New bicycle for me!

March 21, 2020 at 20:26 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Yay! In these troubled times, I have a happy story of new bicycleness. Because I have a new bicycle!

It all started some months ago, when Mrs Chillikebab’s e-bike stopped working. The clutch in the motor would no longer engage – you would hear the motor spin up, but it would not drive the wheel. Sad to say Mrs Chillikebab does not ride it, but I did sometimes use that bike when an e-bike was useful. (Mostly when I was very hungover, tbh).

I took the bike to the e-bike shop, and they told me the could not just replace the clutch, as it was not available as a spare part. Instead they would have to order a new motor, which would cost $1,000. Considering you can now buy a brand-new e-bike for less than that this did not seem like a good deal.

I wasn’t super happy about the Gazelle having died. It had only done 1500km, and although it was 7 years old that didn’t feel like good value. It cost about $3,000 as I recall, which works out a $2 per km.

Given the high cost of repair, the shop said the wholesaler of Gazelle (who also handle some other brands) would offer me a discount on a new bike of any of their brands. And the shop offered to give me a $250 trade-in on the Gazelle, as they could use it for parts (they subsequently sold the battery for $200, I learned).

This was all happening at a time when getting to orchestra rehearsals was problematic. Mrs Chillikebab was using the car as the juniors had choir that night, and getting too and from rehearsals on the bus was something of an odyssey, especially on the way home (a 15km journey was taking me over 90 minutes…) I could go on the Radish, but in order to do this I had to literally jump on it the second I got home – which means I had just done an 18km commute on the fixie. The Radish is slow and heavy, and the route to orchestra is one long uphill slog. Perhaps I am getting old, but this was too much for me; I did do it once, but arrived very tired, hot and sweaty, and only just in time. (I can’t take the fixie to rehearsal, btw, as I don’t have any way of carrying my viola).

It suddenly occurred to me that a new e-bike was the solution. It would be much faster than the Radish, far less effort, and in the long run cheaper than endless taxis. So I went back to the shop to try them out.

I tried quite a few, but in the end settled on a Kalkhoff Agattu 1.I. (one dot eye. Or perhaps one dot ell. Or ell dot eye. I mean. 1.I. Someone didn’t really think that one through, did they? I bet it causes endless confusion…)

It has a mid-mounted motor that drives the crankshaft, which is different from the Gazelle which had a front wheel motor. This makes the bike handle better, as the wheels are not heavy. It has a lot more torque than the Gazelle had too. I also liked it because the rack was set well back (due to the battery placement) which was also important as I needed space to mount my panniers and then have my viola sticking up out of them. And it is a step-over frame, which is just the best for any kind of utility bike.

I did try a few other brands, including ones with rear and front wheel motors. They were all a lot more powerful than the old Gazelle. Clearly things have moved on in the last seven years. There was one (and NCM I think) that had a rear wheel motor that was extremely powerful. You actually didn’t need to put any effort in; just turning the pedals very slowly was enough to trigger the motor, which could then get you up quite a steep hill. I sort of didn’t really like this. I like my e-bike to ride like a bicycle with a magic whizz-along spell, not feel like a motorbike.

I took the bike home on the Saturday, enjoying the ride home. (So easy!) I needed it on Monday for orchestra, but after a couple of trips to the shops and so on Saturday, the battery needed charging. So I plugged it in to charge.

Nothing.

Zlitch. No lights, no beeps, no indicators. I left it in the hope something was happening, but after being on ‘charge’ for several hours, the battery was still only 15% full.

This as a disappointment. I called the shop, and they asked me to bring it in. I was not able to do this until the next weekend, so had to do the bus / taxi thing to orchestra on that Monday.

The next weekend I went back to the shop, and they realised they had given me the wrong charger. They are lovely in that shop (it’s the biggest e-bike specialist in Sydney), but they are, well, a tad disorganized. They are hugely busy (which I guess indicates the size of the e-bike boom going on right now), but also somewhat chaotic. Armed with the right charger, I went home and charged up the battery.

