Freak Storm

February 18, 2017 at 14:53 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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stormvideoSydney’s Inner West is usually a quiet kind of place. Little happens to disturb the sounds of single-origin lattes being brewed in hipster cafes, and kids being driven to school in urban tractors.

However, yesterday there was a Big Storm. Freak winds hit this otherwise quietly complacent patch of inner-city gentrification, bringing down trees and damaging buildings. Those freak winds probably lasted for no more than fifteen minutes, but it was quite exciting whilst it lasted.

It was particularly exciting for me, as I just happened to be on my way home from work at that moment, riding through the heart of the storm. It’s the first time I have literally been stopped in my tracks by the wind – a particularly massive gust just pushed me backwards to a stop. This was coupled with heavy sideways rain that stung my face as I attempted to make progress.

However, I was not deterred. I managed to make it home, And, of course, the superiority of the bicycle was one again demonstrated as cars struggled to pick their ways down roads covered with downed trees an other debris, but I was able to continue pretty much as normal.

Above is some footage from my rear-facing camera. Unfortunately the battery was flat in the front-facing one, but you can get the idea of the intensity of the wind and rain as it is driven down the roads.

Tim Tam Choc Mint

February 13, 2017 at 15:20 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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tim-tam-choc-mintWow! A whole new set of Tim Tam flavours have been launched. And with funky packaging too!

This new range has been ‘inspired by Gelato Messina’. For those of you who have not heard of Gelato Messina, it’s a posh ice-cream shop, and currently flavour-du-jour of the hipster classes. Move over Zumbo; this is the new cool in desserts. Arnott’s have clearly read the zeitgeist, ditched the patissier extraordinaire, and hope to ride the gelato craze.

There are four new flavours: Mint Choc, Coconut and Lychee, Black Forest and Salted Caramel Vanilla. Now, you may be excused for thinking that sounds all a little familiar. Arnott’s have previously ranged Mint, Coconut, Black Forest and Salted Caramel versions of Tim Tams. Indeed, some of those flavours were apparently created by the great Adriano Zumbo himself, so it must be a bit galling to not only be dumped in favour of an ice-cream parlour, but for them to steal your flavours too.

It was the Mint Choc I tore into first. To be honest, I was super-excited. The previous Mint incarnation of Tim Tam was, in my opinion, one of the finest Tim Tams ever made, and I was hoping that this would be the same biscuit, dressed up to capture those oh-so-fickle millennials.

tim-tam-choc-mint-biscuitWell, sad to say, it is not. it is similar, to be sure, but not the same. Instead of the rich mint cocoa filling of the original, this one has a slightly green-tinged cream that smells rather like the junior Chillikebabs’ toothpaste. It certainly has a minty taste, but a more creamy, almost vanillary version. To Arnott’s credit, it does actually taste quite a bit like Mint Choc ice cream. And it’s by no means a bad biscuit; they are quite yummy and easy to chomp on. It’s just not quite up to the high benchmark set by the original (which I went all out and gave 10/10 for). I’m going to give these a highly creditable 8/10. And Arnott’s – please bring back the original mint ones…

Kowloon Tong – Paul Theroux

February 10, 2017 at 21:08 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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kwoloonThis book has been on the shelf, and sort of looking at me for years. Lots of years. I don’t know where it came from, who bought it or when, but I’ve been sort of aware of it’s presence on the shelf for, well, a long time.

So I decided to read it. This was, in part, due to a desire to road-test my reading glasses. Yes, that’s correct, folks. I an officially old. Visiting the optician recently, I was told that reading glasses might be beneficial, especially when I am tired. So I got some, in the (perhaps vain) hope I might read more in the evening, a time when, if I am honest, my eyes are a bit tired for reading. Wanting to test this out a few days after receiving my new glasses, I pulled this book of the shelf, and started to read.

Actually, I have to say, it was rather good. I’ve never especially felt like I had eye-strain, but it was certainly much more restful; I was able to read up until bedtime without feeling like my eyes were more tired than the rest of me.

Enough of all that, how was the book?  Well, I think I enjoyed it. It’s set just before the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese, and follows the story of ‘Bunt’ – a Hong-Kong-born British ex-pat, as his (recently inherited) family business is bought, against his wishes, by the shady Mr Hung, a representative of the Chinese state army. Bunt is a very weak man, under the thumb of his overbearing mother, who spends his days working at the factory and visiting ‘blue hotels’ with prostitutes. Just as he starts to discover love (an affair with one of his factory workers), his world collapses. It’s a bleak novel, and Bunt’s ultimate weakness and impotence are painfully laid bare.

