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…

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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…

 

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

Keeping us safe… (updated)

August 8, 2017 at 16:58 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
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I got pulled over the cops the other day. Rather excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever been pulled over with lights and sirens blaring!

The reason was that I was riding like cyclists do in 98% of the world – that is to say without a polystyrene hat. In Australia, of course, this deviant behaviour is considered a criminal offence. And not a minor one – the fine is $325. That’s the same as a car driver not giving way to pedestrians on a crossing flashing amber, and drinking alcohol whilst driving.

I spoke to the officers, and explained I have an exemption, and showed it to them. It remains to see if they accept it or if I get a ticket through the post. But what a waste of everyone’s time.

Still, it seems the NSW police are keen to ensure vulnerable road users are suitably penalised for daring to use a Sydney road network that is hostile towards them. A few days later, I was in the city and witnessed no less than five motorcycle cops booking pedestrians who dared to scuttle across a pedestrian crossing when it wasn’t green. Given that this is right outside Sydney Central Station and there are a lot of pedestrians needing to cross, that there is relatively few vehicles, and that the green time for pedestrians is woeful (about five seconds every three minutes), you can hardly blame a few people for crossing on the red man.

But no, the NSW police were there, handing out tickets ($72, if you were interested). Whilst I watched, I saw two cars drive through on very amber lights ($325, as explained above), and one on red ($433), but rather than jumping onto their powerful motorcycles to catch the miscreants putting people’s lives in danger, they just chatted amongst themselves.

Great to know our safety is so important to them.

Update:

In recent news, it was reported that the number of fines issued to cyclists rose massively last year  – $1.99m in fines, compared to $0.33m the previous year. The number of injuries also fell, by about 7% – but cycling participation fell about 25% (from 17% of people to 12.5% of people regularly riding bicycles). This means, of course, that cycling actually became more dangerous last year. All those fines and police activity have driven people off their bikes, and made it more dangerous for those that remain.

And, true to form, I was pulled over yet again this morning. This is on a ride where I saw perhaps 4 drivers using a mobile phone, and close to 10 drivers driving through an amber or red light. So a pretty typical ride. The road safety priorities in NSW (and Australia more generally) are truly f—-d.

police again

Bike share in Shanghai

July 26, 2017 at 14:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I had to visit Shanghai recently, and was amazed by the number of bike share bikes there were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The system there does not rely on the docking stations more common elsewhere, but rather the bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, meaning there are bikes scattered all over the place. You literally can’t walk more than a few metres without coming upon one. It’s quite amazing.

Each bike has a unique QR code on the rear, and to use the bike you scan this with an app. This then tells you the unlock code for the bike, and you can punch in the number and ride away. When you’ve finished with it, you simply click the lock, and leave the bike wherever you want. The first fifty minutes of use are free, and after that it’s I think a few Yuan per hour.

They are certainly well used, with people zipping about on the distinctive bikes everywhere. There are no bicycle lanes or facilities, and the traffic is heavy, but it all just mixes together and I didn’t see any aggression from drivers towards cyclists. Cyclists seem to be able to go on and off the footpaths, ride through red lights, down the street the wrong way and so on without anyone really batting an eyelid. I understand they are supported by the government in order to try and reduce the horrific air pollution in Shanghai.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try out the bikes for myself. Maybe next time…

Finishing touches

July 14, 2017 at 14:08 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Finally, the last few bits for the transformation of the Radish from a 2 x toddler to a 2 x small girl transporter arrived.

Now the rack passenger has a comfy cushion for their bottom, and foot rests for their feet. I had to buy them from the US, and while the prices were OK, the shipping was (as you might imagine) a bit steep. I wish there was an Xtracycle distributor here in Australia. Surely there’s a market for one? Anyway, thanks to Matt at BikeShopHub in Flagstaff, Arizona, for patiently answering my emails and sorting everything for me.

Separately to getting all the rack bits, I also have had the drive train replaced, as the rear derailleur had sort of lost all its springiness – I guess the weight of that long chain takes its toll over seven years, and it was drooping badly and not changing at all well. It’s now all new and snappy, and feels very nice. Oddly the bike shop didn’t change the chainwheel, despite it being worn into sharks teeth. This meant the chain still rattled somewhat, and didn’t feel smooth. I have no idea why they didn’t change this (as they changed everything else), but it did mean I could buy one online and do it myself. It’s not often I get to use my crank-puller. I have most of the tools for bike maintenance, but for the most part am too lazy to do things myself.  Still, this little job was easy enough, and now the drivechain is silky-smooth and silent. I’m sure it makes for a very relaxing ride for the passengers!