On Monday, I was ready. I got home, loaded the viola into the panniers, and set off. It all went very well. At least to start with. The bike whirred along, the evening was warm and I was happy.

As I got most of the way to the venue, something strange happened. The chain came off. I investigated, and it seemed the rear wheel had slipped in the drop-outs. As I didn’t have a 15mm spanner on me, I just had to put the chain back on and hope for the best. I got to the venue in plenty of time, not at all hot and tired, and was happy, even if the chain thing was annoying. Clearly the bike shop hadn’t tightened the wheel nuts enough.*

When I came out of rehearsal, it was raining. This was not something I had anticipated. I was wearing a cotton t-shirt and shorts. The temperature had also dropped considerably, reminding me that it was autumn, not summer. I set off, quickly getting soaked, the cold air making me shiver. On a e-bike you don’t really get warm pedaling. I suppose I could have switched the motor off, but it was late and I wanted to get home. I shivered along further, and of course the chain fell off again. And again. And again. I kept having to stop, in the raid, hands trembling with cold, to put the chain back on. It was not the happiest of rides.

The next day, I fixed up the rear wheel, and rode to the shops after work. All was well. Next week I would have no problems, enjoy the ride – and also take a rain jacket and a warm sweater for the ride home.

But then orchestra was cancelled due to COVID-19. So my whole reason for buying this bike sort of went away.

Anyway, it’s a super practical bike which I now use for popping out to the shops and so, unless I need a lot of stuff or am hauling the kids.

I did wonder if I would be tempted to ride it to work, and leave the fixie at home. The lure of the motor and all that. And I have ridden it to work a couple of times, mostly out of curiosity. But actually it’s no contest. The fixie is so much more fun. E-bikes are no doubt very practical. they open up cycling as an option for journeys that otherwise would be difficult. The magic force you feel when you accelerate away from the stop line is sort of exhilarating. But ultimately, they are a bit soulless. At least in my opinion. They might have power, but they are not alive like a regular bike.

 

 

* I recall what must be over ten years ago when I first took the fixie out for a test ride from the shop, the same thing happened. The rear wheel slipped in the drop-outs, and on that occasion I had to carry the bike back to the shop. You may also remember this.  I put it down to the extraordinary amount of torque my quads can apply to the pedals…

Tree clearing

March 4, 2020 at 13:13 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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We had some significant storms in Sydney recently. It was a huge relief in many ways, as we have had a disastrous drought that then led to horrific and unprecedented fires. Many of the fires are now extinguished, and the rain was extremely welcome – despite the wild weather, no-one was complaining, we were all just so glad to see the rain.

The deluge, coupled with high winds did, however, cause some damage – there were flash floods, and trees came down in various places across Sydney. One of those places was across the path in the park I ride through on the way to work. It wasn’t completely blocked, but it was a pain to squeeze by next to the fence, through a muddy, sandy area.

I did report it to the council, but after a few days it was still there, so I took it upon myself to take a small saw in my backpack to clear it on the way to work. It was rather harder work than I anticipated (the saw was small and blunt, the tree was larger than it looked), but in the end I managed it. I’m not sure which was harder, actually, this tree or the last one I cleared from a path. I wonder how long it will be before the council come and clear it properly?

 

 

Teenagers on bikes

January 11, 2020 at 20:39 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment

We recently went on holiday, down to the south coast. We got caught up in the bushfire crisis on NYE, and it was extremely scary. I did write a blog post about it, but it’s rather personal and not about bicycles, books or biscuits, so it has a password. If you’d like to read it, drop me a line and I might give you the password, but please don’t be offended if I don’t (and if you do know me, the password is my surname).

Anyway, there was one positive bicycle-related aspect of the whole experience. You see, we were cut off in a situation with no electricity, internet or phone coverage. So our devices were pretty much useless, and in any case soon ran out of battery.

