Archive for the 'News' Category

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack

OK, so I know you have missed me, but never fear I am back on the blog. “Why have you neglected this blog for a year?” I hear you moan. Well, let’s just say that many things have happened in that time, and I won’t bore you with the details, but here are a few highlights. I have been to Yogyakarta, Indonesia twice to do bicycle related projects. You can find information about that over here. I also had my bike stolen, but am now up and running again on a sweet old Carlton Cobra that is doing me well. Bastards that steal bikes huh…. bastards.

Anyway, things are still the same as always on the bike lanes of Melbourne. A couple of days ago I witnessed a near altercation between a fixie rider and a film production guy. The peak hour afternoon traffic was particularly mental this day, and as we approached an intersection, there were some production trucks parked in the bike lane with a stream of witches hats taking up the remainder of the bike lane that was free. The fixie dude, who was just ahead of me, started to kick over the witches hats. He even stopped to throw one. Then the production dude popped out from behind a truck to yell at the fixie dude. He called him a “Douche” and told the guy to call the council if he had a problem. It was kinda funny. Even the fixie dude had a chuckle with me when we got to the lights.

I will be back more regularly now, but in the meantime, here is a video from the Roda Roda project in Jogja from October. Enjoy.

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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 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.

Ghost bikes and expensive rides.

P1040026
I ran into a ghost bike recently. I wasn’t quite sure if it was a real ghost bike, as to my knowledge no cyclist had been killed outside that pizza shop, at least not recently. Perhaps, I thought, it was just a cool white bike. It’s hard to tell these days, what with bicycle style reaching new highs. Now that my own bike is becoming cool with its new white chain, I suppose I should raise my standards of bicycle stylishness. A few days ago I spotted this amazing beast on my morning commute.

P1040021

To me, this bike is the epitome of cool. It has everything, well it can carry everything at least. I have no doubt that the owner is as pleased with his ride as you can get. I assume that he left his trailer at home because he was only carrying a small load that day. Speaking of cool, I also recently found this news item about Jack Griffin, an 85 year old Gold Coast man who is going to ride the 1,680km from Brisbane to Cairns. He even forked out $11,000 for a Trek Madone, because that’s what Lance Armstrong rides. Fair enough. If he can afford that, then the best of luck to him. He expects to finish the ride in 18 days, which is pretty good. He is looking to buy his local hospital a Stress Machine with the funds raised by his journey. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is doing an admirable thing, but I would expect that the Stress Machine (whatever the hell that is…) would probably cost less than the bike that Jack will be riding is worth. Speaking of Lance, it looks like he is still in with a chance to finish at the top end of the Tour, although he was quite eclipsed by his teammate Alberto Contador in the last stage. I’m not sure how Lance is dealing with this, being forced down the ladder by his own teammate, but I’m sure he can always turn to recreational drug use with his good buddy Ben Stiller if his comeback goes astray.

On my grand tour on Friday evening I was on the second stage of my 3 stage commute when I was stuck behind one of those tourist horse and carriage rides that always use the bike lane. Just because they use bicycle lights doesn’t qualify them to use the bike lane in my opinion. But I suppose it beats getting stuck behind Cadel.
horse-carriage

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.