More bikeshare – Ofo vs Mobike vs Earthbike

January 1, 2018 at 14:58 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Hot on the heels of ReddyGo and Obike (click here for my in-depth review of those two schemes) three more bikeshare companies have arrived in Sydney. And, of course, your intrepid correspondent has tried out all of them for your enjoyment and education.

First up, Earthbike. These black and orange bikes have been appearing a lot around Olympic Park, although I have’t seen many of them elsewhere. So I downloaded the app and tried one out. Or rather, I tried to. You see, the app is completely non-functional. It’s horribly translated from Chinese (with occasional Chinese prompts and messages flashing up, and a weird thing where it refers to bikes as ‘cars’) and riddled with bugs (e.g. you end up having to use your phone number as your password, because of the way the sign-up form is designed). The map does not show any bikes on it, despite the fact I was standing next to three of them.

And ultimately doesn’t allow you to actually unlock a bike, as when you activate the camera to scan the code it gives an error – and there’s no way to type in the bike number either, as the scan screen closes after the error. It’s completely hopeless. And I’m not the only one with problems; it has universally one-star reviews on Google Play, with everyone complaining that it just doesn’t work at all. I did see someone riding one of these bikes the other day, so evidently it is possible – perhaps the iOS app is somewhat more functional. But I’m sorry, dear readers, I was unable to even try this scheme out – which puts it firmly at the bottom of the list in terms of quality. How on earthbike these people are going to make any money I can’t imagine.

In better news, both Ofo and Mobike are much more polished, and work pretty much as you’d expect. Ofo was the easier to sign up to – much like ReddyGo you can initially scan and use a bike without needing to enter payment details and so on, which is great when you start. Mobike you need to immediately enter a credit card, which is a little bit painful (no PayPal?), but isn’t a showstopper. Overall the two apps are OK, but both had problems in showing me my rides – Ofo gave me a ‘data parsing error’ (which later cleared up), whilst none of my rides actually appeared on the Mobike app – possibly a side-effect of the free rides promotion they are running in December, but a bit of a shame as it’s nice to see where you went afterwards. Overall, I’d still give ReddyGo the title for the best app, but Ofo is pretty close.

One thing the Ofo app has which the others don’t seem to is the concept of ‘operational zones’. There’s actually nothing in the app that explains this, but on their website they explain that you should only leave the bike inside the ‘operational zone’ to avoid having points deducted. This could really do with a clearer explanation, I think. I didn’t try riding outside of the zone, so I don’t know if the app warns you or not – I’ll have to try this another time. The operational zone is pretty tight to the centre of Sydney, so it would be easy to go outside of it.

But what about the bikes? Well, the most striking of the two is Mobike. These bikes just look cool, with their monofork wheels and crankshaft drive system. The Mobike drivetrain sort of hums as you ride, which is somewhere between cool and annoying. There are no gears, so you just get one low-ish gear to manage with.

Ofo is a much more conventional design, with a three-speed nexus hub, normal mudguards and a chain drive. The Ofo has roller brakes, but they work fine (so much better than the woeful oBike ones). I have to say though, the Mobike brakes are awesome. It has a disc brake on the back, and some sort of fancy roller brake on the front, and they work really well – smooth, powerful and without grabbing or locking-up.

Both companies seem to have heeded my complaints about how hard it it to adjust the seats on the ReddyGo and oBike, as they have a spring-loaded seatpost that pops up to its highest point when you release the cam, and can be easily pushed down and adjusted. Both worked really well; the cam was easy to turn and held the seat firmly.

Yes yes yes, but what are they like to ride?

Well, the Mobile is horrible. I really really wanted to like it, as the design is so cool, but it’s just a terrible bike. For one thing it’s tiny – feeling even smaller than the oBike. And the most weird thing is the length of the cranks. They are really, really short. I didn’t have a tape measure on me, but they are only one mobile phone long – or about two-thirds of the length of the ones on my regular bike. This means it feels like riding a kids toy – your feet seem to twiddle round, and you can’t get any leverage. Even with the low-ish gearing, this makes riding the Mobile extremely tiring. Just riding along on the flat is hard work.  Such a shame, as the design is really eye-catching – I got some admiring(?) looks as I rode along on it.

The Ofo, by comparison, is terrific. The seat gets a bit higher, and it just feels like a normal bike. The airless tyres are less harsh than on the ReddyGo, and it’s also surprisingly lightweight, which makes it easy to pedal. The gears allow you to both tackle the hills and speed along on the flat. It’s the most comfortable bikeshare bike by some margin – and so dethrones the ReddyGo as the best one to ride.