What was really interesting about this was the number of kids who, with apparently nothing else to do, rode around the neighbourhood on bikes. There were few cars on the road (as there as nowhere to go), but there were hordes of bikes. It seemed every child over ten who was staying in one of the many caravan parks in the area took to their bike and went for a ride. It was very noticeable.

And virtually none of them were wearing helmets.

Who would have thought. Take away the devices, take away the cars, make the ‘rules’ seem irrelevant and suddenly bikes are everywhere. It was like the 1970s all over again.

It was a small thing in the midst of a very anxious situation, but it was enough to at least for me to give a wry smile.

Old new cleats

December 10, 2019 at 18:10 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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My cleat wore out. It was getting harder and harder to engage with the pedal, and then one evening it just would not go in, and I had to limp home sort of one-legged.

Looking at the cleat, I could see why. It was trashed. This was the cleat from my left shoe. I’m right foot dominant, so it’s my left foot I put down when I stop. And so that cleat gets trashed much faster than the right. Indeed, my right cleat was still in reasonably good shape.

Actually, there’s a subtext to this story. I am really bad at unclipping with my right foot. I just don’t do it. I used to get concerned about it, and practise, but then I gave up. And if I need to get my right foot out in a hurry I fumble, like a beginner. It’s a clipstack waiting to happen. But then, I’ve been like this for about fifteen years, and I haven’t had a clipstack for at least ten. Hey ho.

Anyway, I needed to ride to work; there’s a bike shop on the way where I can pick up new cleats. But I couldn’t easily ride there with only one working shoe. But then I dimly remembered something – when I last replaced the cleats, I kept the (less worn) right hand one, for just this reason – so I could replace the left one when it wore out, and eke a bit more mileage out of them.

I dug around in the shed for a while, and (amazingly) managed to find it. Hurrah! So I can ride again.

I still haven’t bought new cleats though. Probably I’ll forget until this cleat is too worn to engage….

First puncture. And second, third and forth…

November 23, 2019 at 10:23 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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So Chillikebab jnr got a puncture. All a bit unlucky, she hasn’t had her new bike long. No problem, I thought – and an opportunity to do some bike maintenance education.

After some quick googling on how to get the wheel off (I’m not familiar with hub gears, but as it turns out it’s pretty easy to remove) Chillikebab Jnr and I got the wheel off. Getting the tyre off was very hard; it was super tight. Chillikebab jnr was losing interest, and I managed to get it off with the tyre levers – although I had a suspicion that I’d caught the inner tube in the process.

Checking the tube, I found the hole – and it was obviously where I had pinched it with the tyre levers. I checked for other holes in a bowl of water, but there didn’t appear to be any others. Strange. We patched this hole (“leave the glue a bit longer – a bit longer…!) and carefully checked inside the tyre for any sharp object. Couldn’t find anything, so put it all back together.

Wow, that tyre was extremely hard to get on. No way I was going to do it with my thumbs, even going around the tyre, seating it properly, stretching it around, all the usual tricks. So I had to resort to tyre levers, but managed to get it on..

I pimped it up, and all seemed well. But an hour later, it was flat again. Hmmm. Did I pinch the tube again putting it on?

I removed it again, with similar struggles. Checked where the air leak was and it was coming from around the patch. We had somehow not got the patch in the right place, and air was leaking out. So I had to pull off the patch, and redo it. By this time, Chillikebab Jnr had completely lost interest.

Put it all back together. Tyre again so tight. Had to use levers. Horrible feeling I have this time pinched the inner tube. The inner tube, in my defence, was really fat for the tyre, and hard to seat properly during this operation.

Pump it up again. No joy; it still has a leak. Take it apart again. Yes, I can see where I’ve pinched the tube. Patch it again. Put it on again. It’s hard again. Used levers again. Pinched the tube again. Pumped it up, went flat again.

By this time I was getting pretty frustrated. And so I gave up and went to the bike shop. They fixed it.

