Electric riding

May 18, 2020 at 13:47 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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A while ago, I bought a new electric bike. I bought if to do a particular journey, but since buying the bike I have had no need to make that journey, due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Oh well. Still, at least I bought it prior to the pandemic, as apparently getting an electric bike in Sydney right now is nigh-on impossible.

Although I hadn’t intended to ride it to work, recently the fixie was off the road for three weeks with drivetrain issues, so I ended up riding it almost every day. It was an interesting experience. Riding an electric bike is different to a regular one. Not in terms of the speed you go, or the route you take, but in terms of your preparation. Of course, you do not need preparation to ride a regular bike. I ride around on my bikes in jeans and thongs all the time. But the 15km to work is a bit too far for a very casual ride under my own steam, and in any case I enjoy the exercise. So usually I ride to work wearing cycling knicks with shorts over the top and a sports t-shirt, as well as my clip-clop cycling shoes. When I get to work I usually need a shower, unless it is a very cold day. So I shower and change. And then I do it all again on the ride home.

On the electric bike, I can just ride in my work clothes. When I get to work, I can go to my desk and start. And when it’s time to leave, I can just get onto the bike and ride home. It is on one level very liberating, and absolutely answers all the ‘cycling isn’t practical for me because you have to change / shower / get sweaty / yadda yadda’.  It makes it quicker and more spontaneous.

It’s also very boring. Not nearly as boring as driving, of course, but more boring than riding a regular bike. I miss that sense of temperature, of the terrain, of the physicality of my body, of connection with the journey. You just sit on the bike and twiddle your legs around until you get where you are going.

That’s not to say electric bikes are bad. They are not. They are fantastic, and I recommend the wholeheartedly to everyone. You can jump on one and go somewhere at any time, in any weather, wearing just what you could wear to walk outside the house, and get where you need to go quickly and efficiently. But I was wondering if that ease would actually be seductive. Whether going back to the regular bike would be a struggle, and if the electric bike would be a temptation – especially on a cold or wet morning. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t wait to get back on the fixie, and my first ride to work on it once it was sorted was an absolute joy. I grinned and sang and laughed and felt my spirits soar as I pushed those pedals around with no artificial assistance.

Electric bikes are amazing. The are practical. And I hope they help to get more people riding. But, in the end, they have no soul.



Fixing the Fixie

May 11, 2020 at 20:42 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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As you will recall, I had a few problems with the drivetrain on the fixie. The chain was worn, yes, but I also discovered that the rear cog was disintegrating. I ordered another one, scouring the online stores for a place that had a 17T cog in stock, preferably of a type that was not one of the cheap black ones like the one that failed.

17T must not be a popular size. Which is odd, as everyone knows that 48×17 is THE proper ratio for a fixie. It is perfect in every respect, from evenness of wear to hill climbing, from average speed to skid spots. But no-one had them in stock. Many places didn’t even stock them – they have 14, 15, 16, 18, 19 and 20T in the range, but no 17T. The few places that did have them only had those nasty cheap black ones.

Eventually, though, I found a store that had a 17T CroMoly cog, and duly ordered it. It took over two weeks to arrive, and when it did the shop had sent me the wrong sort – I had another cheap black one. In the meantime I had been riding the electric bike, and I desperately needed to ride a real bike. A fun fun fun bike. So in the end I just fitted the cheap cog, and forewent the $10 price difference. I’ll have to buy a proper one and replace it soon.

But at least for now the fixie whirrs along smoothly. It’s the first time I have replaced a chain and rear cog, so I was quite pleased with myself! And it looks nice too.

Vale Sydney Cyclist

May 4, 2020 at 20:37 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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When I first moved to Sydney, I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in years. I used to be a keen cyclist, but in my late teens and early twenties I gradually stopped riding as the insidious influence of the motor car overtook me. We did not have a car for the first few years that we lived in Australia, and it soon became apparent that a bike was going to be the most practical way to get to work. So I rediscovered the joy of riding

Not long after that, I found sydneycyclist.com. Set up by a local keen cyclist and IT expert Damian Maclennan, it was an online hub for the Sydney cycling community in the days before Facebook, Reddit and all the rest. I joined in with gusto, hanging out, learning new things, meeting new people. Most of the cycling content of this blog was cross-posted to SydneyCyclist, and probably got more readers there than here.

The SydneCyclist website turned me from a whatever cyclist into a cyclist advocate. It took me in all sorts of different directions – from being an expert witness to a Senate Inquiry to (almost) being CEO of Bicycle NSW.

It has run its course, as these things tend to do. The owner of the site, Damian, closed it down at the end of April amidst dwindling participation and an increasingly dated platform. But given how formative it was in my development as a cyclist, I though I would list the ten most important things it brought to me during that formative period.