So which one should you sign up for? Well, Ofo has the best bikes, but check the operational zone thing carefully. I live outside the zone, for example, so it’s no good for me to jump on one to ride home from the pub. ReddyGo has reasonable bikes and the best app, so is also definitely a contender. oBike seems to have the most bikes out there – they are the ones you see everywhere, so if you’re looking for convenience, then it’s a good choice although the bikes are hard work. And if you’re a hipster who cares more about how you look than how easy it is to ride, go for Mobike with their trendy design.

Or, like me, sign up for all of them. That way, you can get the best one for the occasion and enjoy maximum flexibility. Now I just need someone to create an aggregation app, which shows the location of all the different types on one map…

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Arnott’s Cheeseboard cracker assortment

December 29, 2017 at 17:08 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Christmas. Cheese. Those two words are intimately associated in my mind. When I was growing up, Christmas was that time of year when the fridge was piled high with more then just the usual economy Cheddar or Cheshire – delights such as mellow Stilton, rich Camembert, tangy Danish Blue. Later other more exotic offerings were also included – Shropshire Blue, Stinking Bishop, soft goats cheese. Mmmmmm. And, being Christmas, you were allowed to eat it – normal rationing was suspended for the festive period.

This is a tradition that Mrs Chillikebab happily has adopted, so as I speak the fridge is groaning with a cornucopia of cheesy delights. And to go with such a feast, you need crackers.

Arnott’s to the rescue – or more specifically, the Arnott’s Cheeseboard Assortment to the rescue. So how does this selection work out? Is it a worthy partner to my festive cheeseboard?

The selection features six different crackers – Sesame Wheat Cracker, Water Cracker, Harvest Wheat Cracker, Sesame Water Cracker, Stoneground Cracker and Entertaining Cracker.

Keen followers of either this blog, or Arnott’s biscuits (or perhaps both) will immediately realise that most of these crackers are not ones you can actually buy on their own. It’s a bit odd. ‘Entertaining Cracker’, but not Savoy or Jatz? ‘Harvest Wheat’, but not ‘Country Cheese‘? ‘Stoneground’, but not ‘Multigrain‘? Indeed, the only bone fide variety from the main range is the water cracker – probably the most boring one of the lot.

When Arnott’s make sweet biscuit selections, they include ‘all your favourites‘. But here, it seems they have taken a different approach. Rather  that giving a selection from their rather wonderful range of crackers and savoury biscuits, they seem to have baked some lower-quality alternatives and served them up all together the hope we won’t notice.

Boo, hiss, Arnott’s. These are not up to your normal standards. They are dry, flavourless, lacking in texture and boring. I’m going to give them a three out of ten. This is not worthy of accompanying my cheeseboard.

Oh, and ‘Entertaining Cracker’ is a terrible name. And it isn’t.

Seasonal grocery shopping

December 23, 2017 at 13:06 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Ahhh. Seasonal shopping. It seems that no-one really enjoys it much. One thing that strikes me, though, is how much of the stress seems be be centered around parking. Any discussion of it inevitably seems to lead to a moan about parking. So much so it even spills onto the national news. Of course, the option of not taking the car shopping seems to not occur to most people.

Last weekend, I did my present shopping. A quick ride out to my nearest mall, easy parking right outside the door. Shopped, loaded up and out in under an hour.

Today I needed to get the Xmas groceries. So it was off to the shops again. Straight past the queue of cars waiting to get in and a free park right outside the entrance where the food bit is. Here’s my shopping list:

That was a pretty packed trolley…! I did have a minor panic about getting it all on the bike, but in the end it was all fine, with the zip-up cold bag tied on top.

Easy peasy.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Strava again

December 16, 2017 at 19:25 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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So with my new commute, I fired up Strava again, as I was curious about my new rote to work. After about ten minutes trying to remember my password, I managed to log in, and used it to record my journey to work for the first week or two.

So I now know my journey is fourteen kilometres, and quite flat. I have to say, Strava can get a bit addictive. For a while there, I was scrolling after each ride, revelling in the awards and personal bests. I even got a teeny bit competitive about one stretch, pushing harder and harder to try to get on the leaderboard. Which I managed to do – apparently I’m the 8th fastest to ride that stretch. I can only think it’s not a very popular bit of path, because mostly I languish around the ‘489 of 859’ mark…

However, after a while I realised it gets harder and harder. As you do more and more rides, the chances of getting a personal best get less and less. That little ‘Achievements’ icon becomes harder and harder to activate. And most segments are so ridiculously short that it has more to do with traffic lights and wind direction than it does to do with fitness. So, as the number of little award icons started getting less and less, I pretty much stopper using it again.

Oh well. In a few years perhaps I’ll have a new job, and can do it all over again.