I feel my daughter’s faith in me as a bicycle technician has crumbled somewhat…

 

 

Boris Bikes and Electric Scooters

October 19, 2019 at 14:33 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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We just can back from holiday. Three weeks seeing family and doing touristy things in London and Paris. Getting back on the fixie to ride to work was hard work when we got back – a few weeks off the bike, and goodness does it feel like hard work. Or perhaps it was just the jetlag.

Anyway, I manage to ride at least one bike whilst we were away – I went for a short hop on a Boris Bike. These are, of course, the share bikes that were introduced to London when Boris Johnston was Mayor of London. I have no time at all for Boris. He is a nasty piece of work. But he does ride a bicycle. Which I suppose does show that even the worst of us can have at least one redeeming feature.

So what was it like? Well, it was fine. It felt easier to ride that the Melbourne bikes (from what I can remember). And London is certainly getting more bike friendly – there are a lot of bike lanes, and a lot of bikes around. It is quite a transformation. There’s still a lot to do – whilst the bike lanes and paths are busy, there is a lot of dicing with traffic you have to do as a London cyclist. Still, Sydney could certainly learn a thing or two from their approach.

I didn’t ride a Velib in Paris, but again I saw a lot of cyclists. Come on Sydney, it’s not that hard! But actually outnumbering bicycles in Paris were electric scooters. There are a couple of different companies operating electric scooters, and they are everywhere – and it seems extremely popular. One of the companies who operate them is Lime, and as I have a Lime subscription here in Sydney, I wondered if it would extend to Paris scooters. It did! So I jumper on a scooter, and headed out into the traffic. I have never ridden an electric scooter before. And, in retrospect, choosing to do it in the centre of Paris was perhaps a bit ambitious. Part terrifying. part exhilarating, it certainly seems to have captured the hearts of Parisians, as they fearlessly weave in and out of the traffic. My biggest fear was the small wheels on the uneven Paris road surfaces – the thing just felt one pothole away from a stack. But it was fine, and everyone else seemed fine, so perhaps it’s just an unfamiliarity thing.

I don’t think e-scooters with come to Sydney. The government is too busy mandating helmets for scooters in general, and making electric ones illegal. Because, you know, can’t have people using practical, active urban transport. It’s for their own good, you understand. They should be in a car. Like everyone else.

 

New bicycle!

October 12, 2019 at 20:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A momentous day! A new bicycle has appeared in the Chillikebab household. Sadly, not for me. But for Chillikebab Jnr 2. It seems only a few months ago I was putting her into a tiny seat, but now she has graduated to hew first real ‘proper’ bike – a 24 inch wheeled beauty with hub gears.

I remember by first 24 inch wheel bike. It was an Enfield racer, bright yellow. And it was freedom. It was the first bike that I could really go places on. The combination of being older and having a bike that could cover distances meant I could really go exploring. It was independence, fun and adventure.

I see some of the same things with Chillikebab Jnr 2. With this bike, she can bowl along. She now leaves her sister behind (who refuses to ride a bike, and sticks to her scooter) on the way to school. She can cover distances. She feels grown up.

But what she doesn’t have is the freedom. She can’t go off and explore the neighbourhood by herself on that bike. Why? Because selfish car drivers don’t want her too. They are too concerned with their own convenience to consider the way they restrict the freedoms of others. They swing around corners, ignore red lights, don’t look where they are going, park on footpaths, intimidate vulnerable road users, and generally make the environment so intimidating and dangerous that an eight year old cannot navigate it alone. This makes me cross.

Still, on a happier note we went for a much longer ride today – all the way around the Bay Run. Chillikebab Jnr 2 did fine – hardly even broke a sweat. And she (and I) both had a ball. So here’s to the joy of riding a bike.

