The Fixie rides again!

August 24, 2014 at 20:37 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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surlyforksDo you remember this? Several months ago, the front forks on my fixie started buckling in a most alarming fashion. Long-time readers may also remember this, from several years earlier – another alarming fixie fork failure.

Well, the most recent problem was with the forks that got replaced less then three years before, so they were still under warranty. So I contacted both Salsa and the local distributor confident of speedy resolution.

This was in May. Finally, in mid August, I get the bike back on the road. Three whole months. Why did it take this long? I have no idea. A catalogue of problems, phone calls, parts not arriving, alleged computer problems, alleged shipment problems, warranty issues; the list of excuses was legion. I was, as you might expect, extremely unimpressed.

Apparently replacement Salsa forks are no longer available, so Salsa replaced them with a Surly set. To be honest, I’m rather pleased about this; my faith in Salsa forks is now irrevocably damaged. The local Salsa agent informed me that Salsa had authorised a ‘$120 credit note’ to obtain the new forks. Gallingly, I see that Wiggle has Salsa forks in stock, with free 3-day shipment to Australia. For $103. If Salsa had just given me the $120, I could have had the bike back on the road inside a week, with seventeen dollars to put towards the installation cost. But, as it was, I had to wait three months to get my bike back on the road, with no contribution to put towards the labour charges. Three months!

And an interesting three months it was; half of it was spent riding a loan bike from the shop (the very helpful Cranks in Chatswood). This was brought to an abrupt end, however. The rest was spent riding Mrs Dan’s electric Gazelle, which was also interesting, and something I will write about at some point, if I remember.

However, in the meantime I’m just glad to be back  on the fixie. I was wondering if I’d have forgotten how to ride it, after three months with the pernicious temptation of a freewheel, and more latterly, a motor. But all was well; much like riding an, erm, bicycle, you don’t forget. So much more fun. I love my fixie.

But my love affair with Salsa is well and truly over. I still enjoy riding my Casseroll. But three forks and some appalling customer service later, I somehow can’t see me recommending Salsa to anyone else any longer. Ride and… Sigh, everyone, Ride and Sigh.

Fractured – Dani Atkins

August 13, 2014 at 20:37 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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fractured atkinsThis was a cheap purchase for my kindle that I bought before a plane journey, along with some other books. I bought it without really looking to see what it was about, except that it seemed to have mostly good reviews, and was going for a song on the ‘daily deal’.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s a gawky, two-dimensional romance based on the could-have-been-intriguing-but-actually-rather-clunky  premise of waking up from an accident in a world at once very familiar but also changed.

The revealing of that plot device happens early on in the novel, and is probably the best bit. After that, it all goes downhill rather quickly, with stodgy prose and unsympathetic characters. I suppose you could try and analyse this book as some sort of exploration of the pragmatic reality of our life choices set against the unfulfilled dreams we set aside, but that’s a bit of a stretch (rather like arguing a Mills and Boon romance is some sort of commentary on the passions of the human condition).  Unfortunately the ending is very disappointing, and of the ‘and then I woke up’ variety.

Hey ho. Clearly a lot of people have enjoyed this book, and that’s fantastic for them and for Dani Atkins. It just didn’t do anything for me.

It happened.

July 16, 2014 at 06:31 | Posted in bicycles | 5 Comments
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headlightsLife flashes before your eyes? Everything goes in slow motion? Those are the clichés, but in reality it all happened horribly quickly, with no time to think. The sudden realisation that the car was heading straight towards me. That it was not going to stop. The mad scramble to get out of the way. The crunch as it hit me. Feeling the bike momentarily pinning me to the ground. Desperately pulling me legs away from the rear wheels as they passed. Me getting to my feet and realising I was OK. All over in less then three seconds.