There’s really no characters in this book to like. Bunt and his mother are smug, racist ex-pats. Mr Bunt is alarming and menacing. The are also a range of other unsavoury characters who seemingly abandon all morals in the pursuit of money and success.

As I said, I think I enjoyed, it. I certainly kept turning the pages; it’s gripping in a sort of dreadful way. But it’s also strangely unsatisfactory; there is so little humanity and colour on offer that it leaves a thin, sour taste. Interestingly it has a very even spread of reviews on amazon from 1 star up to 5, so I guess it’s a book that elicits a range of opinions.

Still, as a test run for my new glasses, it worked very well. Now I will see if this prompts me to do more evening reading…

 

Bike on bike nut job

February 8, 2017 at 20:58 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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It bikeonbikesometimes happens that I end up with two bikes at work. Some inequality in rides too and from caused by side trips, lifts, taxis and business trips conspire to create this imbalance. For the most part I just wait it out, and it usually corrects itself, but the situation had been going on for weeks, and didn’t seem to be resolving.

So I went with the rather unwieldy option of strapping the fixie to the Radish. This requires removing the wheels, strapping the frame down via the chain stays, and putting the wheels into the panniers. On this occasion I also had rather a lot of other things to carry, so I had to tuck both wheels into the same pannier, which was not 100% straightforward. Still, I managed, and arrived home without mishap.

Or so I thought. When I can to reassemble the fixie, I realised that one of the wheel nuts had gone missing from the front wheel. Damn lawyers. Evidently I had left the nut rather unscrewed, and it had worked loose and dropped off.

I effected a temporary fix by ‘borrowing’ one of the nuts from one of the little Chillikebab’s bikes (sadly she doesn’t ride it much; she’s more a dedicated scooter girl), and then set about ordering a new nut.

Now, this is when it got unbelievably complicated. Apparently no-one knows what size regular bike wheel nuts are. Attempting to google it yields hundreds of threads in hundreds of bike forums with people asking this exact question, and then receiving as many answers as there are types of nut – both literally and figuratively. I was literally unable to find this out. Hub manufactures don’t put in in the specs. Bike shops don’t tell you (and don’t stock them). Even my LBS was unable to help, trying a few nuts out halfheartedly (none of them fit), and then saying they would have to ‘look into it’. Apparently it could be an M10. Or a 3/8″. It might have 24 or 26 threads per inch, or perhaps a pitch of 1.25, or maybe 1.5.  Probably not 1.0, except on some bikes. The front and back hubs might be different. Unless they are the same. And BMX and coaster brakes have different nuts. Sometimes. Or perhaps not. It might be 14mm. Or 15mm. Or M9. Or M9.5.

Usually, answers go through a range of options for what it could be, and airily finish with ‘they are all standard, so you’ll have no problem getting one”. Ha! I tried every nut available in Bunnings, and not one of them fit.

Finally, I found the answer. Thank you, Moruya Bicycles. Both for having the information, and selling the damn things.   3/8″ with 26 threads per inch. Outside dimensions 15mm. (Which seems weird to me; a non-metric nut that fits a metric spanner).

Apparently coaster brakes are slightly different, as they had 24 threads per inch. Except little Chillikebab’s bike has a coaster brake, and the nut fits my hub perfectly. I’ve ordered one of each size, to be sure. Now I’m just praying that when they arrive, one of them will fit…

Tagalongs, kids and cold weather

January 25, 2017 at 13:04 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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tagalongThe Chillikebab family recently went on holiday to the UK, which was nice. And also very cold. I didn’t get to do much riding at all, but there was one small highlight when we stayed at CenterParcs for a few days (as a kind of respite from relentless family reunions…!).

