guards. I never would have thought, but the addition of severely large pieces of corflute to a bicycle make a serious statement about how far one will go to keep ones nether regions dry. As I had no camera, here is a photoshopped mock-up of a similar (but nicer looking) bike with the addition of corflute mud guards (or fenders).
fixe-corflute
Imagine my delight at coming upon this visionary piece of mobile art being trackstood on at the lights, but the horror of not having a means of photographing it. So here I appeal to you,dear reader, to assist me in bringing to you the latest and greatest in on the street fashion and style. Also, imagine the despair that will abound if I manage to miss out on capturing such elusive beasts as the hypothetical and very rare fixie with Sydney Opera House mud guards/fenders:
fixe-opera_house
Or if I ever see this thing on the streets, and am unable to capture it in all its glory:
phantom_bike
So I appeal to you, once more dear reader, help rid the world of not being able to see weird and strange bicycles as they appear in their natural habitat. Donate today, and help me to help you see some crazy shit.

Til then, ride safe.

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.

Hip Hop Hispters and Stoned Experiments.

While cruising around some cycling sites this morning I came across this gem of a music video by a man named MC SpandX. Feel free to knock yourselves out with this one….

It seems that Mr SpandX has some issues with fixed-gear riders, and addresses this in quite a humourous way. I quite like his “crew” of dancing girls, and the chorus has been ringing in my head all day. I think I need a drink, or something stronger…..

Speaking of something stronger, over on fixed.org I found a link to these amazing pictures at Fixed Gear Gallery. This must be the original stoner fixie, decked out in Rasta red, gold and green, and complete with a marijuana leaf decal on the front. By the way this bike is set up, it looks like it is being ridden by some kind of stoned giant. I assume that the seat is tilted in such an extreme way so he can suck down some bongs while trackstanding at the lights. Now that I would love to see.
rasta-bike1
rasta-bike2
Perhaps the owner could hook up with this guy, who has taken his love of cycling and grass and “collabo’ed” it into a singularly hideous experiment.
lawnmower_bike
Perhaps the two have hooked up, and that would explain the existence of such a thing as this….
weird-bike
I actually managed to sneak into the workshop of these two stoner-extraordinaire cyclists and stole the designs for a new series of mind altering bicyles they were planning on constructing.
wierd-bikes
Hopefully I got hold of the only copy, otherwise you might get a nasty surprise on your next ride.