I was waiting to turn right from a side turning; the last turn into my street just a short distance from my house, positioned as you would expect towards the centre of the road. I was waiting for the ute coming up from the left to go past, then the road was clear for me to get home. He indicated right just before the junction, and as he started to turn in I thought his line looked loose. Surely he’s going to go a bit wider around me? Then the headlights were pointing straight at me, and the horrible realisation dawned. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the direct line, so it was the side of his vehicle that impacted me, pushing me away and outside the track of the rear wheels.

The driver stopped, and rushed out, clearly shocked. SMIDSY, of course. He kept repeating it. ‘I just didn’t see you, I just didn’t see you; just heard the bang.’

It’s strange; the recent spate of incidents involving cyclists being hit by cars has spooked us all a bit, and coupled with my new commute on much busier roads the thought that it could happen to me has been on my mind sometimes. I didn’t think it would be on a quiet residential street, metres from my house, though. Short of cycleways on every street those kind of local roads are always going to be shared by all kinds of vehicles.

I also, of course, in my over-analytical way, wonder what I could have done differently. I had the handlebars pointed to the right, ready to turn, so  my light would have been pointed away from the driver as he turned (although not so much it was not visible, I’m sure). And whilst I had reflectors on my ankles and bag, I wasn’t wearing my reflective sash; it went awol in the recent house move move I haven’t replaced it. Would it have made a difference? Possibly, although as he turned I was directly in front of him, fully illuminated by his headlights, yet by his own admission he still didn’t see me. That said, I will get a new sash, and perhaps even consider my headlight positioning in similar situations in the future. Not, you understand, that I believe that these things should be necessary, nor absolve the driver of any responsibility. Looking where you are going is after all probably the prime responsibility when operating a motor vehicle.

kneeAs for me, well, I have a bruised, swollen knee that is stiffening up; I’m sure it’s just a bruise to the muscle as the joint is fine, but I’ll get it checked out just in case.  Funny how you don’t notice these things until afterwards; the effect of the adrenaline I guess. Not sure how I’m going to ride to work in the morning; could be interesting.

I have no idea how the bike is. I wheeled it home, so I know the wheels go round, but I’ll have a proper look in the morning. Ironically its not actually my bike, but a loaner bike from the bike shop whilst mine is in for repair.

And I guess finally I have to decide if I go to the police. I know I’ve always urged others to do exactly that in these situations. When it actually happens, and you are OK, it’s less straightforward. The driver seemed like a nice guy, and was clearly shocked; I daresay he learned a lesson tonight. I doubt that a call from the cops will make any difference to how he feels or behaves in the future, and I also doubt the cops will be very interested in following it up anyway, from past form. But then again, it was blind luck that I wasn’t seriously injured or worse, and the driver was clearly negligent. And in any case, reporting it means it will be recorded in the stats, if nothing else.

For now, I’ve poured myself a glass of shiraz, talked it through with Mrs Dan and got a bit teary. Two little girls nearly lost their daddy tonight. But then I feel melodramatic and self-indulgent; I’m absolutely fine, all is well, and compared to others it was really a minor incident. Such is how these things affect you.

Tomorrow is a new day. If you need me, I’ll be riding my bike.

Helmet unpleasantness and cycling marvellousness

July 14, 2014 at 22:29 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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I got called a d*ckhead by a fellow cyclist tonight. It’s only the second time this has ever happened (the first time was some years ago, so it’s hardly a common occurrence), and as always with these things I start reflecting on how it came about, and whether I should care.

The incident that triggered it tonight came about as I rode through North Sydney. I was lumbering uphill on the Radish, heading to a rehearsal with my viola and various other musical accoutrements onboard. I heard the gentle swish of a cyclist coming up behind me, and I turned, ready to exchange a cheerful ‘hello’.

It was a woman bowling along on a smart road bike, looking quite marvellous. Before I could say anything at all, she shouted out, ‘Where’s your helmet?’, and sped past.

Oh dear. How tiresome. Still, it happened that I was picking up speed anyway as we’d reached a downhill section, and I caught up with her. OK, to be honest I probably sped up a bit in order to do so.