 

PS – thanks to those people who gave me kudos. I’m not sure why, or who you are, or even what it is, but I felt a warm glow seeing it…

Tin trail

December 10, 2017 at 13:26 | Posted in bicycles, biscuits | 1 Comment
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My new journey to work is full of excitement. Some of it of the unpleasant kind – there’s more to come on this topic shortly. But, as always, travelling by bike offers all kinds of opportunities to experience things that you would just pass by in a motor car.

The other day, as I rode to work, I noticed a tin in the road. A biscuit tin, to be precise – of the kind that perhaps your grandmother had. You know, and old-fashioned metal tin, printed with pictures of biscuits and heritage. Nothing unusual, perhaps – just the usual rubbish and detritus that accumulates by the sides of our roadways.

And then, a bit further along, I saw another one. And another. And another. I must have seen twenty or thirty of them over a stretch of about five kilometres. They were quite evenly spaced, and was it my imagination, or where they strategically placed around junctions, to show a route? Yes, surely that was it! This was a biscuit tin trail, and I was following it.

Or at least, I was until it petered out. Oh well, perhaps not so exciting as I thought. Clearly I’ve been reading too many Secret Seven books to the kids. More likely just a recycling truck with a badly secured load.

Or was it? Perhaps I will read in the paper about some dastardly thieves and their biscuit tin plot…

Journey to Warudhar – Philip Arnold

December 2, 2017 at 10:51 | Posted in books | Leave a comment

Journey to Warudah is the debut novel from Philip Arnold. Set in post World War One Australia, it is a sort of coming of age story, following Jessica as she is alienated from her family by her mother’s religious conversion and finds love with a returned soldier, Harry Watkins. He then takes her to his remote farmstead in the bush, where the two of them create a new life together. They struggle to leave behind the ties and conflicts from the city, however, and these eventually catch up with them in a climactic ending.

The book is easy to read, and captures the colour and tensions of Australian life at that tumultuous time. The characters are well drawn, and the pace of the book is unusual – it seems to gradually gather pace as it progresses; the ending fairly tumbles off the pages as so many of the threads from earlier in the book are brought together in a crescendo finale that is hard to put down.

It’s a book worth picking up – there is a satisfying depth and complexity to the story, even if occasionally the characters seem a little emotionally two-dimensional.

And perhaps I should make a small disclosure – Phil Arnold is a friend of mine. Indeed, you can find a picture of him elsewhere on this blog (I’ll leave the detective work up to you, dear readers, to find it!). So you’ll have to decide how objective this review really is….

New Commute

November 25, 2017 at 12:53 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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So I got a new job. Instead of riding to the wonders of Chatswood every day, I now get to ride to the delights of Silverwater (oh yes, I work in the most glamorous places). Distance-wise it’s pretty much the same as before, but it’s a rather different ride, divided into three quite distinct sections.

The first section is nasty. It’s a narrow, single-lane road which features cycle lanes on either side. The council, however, for some unknown reason allow parking in the cycle lanes. So they are not cycle lanes at all; rather they are a parking area that rapidly fills up. This means you have that dilemma of riding in the door zone and having vehicles squeeze by, or taking the lane and having them harass you from behind. The bicycle symbols painted in the parking area don’t help either, as as soon as there is a tiny gap (eg a couple of cars long), drivers expect you to magically be riding in it – notwithstanding the fact that there’s no way they could overtake me before I reached the end of the gap.

It’s a place where I have already experienced a number of very close passes. At some point, I guess I’ll take them to the cops. Not that they care. I think I’m going to have to find an alternative for this stretch, although there’s no obvious route I can see that’s going to be any better.

The second section is much improved. The road widens out, there’s a good shoulder for much of it, dual lanes for the rest and the traffic is lighter and better behaved. This is OK. Of course, I’d like an off-road solution really, but for a confident cyclists it’s quite manageable. That said, there’s no way a newbie cyclist would ride on it – which I suppose underlines just how bad cycling infrastructure in Sydney is.

The final section is through Olympic Park, and then on through Bicentennial Park. This is lovely. Good cycle lanes to begin, and then a beautiful stretch of off-road path that meanders along Duck River, through the trees and a nature reserve. You can listen to the birds singing, the rustling of animals in the undergrowth and the glint of the sun reflecting off the water as you glide along. Just think if the whole ride was like this. Everyone would be doing it!