Bike share shenanigans

September 16, 2019 at 10:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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The Melbourne bike share scheme is going to be scrapped. It was the first bike share scheme to be launched in Australia, and was the traditional sort with fixed rental stations. I did take a ride on it some time ago, but unless I get to Melbourne before the end of the year, that first ride will also be my last.

Of course, the post-mortems go on about why it failed – too few stations, too far apart, in the wrong places, not enough bike lanes, too expensive etc etc. But whilst any one of those might have been a handicap, the real reason is Australia’s helmet laws. Given that you basically can’t legally use the scheme in the way they are designed to be used, it is sort of not surprising that it, erm, wasn’t used. And if you think that’s hyperbole, consider that there are only three urban fixed-station bike share schemes in the world that are failing – Melbourne, Brisbane, and Vancouver. The link? They are the only three in jurisdictions where mandatory helmet laws apply. Go figure.

Bike share bikes did make it into the news last week in Sydney too, when prominent ex-politician Sam Dastyari turned up to a corruption inquiry on one. This is a man who lost his job as a Labor senator some time ago because he was linked with dodgy donations from a dodgier businessman. He was due at the corruption commission as a witness in a different case involving a different part of the Labor party taking large sums of money in cash from a dodgy businessman. (If you are not from Australia, that might seem remarkable, but it’s pretty much politics as usual down here). Well, anyway, Sam had the temerity to ride on the footpath for a short distance outside the ICAC HQ, leading to a stern talking to by the NSW Police – including being issued with a caution for riding on the footpath. Keeping us safe as usual. Still, at least he was wearing a helmet.

Apocalypse

September 7, 2019 at 21:46 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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The weather riding home last night was apocalyptic. Dark, ominous clouds scudded across the sky. And a wild wind blew. Not the usual stormy wind that presages a change, with a cooling aspect. And not a steady breeze bringing moisture from the ocean. No, this was a hot wind, dry and dangerous, swirling and capricious. This was not a natural wind.

One of the interesting things about commuting to work on a bicycle is that you get to experience the weather. Every day, I ride for nearly two hours out in the open – rain or shine, heat or cold. Many of my friends an acquaintances I think truly never really experience the weather. They move from one controlled environment to another – home, car, office, shops – and only venture outside if the weather is ‘nice’. And, as a result, they do not seem to know anything about the weather, and how it is changing.

Not that I am claiming some kind of special insight. I am, after all, living a very privileged life – most of which is in the bubble. But at least, in those minutes on my bike, I have one connection with what is going on in the world.

And it is noticeable what is going on. It has been getting warmer and warmer. I have thrown away all my winter cycling jerseys, as I no longer wear them. Ten years ago, I wore them for two or three months of the year. I can’t remember the last time I needed leg warmers. After a hot day, the cool change that flows across the land seems to rarely come any more.

Like many people, global heating and climate change are of great concern to me. I read about islands disappearing into the sea, coral reefs dying, ice melting at unprecedented rates, forests and tundra burning, massive hurricanes, savage droughts.

But last night, I really felt it. The collapse of our climate is here. That wind was the result of unimaginable amounts of energy being added into our environment; heating seas and lands heaving under a suffocating blanket of CO2. This is not a drill, and this is not a problem for the future.

I don’t know what I can do. Like most of us, I am paralysed into inaction by the enormity of it all. But at least I can do this one small thing. To tell those people I know who live indoors that something is very wrong out there, right outside the window.

Puncture

September 1, 2019 at 13:27 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I don’t get punctures any more. Truly. Punctures are a thing other people get – mostly people running silly narrow lightweight tyres at high pressures. Run 32mm, heavy-duty tyres at 85psi, and you will not get punctures.

Well, actually that’s not quite true. You might get one if you don’t replace the tyre when it is worn out. As the tyre gets very thin, you risk of punctures goes up. And as I tend to run my tyres until they are pretty much disintegrating, this does sometimes happen to me.

And so it did, and I got a puncture. So I bought the necessary ingredients, and fixed it all up. Hurrah.

 

 

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