As I pulled alongside, I said hello, and I attempted to explain a little about my reasons for riding bareheaded, but she didn’t seem interested in chatting. Mind you, the pace we were going wasn’t really conducive to conversation, especially when riding a 35kg cargo bike so I was probably gasping and wheezing a bit.

She pulled away again after telling me I was ‘giving us all a bad name’. This is a line of logic I am particularly interested in, and as it happened I pulled up next to her at the next set of lights. However, my next attempt at conversation was met with something that ended ‘…d*ckheads like you’, although I missed the beginning as she was pulling away down the hill, and I in any case was turning off.

So now I’m torn. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, and a cyclist too. Hurrah. But did I do something very wrong, I wonder?

I guess one interpretation is that she called out a comment that self-evidently did not need a reply, and then I pursued her through North Sydney, my attempts at friendly conversation coming out in a series of gasps that was perhaps unpleasant and even threatening. If you’re reading this, and that’s how you felt, then I’m sorry, cycling woman.

An alternative is that she felt it was quite OK to shout abuse at a someone else on the road, confident that she was going to be so much faster than me that there would be no further interactions – which as it turned out was not the case.

Or perhaps normally she would have been happy to have a conversation, but the darkness, lonely streets and my out-of-breath demeanour spooked her. I don’t know.

All kind of sad, really, on lots of levels. Sad that we have these divisive laws that create stupid arguments. Sad that we make value judgements about each other. Sad that there was a moment of unpleasantness that could have been avoided by either party so easily. But, there is a flipslide. We were both riding bicycles. And that is quite marvellous.

Brave New World / 1984

July 12, 2014 at 20:42 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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1984 bravenewworldTwo iconic books written in the first half of the twentieth century, exploring dystopian visions of the future. They are often bracketed together. although the different historical context is interesting; Brave new World was written before the Second World War, at a time when matters of eugenics, conditioning and genetic improvement were of some general interest. Following the horror of Nazism, such ideas lost both their respectability and credibility, and published in 1949 1984 reflects a world much more concerned with the menace of totalitarianism and state-sponsored violence.

I have been meaning to read both of these books for some time, so when the opportunity of a long plane journey presented itself I downloaded them both to while away the hours on the flight. I say ‘quite some time'; I first became aware of 1984 in 1984, when I was about ten years old. At that time my schoolteacher was Mr Boyd, and one of the other children in the class came in with a poster they had drawn of our teacher with the caption ‘Big Boyd is Watching You’. We were all terribly impressed, although I have to say I didn’t really understand what it was all about. Clearly my classmates were more literary than me. Still, over thirty years on I can finally appreciate the joke…

A huge amount has been written about these books; they have been analysed and dissected endlessly. So rather than waffle on about the plots or the literary allusions, I’ll just focus on a couple of points that struck me.

The first was how readable they were, and how undated. This was a surprise; they are both essentially science fiction, and reading old science fiction is sometimes a horribly clunky affair where the author’s  technological naivety (by modern standards) gets in the way of the enjoyment. That was not the case for either of these books; the worlds depicted remain fantastical and wholly believable.

The second was the language. Both books are rich with invented language which is a delight to read and also adds a terrific amount of colour and verisimilitude. I could ramble on here about how this is kind of self-referential, as in 1984 especially the idea of controlling language to control thought is central to the book, but I’ll resist as I’m sure others have already done it better than I could.

Of the two, I think I enjoyed 1984 slightly more; mostly because I felt the end of Brave New World was a little weak. Aldous Huxley evidently agreed, as in his introduction (written some time after the book was first punished) he laments the ending and suggests at alternative. Actually I think this alternative would be even worse, and I think the much more bleak outlook in 1984 is stronger.

So the ultimate question is, of course, who was right? Are we heading for Huxley’s or Orwell’s dystopia? Check it out here, and if you get distracted by the (often NSFW) links on the right hand side, well, consider it game over…

 

Singapore and handlebars

June 14, 2014 at 14:25 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Two mini-posts for the price of one today – I’m feeling exceptionally generous. Or perhaps just too lazy to write up two full-length articles.

