Archive for the 'Culture' 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.

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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 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.

Adelaide, in search of…..

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to travel to Adelaide for my work. For those of you who have never been to Adelaide, it is a very quiet small town with hardly any buildings in the CBD. In fact I had to check with my taxi driver that we were in fact in the CBD. I am used to buildings, people, traffic and all the usual trappings of urban life, but Adelaide had little of this. What it did have though, was bike lanes on every street in the city. It is also the flattest place I have ever been in my life. There are hills surrounding the outskirts of the city, but the place itself is super flat. This combined with the abundance of bike lanes would make it an ideal commuter town. You could even cycle to the airport if you were travelling lightly, as it is only about 5km from the city centre.

I had some downtime upon arrival, so after checking my stuff into the palace in which I was staying I took a walking bicycle tour of downtown Adelaide. Initially I was surprised by the lack of bikes everywhere. Being such a flat town with copious bicycle friendly infrastructure I thought the place would be swarming with fixies, hybrids and crappy old mountain bikes. It wasn’t though. The bike lanes did pick up steam after an hour or so, with more commuters taking advantage of the flat spread, but I still was yet to see a fixed-gear bike. This became my mission, to find the fixies in Adelaide. So I beginning my quest, I came across this folding bike with what looks like a Brooks saddle on it.
folding-bike-dude
I must admit the saddle does play off nicely with the cyclists’ helmet, and the interplay between those earthy shades and the yellow canvas shoes is very nice. But, despite the niceness, it was still no fixie, so I continued my search. One of the other things I noticed was that in Adelaide there must be a higher crime rate than in Melbourne, as many bike were double-locked. In Melbourne it is a rare sight to see a bike with two locks on it, but in Adelaide any old Avanti was more secure than Fort Knox, which I found interesting, just not interesting enough to photograph. So after an hour or so, I was still yet to see a fixie in Adelaide. I turned down a laneway and nearly stopped dead. Had I found it, Adelaide’s fixie? It had spoke cards and a strangely mounted brake-lever so it fit the general profile of a fixed-gear bike. I approached the bicycle with caution. This is what I had found.
faux-fixie1
At first glance it seemed to be what I was searching for. Weird bar grips, oddly placed brake-lever, spoke cards, but on closer inspection it turned out I had gotten it wrong, so very wrong.
faux-fixie2
It seems that this beast was actually a converted crappy old ten speed with the derailleurs removed. This is a simple and effective method of single-speed conversion, if you don’t mind the extra weight of carrying around a few extra cogs, it’s fine. The thing that really made this bike for me though was the fine selection of Magic The Gathering spoke cards! I don’t know much about this game, except that it’s practitioners are usually even nerdier than myself (which is pretty damned nerdy!) so I don’t really understand what “power” these cards may hold, and their relevance to being used as spoke cards. For all I know the cards may ward off the dreaded Metal Beast, thus repelling both cars and Metallica fans, which are both of abundance in Adelaide.
faux-fixie3
So I still hadn’t found the elusive Adelaide fixie yet, but it was time for me to go to work. Thankfully my work occasionally involves standing around with a camera, so I was delighted when I spotted Adelaide’s fixed-gear bike. The photo is a bit crappy because I didn’t want to scare him off with a flash, but with a bit of “photo” “shopping” I was able to bring out at least the read mud-guard, or “filth-prophylactic.” One of the guys I was working with did inform me that there actually was plenty of fixies in Adelaide, but they were mostly vegan, which makes some sort of sense, at least in a global-cultural way. I’m not sure if being a vegan in Adelaide somehow makes you not want to cycle to the city, but I am pretty sure the guy I saw on a fixie was about to head to the steakhouse across the street.
real-fixie-fix
A little later in the evening I found a paradoxical example of Adelaide’s bike locking protocols. I mentioned earlier that I had witnessed double-locked Avanti’s, but it seems that Huffy’s are undesirable to Adelaide’s cycling thieves. I guess crappy mountain bikes don’t need to be locked, at least not to a pole. It appears that it is sufficient to lock them to themselves, or at least have a lock on the top tube. This bike stayed unstolen all night, and even as I walked back to the hotel at 3am, it was still unstolen. The solution to double-locking your Avanti seemed clear, ride a Huffy instead.
bike-locking
‘Til next time Adelaide, fix up look sharp, and don’t forget to lock.

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.

Cycling celluloid and local customs.

As the clouds gather overhead and the first signs of a rainy afternoon build up outside, I’m happy to announce that this little blog has gotten it’s first external link! Wow, out of the three readers out there, somehow Biking In LA blog managed to get hold of my post about my daily commute. Strangely, the link is attached to a story about some poor cyclist who was killed by an underage drunk driver. I thought my posts were generally fairly lighthearted, but now I see that there is a grave undercurrent of seriousness in all that I write.

As a serious journalist, from there I began to look at local cycling industry bodies, and amongst many other serious websites, I found this educational and entertaining film. Seeing as we are in the middle of the Melbourne International Film Festival, I thought I would review this little gem for you, the discerning Bike Lanes reader.

If you have ever wondered if it is quicker to commute by bicycle than by car, then this is the film you have been waiting for. This action packed short film takes the viewer through a series of events in the daily life of a cycle commuter and a motorist. David Thomas’ mini-epic doesn’t rely upon high production values or flashy special effects to carry the story. This piece of Cinema Verité is driven by the realistic scenarios and down to earth performances by the leads. Overall, a highly recommended for any aspiring cycling commuter. 3/5.

Sorry, I couldn't get the embed video working....

Sorry, I couldn't get the embed video working....

In related news, MIFF have set up their own town bike!
It’s armed with a small projector, so look out for guerilla screenings around the city!

bike2

Continuing my journalistic journey into local cycling culture, I discovered a Flickr pool by the name of Bike Fun Melbourne which consists mostly of photos of people standing around with lights on their heads, people fiddling away at work benches, some bike polo, and some innovative bike builds.

small-tall-bikesmall-tall-bike2

As you can see from the images, the Tall Bike phenomena has been reinvented with a Small-Tall Bike. This style of cycling will undoubtably become widely embraced, as it not only applies techniques of extreme bicycle manipulation, it removes the stigma of Tall Bike riding by having the rider at an almost usual height, also making 3 foot drivetrains un-needed. I live for the day when Small-Tall Bikes are everywhere, not requiring events like Critical Mass in order to pull them out of the shed. On other parts of the internet, I came across this astounding music video on another cycling blog but felt I had to repost it here, because scarily enough, these crusty demons are being filmed in my neighbourhood. I feel very blessed that I didn’t go out to buy some groceries on the fateful day when the Brunswick Free Ride was taking place on Sydney road, as I’m not sure I would have been able to handle the overwhelming smell of patchouli. If you haven’t seen this clip yet, then do yourself a favour and feast your eyes on this!

Until next time, keep on trucking, er, cycling.