The very last bit of path leading out of the nature reserve goes up a bit of a hill. It’s hardly a mountain – about 500m with a 3% incline – but it offers a final sprint up to the road what leads to my new office. I logged back into Strava for the first in in many many years in order to see exactly how long my new commute was, and was encouraged to see that I have the second-fastest time up that hill so far this year. Perhaps I’m not yet completely over-the-hill (pun intended). Or perhaps most people enjoy leisurely rides through the trees, and my gasping, sweaty efforts are just not the done thing in Bicentennial Park…

(The pic at the top is the nice bit of the ride. Below are the OK bit and nasty bit…)

Going for a ride

November 18, 2017 at 09:08 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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I went for a ride. That might not seem an especially remarkable thing, especially for someone who writes a some-time bicycle blog. But in fact, it is an extremely rare event. Since the junior Chillikebabs came along, I almost never just ‘go for a ride’. I mean, I ride my bicycle a lot. I go to work, to the shops, take the kids places. There’s rarely a day when I don’t ride somewhere. But the whole business of just going for a ride for fun just rarely seems to happen.

That’s not a ‘woe is me’ comment; some kind of misogynist male-entitled rant about how wives and kids ruin your life. Far from it – if I wanted to go for more rides, there’s nothing (much) stopping me. Rather it’s just that there’s lots of other things I’d rather do. Like staying in bed, for example. And playing with the kids. After all, I didn’t become a father just to abandon them every Sunday morning so I could ride my bike. So I suppose what having a family taught me was that I wasn’t really that fussed about going for a bike ride. My transformation from leisure rider to utility rider is pretty much complete.

Anyway, I did go for a ride the other day. I pootled out to Bondi Beach, nurdled around Centennial Park and generally rode around aimlessly.

It just so happened that the day I chose for my ride was the day of the Sydney Spring Cycle, so I kept getting caught up in road closures, police patrols and hundreds of people riding along. Which was sort of fantastic, and also sort of frustrating. I kept trying to get away, and everywhere I rode, there is was again!

Oh, and I found a piano on Oxford Street. So I stopped and played it for a bit. Try doing that when you’re driving a car.

Bicycles as art

October 25, 2017 at 16:23 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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Mrs Chillikebab and I recently went on a cultural outing to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Much fun to be had peering at the various avant-garde artworks – the usual combination of quite a lot of ‘meh’, a bit of ‘ooh’, occasional ‘aah’, and even the odd ‘WTF?’.

Amidst the piles of broken concrete fragments, lines drawn on walls, bags of coloured water and out-of-focus video installations was a bicycle. Not a normal bicycle, to be fair – it was an exhibit. A bicycle as an aesthetic object, indeed. It was in fact three bicycles sort of squished together, with bulbous triple tubing, three chains and wonderful triple-spoked wheels.

As I looked at it, I of course was contemplating this re-imagining of an everyday object; considering the kinetic aspects of the sculpture and the melding of ideal forms to create a sympathetic yet confrontational commentary on our lives and choices.

But alongside all that, the primary thought in my head was ‘can you actually ride it?‘. I was of course tempted, but I’m not sure the gallery staff would be that pleased if I had jumped on it and gone for a spin around the gallery…

Anyway, kudos to artist James Angus for recognising that a bicycle is a work of art. And kudos to us bicycle riders for the kinetic sculpture we create every time we ride our bikes.

 

Shapes – Thai Chilli and Garlic Sauce

October 17, 2017 at 10:31 | Posted in biscuits | 2 Comments
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I’ve sort of lost track of what is going on with Arnott’s Shapes. New improved flavours, original flavours, special edition flavours, extreme flavours… I honestly have no idea what the current range actually is. Anyway, into this melee comes another new flavour – Thai Chilli and Garlic Sauce. I have to say, when I was travelling in Thailand, I didn’t see a lot of garlic, nor a lot of that gloopy sweet Thai chilli sauce that we get over here. It was more zingy limes, fragrant lemongrass and pungent fish sauce. Still, the box has a picture of a Thai floating market on it, so I guess it’s supposed to be authentic.

The first thing that strikes you about these biscuits is the colour. They are bright orange. Quite virulent looking, actually. They don’t really look a lot like biscuits, to be honest. We seem to be edging perilously close to the ‘chip’ genre here – they are thin, puffy and double-sided, like some sort of kids snack.

One thing they do have is spades is garlic. Wow. If you are unlucky enough to ever be confronted by a horde of thirsty vampires, I recommend breaking out some of these immediately. The garlic is strong to the point of overpowering. Best avoided if you are planning a romantic encounter (or even a business meeting) within an hour of consuming these, I’d say. The chilli part is also there, but more kind of that sweet chilli you get on chips, rather than a proper chilli zing. The texture is light and open, and it’s perfectly possible to eat these three or four at a time. Which to me is a firm indication that we’ve left ‘biscuit’ some way behind. In fact, I’m calling it. These are not biscuits. They are savoury snacks of the chip genre.

They are not terrible. But they’re not that good either. I’m going to give them a five out of ten, then take away one point for being anti-social, and another for not being biscuits.

 

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