Whilst we were there, I hired a bike and tagalong, to carry the kids along. Leaving aside the fact we could ride legally in our warm hats (the CenterParcs guide recommended wearing helmets, but thankfully I saw almost no-one with one on the whole time we were there), it was a lot of fun. The kids absolutely loved it, and it was much easier than carrying them in a kiddie seat. The bike was much easier to control without the weight on the back, and it was also quicker just to get them on and off it – no straps etc to worry about, they could just jump on and off we went.

hireCenterParcs is really set up for bike hire. Once everyone is checked in, cars are not allowed on site, which makes it very nice for cycling. Lots of people hire bikes, even in winter – and the size of the bike hire facility indicates that it’s even more bicycle intense in the summer.

The taalong fitted to the bike was a Burley Kazoo. This is rather unusual, in that it couples to a special rack, rather than the seatpost. Apparently this makes it more stable, but I’ve not tried the other kind to compare. That said, from my subsequent reading around it seems that the Burley is the kind of Rolls Royce option of these types of things – with a price tag to match.

I did wonder how much I would notice the effort put in by the little Chillikebabs turning the pedals. The answer is that actually you do notice it – it’s definitely easier when they are pedalling. Up the hills I exhorted them to pedal harder. Little Chillikebab Jr took this to heart, standing up on the pedals and going for broke. She also delighted in me stopping pedalling on very slight downhills, leaving her pedalling both of us as we gradually gathered pace.

The upshot of all this is that I now intend to buy a tagalong for use at home. I now have to work out if I can mount one on the Radish somehow, or if I’m going to need to buy another bike specifically for the purpose…

Arnott’s Entertainers Scoops – Poppy and Sesame Seeds

December 16, 2016 at 12:28 | Posted in biscuits | 1 Comment
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entertainersboxChristmas is coming. A time for entertaining. And what could be more entertaining than a box of pear-shaped mini-biscuits called ‘Scoops’?

Scoops. There’s just something unfortunately scatological about that word.

Anyway, these biscuits for clearly for loading up with dip, which is handy at one of those entertainment gatherings where there isn’t enough proper food to soak up the alcohol. Armed with these biscuits, you can get through most of a bowl of dip in just a few minutes.

When I first saw these, I assumed they were just a small, shaped version of an existing biscuit. But if they are, I am not familiar with the prototype. They are actually quite nice – crunchy but not too hard, with a salty / malty taste that is quite addictive. They are perfectly snackable on even without any dip. I like them, and am gong to give them an eight out of ten.

Wearing out…

December 13, 2016 at 10:31 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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tyreIt’s Terrific Tuesday! Time for our dose of cycling good news and upbeat blogging. And today’s theme is – things wearing out.

‘But how is that good news?’ I hear you cry. Well, because it pleases me. I have had a bunch of things wear out just recently:

  • the front rim on the fixie
  • the rear tyre on the fixie
  • the bottom bracket on the Radish
  • the cleats on my shoes
  • the chain on the fixie
  • the brake blocks on Mrs Chillikebab’s electric bike
  • my favorite cycling knicks

Now, I suppose this is Bad News. I mean, that’s all cost I have to bear, goods that have to be manufactured, carbon footprints to be agonised over.

But actually, I feel rather positive about it. All of those things have been well used. They represent thousands of kilometres of happy cycling. Hours of safe, fun riding. Each of those things can tell a story – the places they have been, the hills they conquered, the loads they hauled. And, when examined, it’s really not that much. A few bits and bobs that have made my life easier and happier, and probably have had less impact on the world than one tank of petrol for the car.

And in getting them sorted, I’ve spoken to nice people in local bike shops, chatted online with like minded souls, compared notes with other riders.

So raise a glass to bikes that get used, that wear out, that can be renewed. Not discarded capriciously, nor rendered obsolete, but simply worn out by the actions of my own muscles over months and years. It’s the best way to travel. And a good way to live.

 

Shapes Light and Crispy – Sour Cream and Chives

December 8, 2016 at 20:15 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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shapes-light-and-crispy-boxShapes. It all seems to be about Shapes in biscuit-land at the moment. New Shapes, Original Shapes, New-but-now-original-again Shapes – it has been dominating the biscuit community for months.

And into this maelstrom comes yet another Shapes variant – the ‘Light and Crispy’ range. I snapped up a box to see what they were like.

