Going for a ride

November 18, 2017 at 09:08 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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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.

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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 | 1 Comment
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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.

 

Shiny helmet and smooth legs

October 11, 2017 at 15:44 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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As regular readers would know, I don’t wear a bicycle helmet. I’m not going to go into the reasons again here – if you want to know more, there’s a score of articles on this blog that explain why.

However, I did recently don one for the first time in years. But not to ride a bike – but to go to a fancy dress party. A good friend was celebrating a significant birthday, and the theme was ‘French’. Mrs Chillikebab obtained me a beret, but at the least minute I had a better idea. What could be more French than dressing up as a competitor in the worlds most famous bicycle race?

Accordingly I dusted off my finest lycra (which is not especially sportive, but it would have to do), made myself a race number with appropriate logo and found Baby Chillikebab’s old balance bike from the back of the shed to use as a prop.

As I was getting ready, two things struck me. One, I needed to wear my helmet, to complete the ensemble. And secondly my legs were too hairy to be authentic.

So I went hunting for my helmet. I finally found it, dusty and forgotten. The pads had disintegrated, but I found some replacements knocking about, and fitted them after giving the thing a wash and a polish. I put it on. These things are really not that comfortable, are they? I suppose you get used to it – I used to wear it every day, after all.

Then I took a shower, and attacked my legs with a razor. This took a lot longer than expected. And I clogged the bath drain. You probably don’t need to know more than that.

One thing though – whilst the helmet felt uncomfortable, shaving your legs feels great. So smooth and sensuous! There is a lot of theories about why cyclists shave their legs – it makes them more aerodynamic, it makes injuries easier to treat, it’s better for post-race massage etc etc. But now I know the real reason. It feels lovely.

If you feel like trying it yourself, be aware. The next day my legs were blotchy, itchy and rough, and stayed that way for over a week. Perhaps it’s a bit like wearing a helmet. You get used to it after a while…

Dockless bike share – oBike vs ReddyGo

October 3, 2017 at 13:52 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Dockless bike share has come to Sydney, with two rival companies setting up within a few weeks of each other. Red and yellow bikes are becoming a common sight scattered around Sydney; indeed already a controversial sight as tempers flare about ‘blocked footpaths’. The authority that maintains the foreshore areas of Sydney have already started removing share bikes left in their precincts – which include a number of major tourist areas such as Darling Harbour.

Bike share schemes have been around for quite a long time, of course. Traditional schemes use docking stations to park the bikes; there are schemes such as this in Brisbane and Melbourne (I tried out the Melbourne one some time ago). They have been extremely popular almost everywhere in the world – with the exception of the schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane, which have been dismal failures. Why? Helmets, of course. If it’s illegal to ride a bike without a helmet, it kind of makes bike share schemes a bit of a non-starter. Including helmets with the bikes has been tried, but generally people don’t want to put a skanky, pre-used helmet on their heads, and in any case they tend to go missing.

So it remains to be seen how these new schemes will fair in Australia – and especially Sydney, with it’s eye-watering fines for helmet non-compliance. The bikes in the scheme do have helmets – but I saw a number of helmet-less ones around, so clearly they are already getting lost or stolen. Both schemes ask you to clip the helmet around the bike lock when you fish your ride, to secure it – but many bikes I saw had the helmets in the basket or hanging over the handlebars. Clipping the lock shut through the helmet straps is a bit fiddly, so I can see why people don’t bother.

Dockless bike share works via an app on your phone – you download the app, register, and then use your phone to scan the barcode on the bike. This causes the bike to magically unlock, and you can ride away. At the end of your ride you lock the bike up, and it registers the end of the trip and you are charged accordingly. The lock is an integrated one that goes through the back wheel, so it prevents the bike being ridden, but not from being moved or carried away. I have registered with both schemes and gone for some test rides, so here’s my take on the two schemes.

1) The app

Both apps are pretty similar, in that they present a map that shows where the nearest bike is. However, registering for ReddyGo was significantly easier – I was riding the bike away within seconds of downloading the app. oBike requires you to go through a lengthy registration process, registering your credit card etc, which is much more clunky. And generally, the UI is better on ReddyGo, offering a nicer route map of where you went after a ride and so on. So that’s a win for ReddyGo.

