Ride and Fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding in Berlin

June 1, 2017 at 15:14 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I recently had to go to Berlin on business, and managed to find a few hours to get away from work to explore the city. Which it did, of course, on a bicycle. There are bicycles for hire literally everywhere in Berlin; it seems every cafe, shop and kiosk in the city offers bicycles for 12 euros a day. There’s also a municipal public bike hire, sponsored by Aldi. I didn’t try this, but it seemed quite high-tech, with bikes having screens and taking payments individually, rather than via a docking station.

I duly explored all the sights; the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Tiergarten, the Victory Column, the Reichstag, Kaiser Wilhelm Church and the Holocaust Memorial. It’s a lovely city, with a great vibe and fascinating history.

The bike was set up with a single front brake and a coaster back brake. Given it was set up in ‘continental’ mode, this meant that the front brake lever was on the left, and there was no brake at all under my right hand – which is the one I do 99% of my braking with. The coaster brake got me out of trouble a few times as my fingers grasped vainly at thin air when I needed to stop!

Getting around by bike was easy. There weren’t heaps of riders, and not that much bike infrastructure, but the drivers were calm and gave plenty of space. The more I ride outside of Australia, the more I agree with the observations of many seasoned bike travellers that Australia, and specifically Sydney, is one of the worst places to ride a bike anywhere in the world.

Close pass by police car

May 29, 2017 at 23:00 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Every day on the way to work, I ride up Burns Bay Road. It’s the place I get the most close passes. In part this is because of the layout; the council have in their wisdom decided to stencil bike symbols in the parking area, right in the door zone. Needless to say, I don’t ride in the door zone. If you want to know why, click here.

However, this creates conflict with motorists, who think you should be in the the ‘bike lane’. So they pass quite close. I’ve had a lot of close passes on this road. (For a short while, the council removed the white line. It was much better, as I said at the time. Then they put it back.)

However, this one was rather unexpected. Not very close, but definitely inside one metre (the legal minimum), and not very comfortable. And it was a police car.

What to do? I asked my friends at SydneyCyclist, and subsequently went into the police station to complain. It was interesting. For one thing, when I mentioned that car involved was a police vehicle, I immediately got the Duty Sergeant, rather than the usual constable.

He took the still images I had taken from the footage, but oddly declined to take the video file. A day or so later, I got a call from the officer in charge of the traffic division. He went through the scenario with me, and was sympathetic, although I did have to educate him on the difference between bike route symbols (the painted bike symbols, which have no legal standing), and a Bike Lane, which is defined in the Australian Road Rules (and which Burns Bay Road does not have). I would have hoped a senior traffic cop would have known the difference, especially as it has legal implications as to where you should ride your bike.

He ultimately apologised, and asked me what action I wanted. I was happy with an apology and the driver being spoken to about his obligations around cyclists, although some of my cycling friends were not impressed that the cops did not charge the driver with the offence.

This is the same police station who have been absolutely unsympathetic to these types of issues in the past. Somehow I doubt this will be a turning point…

(You can see the video footage here).

 

Tag-a-long on the cargo bike

May 22, 2017 at 14:07 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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As you may remember, over the New Year period we went to the UK, and had a very successful experience with a Burley tagalong trailer. The kids loved it, and it was very easy to ride with it on the bike.

I’ve been thinking about getting one for use at home ever since, especially as the children are really now too big for the ‘two passenger‘ solution I had – their increased weight coupled with the high centre of gravity was making putting them both into the kiddie seats a tiring proposition. If I could put the tagalong on the back of the rack, and leave enough space for another child to sit straddling the rack at the front, I’d have a more manageable solution.

The issue was how to attach it to the bike. I pondered this for a while, whilst doing some internet investigations. And I found a few people who had successfully fashioned a bracket to attached a Burley trailer to an Xtracycle. I reached out to those people, but the information I found was rather old and I couldn’t track them down. But, after some consideration, I figured that I could probably work something out locally. And if not, I’d just have to buy a new bike suitable to fit the Burley to. So I bought a Burley Piccolo trailer, which duly arrived.

The next step was to find someone who could convert the Burley rack into something I could attach to the Radish. The Burley rack as it comes is a well-built steel rack, which fits in the conventional way over the back wheel of a bike. I needed someone who could take the top part of the rack, and fabricate some kind of bracket so I could bolt it down to the rear deck of the Radish. Luckily I had the adapter brackets for the kids seats as a kind of template.

After a bit of ringing around, I found the inestimable Matt Hopkins, of Hopkins Welding. He gamely agreed to have a go at the job, and duly set to with this metalworking tools and welding gear.

I can share a short lesson here if you are every thinking of doing something similar. Don’t simply take the part you need modified to your chosen artisan, along with a rather vague description of what you need. Yes, that’s right; version 1.0 was not quite right. I hadn’t taken the whole hitch mechanism along, so Matt couldn’t see that he needed to avoid some parts of the frame when fabricating brackets, where the hitch slots over them. However, when I subsequently took along the whole thing, he was quickly able to modify it to version 1.1, which worked perfectly. I have to say Matt was very patient with me over what was undoubtedly a much more fiddly job that he at first had imagined, and is a thoroughly nice bloke.

The other requirement was for something for the child sitting on the rack to hold on to. A bit more internet investigation revealed solutions for this too; with an extra long stem, some small handlebars and the correct shim I was easily able to fit some stoker bars behind my saddle, making for a secure ride for the child sitting on the back.

So, with everything fitted it was time for our first ride. We scooted around the block a few times, with the kids swapping places on the tag-a-long and the rack. And it was a great success. The kids love it, and it’s much easier for me to ride; the lower centre of gravity and less weight on the rack makes the bike much more stable. I can also finally do away with the faff of straps and kids seats.