The first vignette concerns a recent business trip I had to make to Singapore. Now, I have to say I’m not very keen on Singapore. It’s just so pedestrian unfriendly – a city riven with huge multi-lane roads, and a paucity of pedestrian crossings. Whilst I was there I watched some tourists literally stranded at an intersection because there was no pedestrian crossing on their corner – this huge multi-lane crossroads only had pedestrian crossings on two sides. I was at the same corner, and ran across as the lights changed – but they struggled to manage the same trick; getting partway across before losing their nerve as four lanes of traffic started bearing down on them and scuttling back to where they started from. I’ve no idea how long they were stuck there.

cyclists in singaporeSo how to bicycles fare in this maelstrom?  Well, there are some people riding, but not that many. I did see a few brave souls on the road, but for the most part they are riding on the pavement. Interestingly I’ve seem reports of Singapore as actually not a bad place to ride – drivers are accommodating and polite. However, the nature of the roads, and a road design policy that is utterly motor-vehicle centric can’t make it that much fun. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to commandeer a bike and try for myself – maybe I’ll do that next time.

 

The other vignette is a question. What is the difference between these two pictures?

My fixed-gear commutersalsa2

Yes, OK, the front forks, wheel and stem are different. As is the drive-train. Anything else? Well, what you probably can’t easily see in the pictures is that the slope on the handlebars is ever-so slightly different. When I got the new forks put on, evidently the bike store didn’t set the handlebars up exactly the same – they were slightly less upturned. Not much – maybe a centimetre or two. Yet that small difference was enough to mean that the pressure on my hand when riding on the hoods (which is what I do 95% of the time) was more in the arch of my thumb then the heel of my hand – and that braking was also putting more pressure on my wrists. I couldn’t work out my my wrist was suddenly aching after riding – to the point that the tendons at the base of my thumb were sore even when not on the bike. Was it just old age catching up with me? But then I realised; adjusted the bars slightly and – hey presto – things are much improved. Who’d have thought that such a tiny change could make such a difference.

Chocolicious Bites – Original

June 7, 2014 at 11:23 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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chocolicious_original_packIn a quite extraordinary turn of events, I just found this review languishing in my drafts folder. I say ‘review’, but really it was just this pack picture and a few notes. Unfortunately, it was so long ago that I last had an ‘original’ chocolicious bite i can barely remember it. I have, on the other hand, chomped through many packets of the dark chocolate variety, which should tell you something.

Of course, calling a new product ‘original’ is a bit of an oxymoron. What Arnott’s are trying to do is to leverage the ‘original’ Tim Tam product, so one would expect something with a similar construction and taste.

According to my notes and distant memories, this is exactly what they have achieved. these taste pretty much like regular Tim Tams, just bite-sized and in a fancy pack. So they are really quite OK, but lack all the sophistication of their dark chocolate brethren. Given they are more expensive than regular Tim Tams though, I’d suggest that if you are after an Original Tim Tim hit, just go and buy some Original Tim Tams.

So in summary, these are quite OK, but nothing interesting or special. A solid seven out of ten.

 

A Map of Nowhere – Martin Bannister

June 1, 2014 at 09:32 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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nowhere‘A Map of Nowhere’ is Martin Bannister’s debut novel, and concerns the unfolding web of relationships between the protagonist, artist David Price; Pete, the mentally ill man he acts as support worker for; David’s rather unsympathetic girlfriend and her terminally ill sister.

The relationship between David and Pete is the main focus, and by far the most interesting part of the story – indeed the other characters and episodes sometimes feel a bit like filler, contributing little to the intriguing unfolding of the primary characters. The book pivots on a fact revealed about half-way through, which although subtly signposted beforehand did provide a very satisfactory literary moment; enough to make me put the book down for a second or two to absorb the implications before continuing.