2) Charges and user agreements

Both schemes charge $1.99 for each 30 minutes. ReddyGo offers initial free rides when you sign up, which oBike doesn’t. Both schemes require you to make a deposit, ostensibly to ‘ensure your responsibility’. This deposit is refundable, and whilst ReddyGo make is clear in their user agreement that they will keep it if you damage a bike, the oBike terms are much less clear, only stating that you are liable for any damage to the bike. There’s some strange things in the user agreements for both schemes, such as clauses forbidding use in adverse weather conditions and requirements to return bikes to ‘designated parking racks’.

The deposit for oBike is $69, whilst for ReddyGo it’s $99, although ReddyGo allows you to initially hire a bike without paying the deposit. I’d call it a draw on the cost.

3) Bike comfort

OK, so now we get to the bit you were waiting for. What are the bikes actually like?

The general style is the same for each – upright, rather heavy, small-ish bikes with a basket on the front.

Both bikes feature adjustable saddles, although the oBike saddle is really hard to adjust. I tried a few bikes, so it wasn’t just one – I had to tug at it and twist it like mad to get it to move. (By default all the bikes I tried seemed to have them set really low.) The ReddyGo was better in this regard too – easier to adjust and get to a more sensible height. That said, both bikes are on the small size. I’m not that tall (about 176cm), and they were both too small for me – especially the oBike, with it’s very low saddle.

Both bikes have another controversial feature – solid (airless) tyres. No doubt great for the company as there are no punctures, but it does make for a rattly, harsh and slightly uncomfortable ride. Anything you put in the front basket that’s not strapped down is likely to jump out with all the vibration as you go along. And it you hit a bump or pothole, boy do you feel it. After a long-ish (45 min) ride on the not-very-comfortable saddle I definitely felt a bit, erm, chafed. For whatever reason, the ReddyGo tyres feel much harder than the oBike ones, making the ReddyGo ride much harsher and more bumpy.

Mind you, at least the ReddyGo has tyres with a sensible profile. The oBike has what seem to be cyclocross types – smooth in the middle, but with really big rubber treads on the edge. This feels very odd when cornering, and makes the bike harder to ride than it should be. More sensible urban / hybrid tyres would be much better.

Overall, I think the ReddyGo pips the oBike for comfort. The oBike seat is just so low that it’s like riding a clown bike. So it’s a win for ReddyGo in the comfort stakes, but neither bike is really that comfortable.

4) Bike rideability

Comfort aside, what are they like to ride?  The oBike is the more basic of the two. It doesn’t have gears, and the components are much more basic. The ReddyGo has more upmarket components (Shimnano gears, Tektro brakes) which work much better. In fact, the brakes on the oBike are hopeless. I hope you never need to do an emergency stop on an oBike, because even yanking the levers with all of my strength I was unable to do much more than ‘slow down gradually’.

The gearing on the oBike is rather high – getting up a slope can be a struggle (see below). The ReddyGo is much better in this regard, with the gears giving a sensible, low-ish range for cruising and tackling the occasional hill.

Perhaps because of the cheap components, the oBikes also seem to suffer more mechanical issues. I twice experienced mechanical issues on the oBike (strange noises from the front wheel, and a wobbly crank), whereas the ReddyGo bikes were all fine. The ReddyGo bikes are also a bit lighter (aluminium vs steel?), and just ride more like a normal bike. The oBike feels like a toy in comparison.

So it’s a clear win for ReddyGo on rideability.

5) Availability

It seems that there are more oBikes around than ReddyGos. Of course, it’s somewhat anecdotal and patchy (the Chatswood area, for example, has plenty of ReddyGo bikes bu no oBikes), but around the CBD there are definitely a lot more yellow bikes than red ones.

Both schemes are adding more bikes to their systems, so things could of course change, but i wonder if oBike are more intent on flooding the streets – given the lower quality (and one supposes cost) of their bikes they perhaps can afford to lose a few more and / or manage with a lower usage rate per bike.

For now, I’d put this as a win for oBike. But it’s worth checking the region where you are likely to do most riding.