Well, you will remember some time ago when we started on this whole ‘savoury biscuit’ thing. At that time, I was nervous about the whole cross-over with ‘savoury snack’ thing. When does a biscuit become a snack? Well, it might just be with Light and Crispy Shapes, as these are definitely dipping a toe into the waters labelled ‘snack’, if not going for a full swim.

shapes-light-and-crispy-biscuitsThey are very light (which, I suppose, given the name is hardly a bad thing), thin, crunchy ‘biscuits’. Yes, the packet still has them labelled as ‘biscuits’. So that’s OK then. You can very easily shovel several at a time into your mouth, which to me is a definite sign of ‘snack’. And when you eat them, they crunch down quite quickly.

For all that, they have a nice enough texture, and the sour cheese and chive is pretty standard for the genre. Nothing stand-out, but quite pleasant. As a snack. I’m going to give these four out of ten.

City cycling without ID

December 6, 2016 at 11:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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cyclewaysIt’s Positive Tuesday again. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I’ve exceeded the initial promise to do six good news stories, but I figured that pushing on can’t be a bad thing. Apart from anything else it improves my mood, even if you are getting sick of the relentless positivity.

And there’s two bits of good news this week. The first is that the NSW government has dropped the requirements for bicycle riders to carry ID. This bizarre law was slated to come in in 2017, but now it’s not going to happen. To be honest, I had a suspicion from the beginning that it wasn’t going to eventuate, given the various legal and logistical hurdles any such legislation would need to overcome. It was always about creating another headline to beat-up cyclists, and given that this desired effect was satisfactorily delivered, I guess the rabidly anti-cyclist NSW government figured there wasn’t anything else to gain and quietly dropped the idea. What has been interesting though is all the cycling ‘advocacy’ organisation who previously supported the law now coming out can claiming they never wanted it, and were instrumental in getting it scrapped (take a bow, AGF). With advocates like these, who needs enemies…

And so onto the other bit of good news. I had occasion to ride through the city at peak time last week, something I now rarely have cause to do. And what struck me was how many cyclists there were. Yes, there have been reports that cycling levels have declined slightly (the NSW government are rejoicing at this, given that have also just dropped any targets they might have had for cycling participation). But when you ride in the city, you can’t help but be struck by how many cyclists there are. The best part about this for me was how courteous the motor traffic was. On my normal route to work I am a lone cyclist, and I experience inconsiderate driving often. But it really seems that, in a place where motorists are used to cyclists and accept that they are legitimate road users, they behave better. This cheered me up no end, and reinforced to me the feeling I had after visiting Manly. In NSW we have the most anti-cycling government anywhere in the world. At every turn they find ways to discourage, punish and harass cyclists. And yet cycling is happening in large numbers, with what feels like unstoppable momentum. Duncan Gay won’t kill it. The best he can do is constrain it a bit, but when finally we get a more progressive government, I sense the cork will pop and suddenly there could be a surge in cycling, benefiting everyone who lives and works in Sydney and NSW more generally.

Don’t get discouraged folks. Just keep pushing those pedals. The revolution is coming.

A cycling suburb

November 29, 2016 at 14:10 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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manly-bike-rackI recently had to go to Manly for a meeting, so rode my bike into the city to catch the ferry. This is really a great way to start the morning – a ride, followed by a harbour cruise. Taking bikes on the ferry is very easy; access is flat or via ramps, there are wide gates and plenty of room, and bikes are welcome on Sydney ferries. The Manly ferry has dedicated bike storage places near the gangway. (Sydney Trains could learn a thing or two about being bike friendly from the ferries).

And when I got to Manly, I was struck by how many bikes there were. bikes-on-railingsLots of people riding – a diverse group, with plenty of women and people in regular clothes. This is a good sign of a healthy cycling culture. I also happen to know that Manly has a very low (by Australian standard) rate of helmet wearing – something not entirely unconnected to this. In the past, Manly police have publicly said they do not focus on helmets, as it is not an important issue. A rare example of sanity on this issue. More recently the government-sanctioned police harassment of cyclists over the new rules has occurred to a degree in Manly, but I was pleased to see cycling is still apparently thriving. The bike racks around the ferry wharf  were completely full, with bikes locked up to every available railing nearby – it was a positively Dutch scene. The insouciance of cyclists blatantly ignoring the directions to not put bikes on the wharf was also heartening to me.

There is no doubt that the current NSW government is doing their best to remove cyclists from our streets. And this can be depressing sometimes. They will not succeed. They may try to hold back the tide, to cling to a 1950’s car-centric world view. But it is futile. Around the world, and in Manly, that tide is turning.

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