Ride and Fly – take 2

June 28, 2017 at 14:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Well, I had to travel again, on an aeroplane. So, of course, I rode to the airport. Honestly, I have no idea why I didn’t start doing this years and year ago. It’s faster, cheaper and a lot more relaxing. Easy easy easy. Forgot all those traffic jams, those tense moments in stationary traffic where you wonder whether you’ll make your flight, the waiting around for taxis to pick you up, those eye-watering fares. Just an easy, pretty much flat half-hour-or-so ride, with guaranteed parking right outside the terminal entrance.

This time, I didn’t bother with my towable suitcase. I just strapped a regular case on the back of the Radish, which to be honest was much easier. Easier to ride, and easier when I got there.

I had a quick shower when I arrived at the airport, although with the cool morning I hardly needed it, and caught my flight with ease. Coming home, I strolled out of the terminal, strapped my bag to the back on the bike and pedalled away. It’s actually really nice to be able to get some exercise after sitting on a plane for long hours, and I was home in no time.

Yes, it would be nice if bike access to the airport was a bit better. But to be honest, it’s not too bad if you’re used to riding in Sydney. Next time you need to fly, take your bike. You won’t regret it.

Ride and Fly

June 21, 2017 at 14:00 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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You may remember some time ago I impulse purchased a luggage trailer. My initial review was not 100% favourable, and to be honest since then it’s pretty much stayed in the garage unused.

However, the other day I had to go away on business, and the mid-morning flight timing seemed to suit cycling to the airport, plus the trip was going to need checked-in luggage, so I decided to bite the bullet and ride to the international terminal.

I duly dusted off the trailer, packed it pretty full and set off.

The first thing I noted was when I packed. The internal dimensions of the bag are not as large as the external size would suggest, and the zipper opening only allows you to open just over half of it. So it’s not that easy to pack. If also means the most easily accessible and largest part of the bag is the bit at the top, so this bit tends to end up packed more tightly that the bottom bit. This means the weight is distributed towards the top, which exacerbates the somewhat unstable nature of the trailer. More on this later…

Anyway, I coupled it up to the fixie, kissed everyone goodbye and set off. My family waved me off at the doorstep and then went inside as I pulled away. This was lucky, as had they remained a moment longer they would have witnessed me falling off as I turned out of the drive, sprawling unceremoniously on the road. Why? Well, the nature of the coupling means you can’t take a sharp right hand turn, as the back wheel jams up against the tow arm. It’s not an issue in normal riding, but low-speed manoeuvring  carries this risk. Perhaps this is true of all trailers, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t a very auspicious start.

I dusted myself off, and tried again. From there on it went fairly smoothly, although I did still have this background concern about the trailer stability. Riding in traffic on pot-holed roads is a little hair-raising, as I was conscious that if the trailer hit a pothole it might turn over, pulling the bike out of line. That didn’t happen, but I did experience a couple of issues with trailer stability; it tipped over a couple of times when I had to negotiate curbs or tight corners. I could see them coming, and had for the most part stopped beforehand to push the bike around, but it does underline the problem. This thing is easy to tip up.

However, leaving the shortcomings of the trailer aside, riding to the airport is great. Bike access to the airport is fairly straightforward (even if the shared path is rather narrow and directly adjacent to fast-moving traffic), and you can lock up your bike for free right outside the arrivals area. Given the utter rort on transport options to the airport, this is a rare bargain and by itself makes cycling worthwhile. There are free showers in the departures area too, so I was able to have a shower and change before I checked in for my flight. And when I got home there was no waiting about; I walked out of the terminal, grabbed my bike and set off.

The other thing I hadn’t properly appreciated is how close the airport is to where I live. Even (cautiously) pulling a trailer and having to navigate an unfamiliar route, I got there as fast as I’ve ever got there by taxi. Wow. Eleven kilometres. That’s nothing. It’s an interesting thing; my non-cycling friends consistently over-estimate distances based on driving times. It seems utterly unlikely that a journey that takes over an hour by car is less than 15km, but often that’s the case in Sydney (and pretty much universally true at peak time). Seems I had fallen for the same fallacy with regards to the airport. It’s actually right on my doorstep.

I am ashamed of myself for not doing this before. From here on, I will mostly ride, I think. I might not use the trailer much, given its poor design, but I can certainly see me strapping my bag to the back of the Radish and riding there on that. Too easy.

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