6) The Gladesville Bridge test

Every day on my way to work I rider over Gladesville Bridge. When I tell people my route to work, they always comment on this, as if it’s some sort of epic achievement to summit this arch. In reality, it’s not that big a hill, but given its sort of iconic status, I thought I’d ride both the oBike and the ReddyGo to the top.

After reading the above, you can probably guess the result. Riding up Gladesville Bride on the oBike is indeed epic. Hard hard work – out of the saddle, knees hurting with the uncomfortable posture and high gearing. If it wasn’t for pride and the knowledge I’d be writing about it later, I’d probably have got off and pushed. I’m a fit guy used to riding a fixed gear up crazy hills. For the average non-cyclist jumping on one of these, any slight incline is going to be a struggle.

Whilst the ReddyGo was hardly a breeze, it was no harder than riding the Radish when loaded up. The gears help tremendously, and whilst I think perhaps could be set a little lower will at least give some relief when tackling an incline.

ReddyGo wins again!

7) Overall result

I was kind of hoping it would be a closer contest, but in fact there is a really clear winner. ReddyGo has a better app and much better bikes, and is the same cost. If you are going to sign up for one scheme, make it this one.

 

It remains to be seen if these schemes will be a success in Sydney. To my mind the environment is against them – a government generally hostile to cycling, apathy on the part of the public and helmet laws could well end up making them nonviable. But I hope not. It would be great to see them become a part of everyday life in Sydney.

 

More airport riding

September 26, 2017 at 16:04 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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So I had to go to the airport again. But this time to the domestic terminal, rather than international. My assumption would be that it would be equally easy, and I set off with alacrity.

However, it isn’t as easy. Or at least, if it is I haven’t found the easy way to do it. It’s a bit further, but the only route I could find basically involved riding into the airport via the main vehicle route – you know, that multi-lane entrance with gantry signs for ‘car park’, ‘departures’, ‘car hire return’ etc. And then I had to get across several of those lanes, in quite heavy traffic. I ended up slogging my way up the ramp that leads to departures (sensing the annoyed drivers behind me, as I held them up for a few precious seconds as I ponderously pedalled my loaded cargo bike).

Once I got to the departure drop-off, I then had to find somewhere to leave my bike. This I did find eventually – a spot near the motorbike parking adjacent to the car park entrance. It wasn’t a proper bike park, but there was one other bicycle there, so I hoped it would be OK.

I also didn’t find any showers, although to be fair I didn’t look very hard, given it was a very chilly morning and I didn’t need one. Perhaps there are some somewhere.

The ride out of the airport was equally tricky – I had to again ride out via the vehicle exits, with all the lane merges and roundabouts. Luckily my flight was one of the last to arrive in the evening, so traffic was light – I don’t think it would be so pleasant at peak time.

Despite all that, it’s still preferable to driving. But I’ll need to do some research into the optimal bike route if I need to go to the domestic terminal again…

Running Board Scars…

September 19, 2017 at 12:21 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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The new look Radish is working out well. The girls love going on it, it’s easy to ride and the running boards are not just nice for little feet to rest on – they are also useful for supporting luggage and trombones.

However, there is one problem. it is extremely easy, when pulling away or manoeuvring the bike, to catch the back of your ankles on the front edge of the board. Given the board is plywood, that edge has quite some abrasive qualities. And thus I have scars forming on my legs due to the near-constant grating. I keep thinking that I’ll get used to it, and automatically start keeping my legs clear. But it doesn’t seem to be happening – the design of the boards just protrudes into a point where your legs sometimes need to be. It’s a bit irritating (and painful), to be honest.

The running boards have actually been superseded by a lower-profile aluminium bar (called U-Tubes), which in the description notes have a ‘clipped front corner to improve foot clearance’. Perhaps I should have got those instead. Oh well, I’ll just have to suffer for my transport choices. At least for now, until I can afford to upgrade…

 

The Mesmerist – Wendy Moore

September 10, 2017 at 12:09 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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A long while ago, I read Wendy Moore’s ‘The Knife Man’, and really enjoyed it. I didn’t review it on this blog, for some reason, but anyway, it’s a good book worth reading.