The writing is well paced and the dialogue flows very naturally, although in places the novel did feel a bit thin and lifeless. The ending also felt a bit forced; I think it would be a more powerful conclusion if the last five pages or so were omitted. That said, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it – it is an interesting study of relationships, mental health issues, families and how our futures are shaped by our pasts.

Tim Tam Choc Brownie

May 25, 2014 at 16:28 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim tam choc brownie packI do like a good chocolate brownie. Squidgy, rich and decadent. I am lucky in that Mrs Chillikebab makes what are undoubtedly the Best Chocolate Brownies in the World. A big claim, yes, but a justified one, I think – and I’ve yet to meet anyone who, having tried them, disagrees. The key is, of course, to use the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on, and to undercook them. Or rather, not to undercook them, but cook them just perfectly – which means taking them out of the oven far earlier than your instincts (and often the recipe) tells you, so they finish cooking and firming up in the pan before you turn them out in all their squidgy glory.

I’ve never had an Adriano Zumbo brownie, but I presume he can make a half-decent one, given people seem to queue around the block just to get into his store. And it is this that forms the basis of the final Zumbo Tim Tams – the others being Raspberry White Choc and Salted Caramel.

Those of you who read the Raspberry White Choc review may be getting nervous at this point, as the dreaded ‘choc’ rears it head again. Normally this means nasty chocolate substitute in place of the real thing. You’ll be pleased to know that in this case the name is misleading – there is real chocolate aplenty in these Tim Tams. Why they didn’t call them ‘Chocolate Brownie’ I don’t know. Maybe the shorter name is how Adriano Zumbo refers to them in his store, in some kind of post-modern ironic manner.

tim tam choc brownie biscuitThey present pretty much like a regular Tim Tam. However, they are somewhat different on the palate; the chocolate cream is much darker and richer, and generally has a more chocolaty taste. They amazingly actually do capture something of the essence of a chocolate brownie; perhaps it’s a hint of vanilla, or the buttery richness. They are pretty good – I’d say the best of the Zumbo trio.

I’m going to give these an eight of of ten. I like them.

Danger danger- catastrophe averted

May 21, 2014 at 20:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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There is a golden rule in cycling. If you hear something on your bike creaking, stop riding and check it out. Creaking is bad news. Very bad news.

So what happened to me on the way to work this morning? Yes, the bike started creaking. Well, not creaking exactly, but sort of pinging. Certainly not a normal sound. I did stop and have a look, but couldn’t see anything. However. I did drop the bike into the bike shop near work when I arrived.

The guy there had a look over it, and at first glance couldn’t see anything. I’d mentioned the sound seemed to be coming from the drivetrain or back wheel, but there wasn’t anything he could see. He was about to hand it back, but just looked quickly over the whole bike just in case. And noticed this:

cracked salsa forks

Yes, that is a massive crack in the front forks, just below the Salsa logo. (Here’s a close-up.) You might also see a matching one on the other side. The whole fork is literally in danger of folding up at any moment – and it’s going to fold up forward, not backward. Indeed, it’s not clear in this picture but you can actually see the bend in the forks.

I had this bike serviced a few weeks ago, a specifically asked the tech to check over the forks, as I am mindful of this incident from two years ago. Two weeks ago, they got a clean bill of health, so these cracks have developed very fast. Quite extraordinary; the guy in the bike shop was gobsmacked.

So the question is what to do now? Given that this is the second set of Salsa forks that has failed on me, and that my old bike shop (who were a Salsa dealer) said they had seen several other failed Salsa forks of this type, I’m not much inclined to put in yet another one, even if it would be covered under warranty.

For now, the bike shop is putting a fairly cheap new fork on, just to make it safe and so I can ride it. Perhaps I’ll just stick with that, it if rides OK. I will tell Salsa about it, though. For a fork to fail like that after less than two years is very bad form.

(And for the record, I haven’t had any kind of stack on the bike and I don’t jump curbs. For sure, I bump over an occasional pot hole or badly-set lip on a pram ramp, but that’s just Sydney roads for you…)

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