1) Don’t be a hater

I used to be opinionated. Like most people, I guess. But after a not-well-though-out derogatory comment about a video that lots of people had worked hard to produce, I got a gentle ‘don’t be a hater’ lesson from Damian. It was salutary, and informed my future interactions on the site. Damian’s presence on SC over the years – guiding and moderating – should not be underestimated. Communities only succeed when they are nurtured. Thanks, Damian

2) Helmets

Oh my. I pretty much did a PhD in bicycle helmet science on that site. Much of it was sparring with helmet-zealot-turned-researcher Tim Churches, although there were many others who contributed. I learned a huge amount, changed a few minds, and spent far far too much of my life reading academic journals. If I have a regret it is that the original poster of the main helmet threads subsequently deleted them – and all my work was lost. I would have liked to have at least copied some of the more substantive things for me to keep. Ah well. Perhaps it’s for the best that that period of my life is closed.

3) Awaba Street

The steepest street in Sydney became something of a meme in the early days of SydneyCyclist. Various people describing it became poeple posting their times which I think might even have morphed into a fully-fledged race meet. I don’t really do competitive, but I did manage to get up it on the fixie, Which earned me some kudos in the days before Strava.

4) Helmets again

As a result of all that stuff, I made a submission to that strange Senate Inquiry set up by now-ex-Senator Leyonhjelm into personal freedom, and was subsequently invited to give evidence. It was all sort of fun and exciting, and I got my words into Hansard. Of course, an election was called mid-inquiry, so it all came to naught. Oh well.

5) Meet ups

In the early days of SC, there were several meet-ups. I recall spending happy hours drinking beer with people I had only conversed with online. I also won a jersey, which was even more exciting. Good times.

6) Advocacy

Thanks to SC, I became a cycling advocate. I made (and still make) regular submissions to government planning consultations, write to businesses, politicians and the like. I also joined the (now defunct) Australian Cyclists Party – the only political party I have ever joined – and even arranged to get flyers printed for them, giving them out on Pyrmont Bridge.

7) The almost CEO

Through contacts on the site, I was encouraged to apply for the CEO position for BNSW when it came up some years ago. I got through to the last two, which was an interesting experience. In the end, Omar pipped me to the job. To this day, I don’t know if I dodged a bullet, or missed a life-changing opportunity. Maybe both.

8) Fixie rides

I have fond memories of group fixie rides with Damian and others that were organised through the site. I rarely do organised rides, but those were fun. Sometimes some non fixie riders would come along too! Tootling around Centennial Park with like minded souls was, well, good for the soul.

9) Bike help

How many times did I wonder about using a chain-breaker, or struggle with disc brake pads, or need advice on wheel nut sizing? SydneyCyclist was a wealth of helpful advice and knowledge. Thanks to all who educated me.

10) Friends

I met a lot of truly lovely people through the SydneyCyclist website. Many I have met in person, some only online, but all of them I am now honoured to count as my friends. I hope I can stay in touch with many them now the site has dissolved.


Thanks to everyone who made SydneyCyclist.com what it was, and thanks especially to Damian for all his work. (You can read an interview with him about the site here.) Stay in touch if you can (refugees from SC can get in contact with me via this blog), and I hope to see many of you again soon.

Sprocket disintegration

April 13, 2020 at 17:01 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I knew the drivetrain on my fixie was on its last legs. I had been moving the rear wheel back in the dropouts for a while, as the chain stretched. My drivetrain gets a rough deal. The last 200m of my ride to work is past a rock crushing plant, and there is grit and dirt all over the road. To keep the dust down, there is also a road sweeper spraying water everywhere continuously, which means that this last section basically sprays gritty mud up from the wheels all over the bike. And because I am lazy, I rarely clean my chain. Or my bike, actually. So the chain grinds away rather faster than it should.

Anyway, last time I had the bike serviced I had a complete new drivetrain – chainwheel, sprocket and chain. In the normal course of events, the cogs outlast the chain, so I thought i’d just buy a new chain and replace it myself. The new chain duly arrived, and I removed the old one (excitedly getting to use my chain breaker tool. I think it’s the second time I ave ever used it!).

I cleaned up the chainwheel and rear cog, but upon cleaning the rear cog found something a little disconcerting. It appeared that most of the teeth had sheared off. Apparently I was riding around with perhaps only 8 functional teeth out of 17…

My initial thought was to take it to the bike shop, but filled with enthusiasm after my chain-breaker tool experience, I broke out the chain whip and lock ring removal thingy (I don’t even know what it’s called). My tools are of the basic (read: cheap) variety, and often struggle with tight or tricky parts, but they actually did their job admirably, and I was able to get the lock ring and sprocket off with little difficulty.

I went looking for a replacement cog online; but it seems all the 17T ones were sold out. They had 16T and 18T aplenty, but no 17T – except for the cheap black ones that looked suspiciously like the one I had just taken off. My advice now would be to steer clear of such cogs made from pressed steel, and look for machined ones from hardened alloy. Oh well, I’ll keep looking. Or perhaps go into the bike shop just to get the sprocket…

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.


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.


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