Remembering that book, I picked up Wendy Moore’s latest offering at the airport before a flight. It is a little similar – a medical history book. It tells the story of John Elliotson, a radical doctor working in London in the early Victorian era. Medicine was a pretty brutal business in the early 1800s, and Moore presents all the gore and terror very evocatively. Many medical procedures were basically useless, and there was little in the way of scientific examination or reflection about the causes and treatment of disease.

Elliotson was one of a new breed of doctors who was more scientifically minded. He was at the forefront of a number of medical breakthroughs, including the use of the stethoscope and using quinine to treat malaria. He also became very interested in ‘Mesmerism’ – better known today as hypnotism. Initially as a way of offering both pain relief in operations and also treatment for nervous conditions, although as his research progressed he become increasingly obsessed with the more fringe elements of mesmerism, such as clairvoyance.

As Elliotson become increasingly obsessive, carrying more and more outlandish demonstrations of mesmerism, the medical establishment become split about the value of mesmerism, and whether it was a genuine phenomenon or merely trickery and quackery. This triggered huge infighting and recriminations across hospitals and the newly emerging medical journals such as The Lancet.

At times the pace of this book flags – Moore sometimes spends too much time on descriptions of all the demonstrations of mesmerism, so the book reads in part more like a set of case descriptions. But mostly this is an easy  read (if not for the squeamish!), painting a vivid picture of the state of medicine at the time, and how new ideas were both embraced and rejected. This ability to make serious historical scholarship accessible and ‘novelistic’ is Wendy Moore’s great strength. A fascinating book.

Tim Tam Salted Caramel Vanilla

September 1, 2017 at 15:05 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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Sorry it’s taken me so long to get to these. I’m not quite sure why it took so long; I think I bought some to review, and then left them at work. They then got eaten before I could try them, and I forgot to get any more. Anyway, here they are – the ‘Messina’ flavour Salted Caramel and Vanilla.

This is not the first Salted Caramel Tim Tam. And certainly not the first salted caramel biscuit from Arnott’s. So how does this incarnation stack up?

Well, the biscuit part of them is a rather strange orange colour, with a darker orange creme inside. They smell sort of cloying – so not a great start.

Unfortunately, they don’t taste great either. Very sweet, with hardly any salt, and with a distinctive cardboard taste. You know that taste you get from old ice-cream – the kind that comes in a cardboard box – when it’s been in the freezer a bit too long, and you get the bit from the last edge? Well, they taste kind of like that. Which I suppose captures the ice-cream vibe in one way, but I can’t help feeling Arnott’s were going for something a bit more classy than that.

This whole Messina thing to me has not been a huge success. I might humbly suggest it’s time for a re-think, Arnott’s? I’m going to give these three out of ten.

 

 

An open letter to Bicycle Network’s CEO Craig Richards

August 31, 2017 at 23:15 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Dear Craig,

For perhaps ten years, I have been involved in low-level cycling advocacy, predominantly in NSW. I’ve written to MPs, responded to surveys, made submissions to plans and proposals and encouraged people to ride. I’ve supported various advocacy groups, and even dabbled in political activism.

However, for most of the past ten years I have not felt that Bicycle network (formerly Bicycle Victoria) was an effective bicycle advocacy organisation, and have hesitated to support them. To me, they always seemed to be more intent on furthering the interests of a narrow segment of cyclists – the keen road cyclists – to the exclusion of others. It felt more about preserving cycling as a special club for the initiated, rather than presenting it as a casual everyday activity for everyone.

You surely have to see my perspective here. I mean – campaigning for higher fines for cyclists, campaigning against close passing laws and pressing heavy handed legal slapdowns of fellow cycling advocates just aren’t a good look.

However, today my opinion has changed somewhat. You have announced that you are undertaking a review of your policy on mandatory helmets. You are encouraging input from a wide range of stakeholders; from different perspectives and different types of cyclists – and non-cyclists too.

Of course, from a personal perspective, I hope that your review will lead to a change of policy. But whatever the outcome, I commend you for undertaking this review – which I am sure will generate significant controversy and heat. I truly hope it is the start of a new chapter for BN – a more consultative and open-minded approach to cycling advocacy that is prepared to look at the big picture, and make policy decisions based on a wide evidence base.

Because if this really is the start of a new approach to advocacy from BN, then I might be encouraged to join. Whatever the outcome of your helmet review.

 

Yours sincerely,

Chillikebab

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