March 16th, 2011

Tsunami proof planning for cycling?

Until last week, I was thinking towns on flat planes should all be consolidated. A thick urban carpet, with circuitous streets to slow cars, and hardly any car parking, would naturally lead to high levels of cycling. Just look at Amsterdam.  
I had seen news of the floods up in Brisbane, and was there recently to see the destruction of cycleways on the edge of the river. I was in Launceston during the rains that had caused those same floods, and admit I was nervous to be staying in a hotel on the wrong side of the levy. But my basic cycle-centric thesis still held: consolidate flat lands, where we know rates of cycling will always be higher, and you will get cycling dominating car traffic. All that was before the events of last week. We're told these are once per millennium events, for any particular city. But with more than a thousand such cities dotting coast lines, facing fault lines, we're lucky thousands don't die, somewhere, each year.

Design the hardest part first

My mother told me, when ironing a shirt, iron the tricky bits first. She was right of course. The broad areas flow away from the collar and cuffs, not the other way around. There are parallels to my mother's wisdom, I've found, in the world of design. It is in their elegant handling of the meeting of a wall with an eave, that a master architect stands apart from the hacks. Whatever it takes—putting the structure elsewhere, elaborate duogongs, or an ionic freeze or caryatids' heads—to handle this juncture with finesse, gives an architect the luxury of doing nothing special at all with the rest of the building.

The "business end" of the bicycle, is where the rear wheel meets the frame. Consider all the things that might be competing for space here: axle fasteners, chain tension devices, gears, disc brakes, perhaps a light wire, rack and fender stays... those pegs kid's have on their BMX ramp bikes. Disregard the celebrity endorsements, and glossy brochures: if you're contemplating buying a bike, ask to pull the back wheel off. I very nearly ordered a Brompton this week, suckered by the bowler hat image. Thankfully I found the clip on their website from which I took the screen shot you'll see, below left.

Note, the Brompton is filthy, and who, when it comes down to it, could bring themselves to clean such a fowl piece of making? Made by good UK workers with OH&S laws guarding them against having to come very close to their subject. I've seen wheelbarrows at Bunnings with more finesse. Meanwhile, over at NAHBS, they're treating cast sliding titanium dropouts as though they were... I would say "gold", but I'd rather wear cast sliding titanium dropouts as jewelry. If you're an architect reading, study eave details. If you're contemplating buying a bike, ask the shopkeeper if they mind you taking off the back wheel.