I’m on the lookout for a cushion and some Edgerunners for the Radish, to finish off the job, but for now it works fine as it is. The dual-kid transport solution is back in action!

How does my bike work? – Jan McPherson

May 6, 2017 at 17:06 | Posted in bicycles, books | Leave a comment
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With the junior Chillikebab’s now at school, we have the joy of school readers. Books they bring home to read to us – full of the joy of them learning to read, and the crushing monotony of the repetitive sentences.

The other day, one of the juniors brought home this one – ‘How does my bike work?’. This book I of course approved of. Nothing like some good early education about bike maintenance. Junior read it with aplomb, and I ticked it off on her reading list.

However, it’s not a book I would necessarily recommend as a bike maintenance primer. Take this, for example:

Brake pads press against the tyres? I hope not; that’s a recipe for tyre blow-outs. I resisted the urge to cross this out and change it to ‘rims’ – which in any case I would say is phonically much easier to read…

Still, it’s always exciting to write a post that I can categorise in both Books and Bicycles!

Close pass again. Sigh.

April 27, 2017 at 11:51 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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You may remember a while ago I took some footage of a car passing very close to the cops. The reaction was surprisingly positive, you may recall. Well, it happened again the other day. So I thought I would take it in as well, and also take the opportunity to find out what had happened to my other complaint.

To help with this latest one, I also took some footage of my bike placed exactly one metre away from a parked car, for comparison. And from that comparison, it’s pretty clear the car passed me with only about 50cm clearance – enough to cause a shiver of worry. It’s really unpleasant to have a car that close. I saw a really good picture on social media that summed it up the other day:

So, what was the reaction of the cops this time? Well, rather less good. The officer at first didn’t even want to look at the video. then, after looking at it, he justified the behaviour of the driver, as ‘he probably didn’t want to go over the double white lines’. The fact that he had just gone straight on in a turn right only lane apparently was of no interest either.

Then it got worse. He told me it wasn’t too bad, and that the car couldn’t have been close to me as ‘I didn’t flinch’. He rejected out of hand my picture taken at the one metre distance, and told me that there was no way to tell if it was accurate, and he didn’t think the car was too close. He declined my invitation to go and do the sample one metre distance footage again outside the police station with him watching.

He then told me he would be taking absolutely no action.

I insisted on making a statement anyway, but it was clearly pointless. Here was a cop (Constable Joly, from Chatswood Police Station, for the record) who was justifying the dangerous driving of a law-breaking motorist, and also blaming me (the victim) for not reacting properly.

Oh, and the other complaint? Also dead, with no follow-up done or intended.

Meanwhile, the blitzes on bicycle bells continue. Fines rain down on hapless cyclists for trivial offences. And cyclists continue to die.

 

You can judge the footage yourself here.

Not so whitewall tyres

April 17, 2017 at 14:16 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I finally had to put new tyres on the Radish. The old ones were getting extremely worn; to the point they were completely smooth and starting to bulge. Riding it was very peculiar; the tyres were so squishy the bike handling was very odd, especially around corners. They were the ones that came with the bike, so have done a lot of km over the past seven years or so.

I have been thinking about new tyres for this bike for a while, and even asked in a few bike shops when i had to take it in for servicing, but hadn’t really seen anything suitable – I want a really fat, balloon tyre without much tread. Oh, and is cheap.

I was idly looking at things on the Pushy’s website one day, and I happened upon exactly what I needed. Fat, smooth, and cheap. And with a stylish white wall, to boot! I bought a pair, and they duly arrived.

I fitted the back one first. This was a bit of a pain, as getting the back wheel off is trickier than usual, given the weight of the bike and the panniers. But once done, I fitted the tyre, with my daughter commenting that the new tyre was ‘pretty’. So a tick of approval. then I put the wheel back on, which was again a bit of a pain. I had some trouble getting the chain on properly, getting very oily hands in the process.

Then I did the front wheel.

Now, more seasoned bike wrenches than me are probably sensing a schoolboy error about to happen here. And yes, you are correct. I didn’t clean my hands first, meaning the front tyre has a rather dirty white wall, adorned with hi-resolution imprints of my fingerprints.

 

Oh well. Perhaps I’ll clean it off one day. Or just wait seven years until they need replacing…

Another one…

February 28, 2017 at 17:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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Most days, I ride to and from work along Burns Bay Road. On the upper section through Lane Cove, I probably get at least one motorist a day who comes closer than 1m. It has a 50km/h limit; it’s marked with signs for caution due to pedestrian activity, and has a number of pedestrian refuges along its length. It should be a good road for cycling, but the unfortunate ‘door-zone’ markings make is much more dangerous than it should be.

(As an aside, there’s plenty of room for separated bike lanes on this road, although somehow I don’t see the (rather anti-bike) council ever doing that. Another cheaper approach would be to put a double-width bike lane in uphill, move the centre line over and remove the downhill one, as has been done in places in Leichardt )

The other day I got a particularly egregious close pass; one where I could have reached out and touched the car:

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This was one I thought I would take to the police. Not that I have much faith they will do much, but hey.

So I took the footage in. Unfortunately the front cam was not charged, so I didn’t have the footage with the bike wheel in shot.

However, the reaction from the police constable on duty was not what I expected. “Wow!’, he gasped, as he watched the video. ‘Geez, that really is close!’. Then he looked at me, and asked if I’d brought footage in before.

I said I had, and he seemed to remember. However, he was much more enthusiastic this time. ‘This is much better than last time,’ he commented. ‘You can see it’s really really close!’.

So it seems he is going to follow it up. Which is a good thing. Comparing the footage with the last incident (see here), it looks pretty similar to me. Luck of the draw, or are the police starting to take this a bit more seriously, perhaps jolted by press coverage like this?

We will see!

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.

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…

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