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?

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

New pedals

August 24, 2019 at 13:25 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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So I needed new pedals again. Pesky things keep wearing out.  The first lot I had lasted ten years, according to this, but these one only lasted five. Perhaps I’m doing more kilometers on this bike than I was. Anyway, I bought some more, and got out my pedal wrench to fit them.

However, I hit a snag. I couldn’t get them off. They were stuck tight. I tried all sorts of things, different spanners, cheater bars, blocks of wood – but they would not budge. I even managed to break a fancy chrome-vanadium spanner in the attempt. I took the cranks off, and got the guys in the machine shop at work to have a crack at it with their array of professional vices, jigs and tools, but to no avail.

Oh dear. It seemed like I was going to have to replace the cranks as well. I looked at various options for crank replacements, but nothing seemed very easy. In the meantime, my feet were slopping around in the pedals like sloppy things.

Then, on they way to work, I popped into the bike shop. You might be thinking that I should probably have done this in the beginning. And you would be right. Using whatever secret bicycle shop techniques they have they managed to get the old pedals off, and put new ones on. Slightly fancier ones, to boot. They did wryly say ‘it was a bit tricky’. Anyway, kudos to the guys at Park Bikes. I am now set for another five or ten years…

The long long bicycle

August 18, 2019 at 20:58 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I finally got around to doing something I’d been idly wondering about for years. As regular readers will know, I have a Burley trailer which I hitch to my cargo bike using a modified rack. And I also have a luggage trailer that I sometimes use to go to the airport (although since I have a new job I don’t have to travel any more, thankfully, so the trailer rarely gets used).

But here’s the question – could I hitch the luggage trailer to the back of the Burley? Of course I could! And yesterday I finally had reason to do it – I wanted to take to kids to the nearby Ferragosto street fair, and also drop off a load of obsolete clothes to the charity clothing bin thingy (yes, I also finally got around to culling some of my old clothes).

So I hitched it all up, and off we went. The only snag I could foresee was that because of the short chainstays on the Burley, there was a risk the arm of the trailer would touch the back of the left foot of the child pedalling if I went round a sharp bend. So I instructed the kids to watch out for this on the corners, and off we went.

In practice, this was not an issue at all. We couldn’t really go around sharp corners, and in any case the dual articulation meant that the angle of the trailer never got acute. The kids thought it was all terrific fun, and to be honest so did I. We got heaps of comments and admiring looks, and safely made the trip there and back without incident.

One thing that was basically impossible though was wheeling the thing backwards to park. I now have a new respect for truck drivers who reverse those dual-trailer B-doubles…

Aldi bike cam light

August 14, 2019 at 21:52 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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As you may remember, a while ago my Cycliq rear camera light died on the operating table. Cycliq offered me a 15% discount on a new one, which was sort of nice and sort of not very generous too. Anyway, serendipitously, the very next week Aldi were offering integrated rear light bike cameras for just $69. So I bought one.

It’s clear that someone took a Fly6 to China, and asked a factory there to make something similar but at a very low price. It takes a lot of its design cues from the Fly6, although it’s a lot bigger overall. It has IPX4 waterproofing (which is less than the Fly6, but adequate for most purposes), similar arrangements of buttons and slot covers, and some similar features.

First up, it’s somewhat bulky and heavy. I don’t really care, but if you like your bike to look sleek and / or worry about weight, this is not for you. It uses a rubber bungee things to attach to the bike, and this is actually pretty good – one of the better designs of such things. Better, in fact, than the original Fly6 clip.

It can take a maximum 32GB microSD card, and records in 1080p, 30fps. The video files are broken up into 10 minute pieces, and you can fit about seven hours of footage on a 32GB card.

The light is quite bright, and has steady and two flashing modes, but it’s not spectacular. You can turn the light on and off independently of the camera; there are separate switches for the two functions. A dim green LED lights up to show the camera is operating. The camera automatically overwrites the oldest footage on the card as it goes, so there’s no need to manually delete files on the card.

The battery lasts for about 3 hours, some way short of the claimed 5-6 hours. When the battery gets low, the camera turns off and it bleeps, but the light stays on for a while longer. The manual claims it stays on for 1-2 hours, but it doesn’t; you get about 30 minutes of light before the battery goes completely dead.

There is no function that turns off the camera if you are in a crash, but the recommendation is to put a big SD card in so the battery runs out before your crash footage is overwritten. With the supplied 8GB card, this could happen, but with a 32GB card you are safe – the card will not fill up on a single battery charge.

The quality of the video is just OK. Less good than my 2nd gen Fly6 (which was only 720p), and I’m sure nowhere near the latest Cycliq cameras. There is no stabilisation or other tricks. As is often the case with these cams, the audio is as good as useless. Night time performance is pretty terrible; there’s note much chance you will be able to make out a number plate on footage taken when it’s not daytime. Also the lens seemed to get scratched very easily; it obviously gets dirt on it from it’s position above the wheel, and wiping it away has scratched the lens a lot in a short amount of time.

Here’s some samples of video:

Daytime – road

Dusk – off-road

Dark – Road

One thing you will notice is that the red flashing light leaks into the video, especially at night. That doesn’t bother me, but if you are hoping to capture epic footage for your cycling film, it’s probably not for you. Actually, if you want good video quality, it’s probably not for you. But if you just want a basic cam to record the daily goings on on your ride, it works quite adequately. My Fly6 lasted four years, so at a quarter the cost I will be quids in if it lasts more than twelve months.

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