March 1st, 2011

Sydney: deadly competition for those harbour side mansions.

As seminal figures to whom children look for their values, world leading bloggers such as myself sometimes worry, that perhaps we have gone too far with our words. Perhaps I should not have told every thinking person in Sydney (those who cycle, I mean) to leave for Melbourne, Newcastle, Portland, wherever. Perhaps this was going too far.

Then a friend alerted me to this story in the Sydney Morning Herald, about Nathan Besh, who maintains this youtube channel. Nathan does his Sydney commute with a bike cam on his handlebars, filming the constant attempts by pedestrians and drivers to kill him. Watch a few clips, and you will see the planners have done nothing to help matters at all. Allocating separate tracts of land to motorized vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians is shown in these clips to be the folly it is, with the slightest transgression triggering potentially fatal reactions. Maybe butterflies don't often cause cyclones, but you will see in these sorts of clips how a step out place can leave someone dead, when planners try to make order from chaos. Congested places are chaotic. Delightfully so. I once stood and watched the human ballet that is Grand Central Station around 5.20pm. By our own steam, we all have a way of not hitting each other. Thin the crowd some, and you could easily have added bikes to the mix, so long as none thought they could do more than about 20km p/h. Add some motorized vehicles, and it would look like Tiananmen Square. (Warning, that link is to an unsavory image). The chaos comes from allowing motorized machinery into the city at all. Eliminate all but a few trams and emergency vehicles, and Sydney's efficiency might even go up some.

Still, I'm convinced Sydney is beyond help. Its politicians are forcing people like Nathan Besh to risk their lives for a better future for all, like her, and these guys... we all know about carnage. A competitive spirit exists in Sydney, that sees speeding, jaywalking, and even inconsiderate cycling, as part of a race to that harbour-side mansion of Sydney's self myth. And god anyone who steps in their way. I do think myself lucky, not to have to compete in the rat race.

Hereditary Illness

I would never push my kids into a sport, other than cycling. Quinby's first impression of his new (for him) race bike, the one on the left: "It's cool. This bike goes really fast." So he's putting in time on the indoor trainer, until he learns how to control it.

5 irregular bikes

I have had the pleasure of test riding a few different bikes over the past week or two. Before memories dim, let me share my impressions:

The Vanmoof is a clever idea for a top tube, attached to gear you would otherwise have to walk down K-Mart's bike aisle to see. Don't be fooled by the Brooks saddle. In any case, this will become your pub bike when the lights break, whereupon you'll loose that saddle to thieves. Very disappointing.

Far more behooving is Electra's Ticino 20D. This flagship type model boasts a smooth welded aluminium frame, parading as fillet brazed cro-mo, that would cost more to produce, and provide a more comfortable ride. But Aluminium is light! For a full claptrap package—front and rear racks and full mudguards—this bike is as light as they come. It also has bling: leather toe straps, "Electra" embossed everywhere, coiled stainless cable outer, leather washers, and a race worthy 105 drive train. Exquisite stuff, truly. The seat could be a Brooks. The down tube friction shifters are so hard to reach you wont bother. But otherwise, wow! I could clean this bike every weekend for years, and never get bored. This bike has actually raised my expectations of all production bikes in this category. For $2999 though, I would prefer if it had lights.  

From that to the Velorbis Leikier, a bike I have admired in pictures for over a year. The pictures don't show the very rough welds. Industrial chic? No, just sloppy workmanship actually. It steers a bit like a unicycle, wants to do wheelies, accelerates like a recumbent, but just looks the bomb—from a distance. If you want to be that mysterious man, who mysterious women make notes to talk to sometime, this is your bike. The handlebars are works of art, and for your $2999, you do get lights with this one.

Now on to a box bike, the first one I've ever ridden in fact. If like me, you miss feeling misunderstood since you lost your religion, here is your chance to start proselytizing again, for a new maligned cause. Blessed are ye when you are cursed for your faith, as I was by a Falcon driver (wearing a hat!), who blared his horn as he passed me during my test ride. Wear a bright shirt! You will be taking a lane as surely as a team of draft horses while riding this bike, so completely at drivers' mercy. This first box bike experience of mine was with a Belgian made Achielle brand bike. I'm told this is an old family owned business. They were ghost makers for numerous brands that have since found cheaper frame makers in China. So now Achielle are a brand unto themselves. All those brands who took their business to China did leave something behind though: patterns for every kind of bike known to European mankind, including priest bikes, mixties, omas, and the box bike I'm pictured pretending to ride. Their Australian stockist/importer, Morgans Bicycles in Sydney, occupy an out-of the way showroom in Alexadria, set up more like an Armani factory outlet than a bicycle store. If that pot you tried in Amsterdam is still giving you flashbacks, spin yourself out and call by. You will think you are back there. Every kind of bike you saw chained up at Centraal, is there on display.

Finally, the Hon. Hamish and I had a chance, after many years dreaming of the day, to finally do a few laps on a Strida. The handling really comes into its own below 2 kilometers per hour. Yes, you can ride in circles among pedestrians while waiting for the little green man. Could you be fined? That depends on whether or not such a thing actually classifies as a bicycle. If not, it could accompany you on board trains for no extra fare, and could be ridden on footpaths without a helmet. It would not be worth buying though, without such concessions. Sure, as a talking point maybe, until you get tired of showing people how it clips together with magnets. Yes, very clever.

Thanks to Newfarm Bikes in Brisbane, and Morgans Bicycles and Clarence Street Cyclery in Sydney, for letting me test ride their bikes.