Saturday 10 May 2014

Death on the road

There's been a number of high profile cycling crashes in Sydney recently resulting in death and serious injury. From what I have gleaned from the papers,  the cyclists involved were not paying attention to the risks.

For starters, a bloke was killed when he rode off the footpath and into the path of a turning bus. By the sounds of things, he didn't stop and look at the intersection - he just rode through it at speed and was cleaned up. My kids are currently riding on footpaths, and I teach them to stop at every intersection and have a good look - and that's on quiet streets in suburbia. He was riding alongside Military Road, which is one of the busiest roads in Sydney.

I don't blame him for not wanting to ride on Military Road - I did it once, and I don't want to do it again. I know blokes who commute along that road, and they are extremely fit and very fast and would be in the top 1% of cyclists - but even they don't like it. However, if you ride on the footpath, you just have to accept that your journey is going to be a lot slower - you need to amble along (so you don't annoy the pedestrians) and you need to stop at the corners. And yes, I know it is illegal to ride on the path in NSW if you're an adult without kids. I guess he wanted to go fast, but didn't want to ride on the road. So he tried to ride fast on the footpath - which is just a no-no.

The second crash was where a bloke got stuck under a turning truck. I had a look at the intersection, and I think I know what happened. The truck was turning left at a very sharp corner - the road he was turning into angles back. So we know what trucks do on tight corners - if they are turning left, they pull out to the right to give themselves plenty of room to turn. If the turning circle is too tight, a truck just won't get around the corner - it'll find itself hung up on a sideswiped power pole.

My guess here is that the truck had moved partly or wholly into the middle lane in order to turn left, and the cyclist coming up behind thought he could zip through on the left. He was going fast, the truck turned and he slammed into the side and went under the back wheels. Nasty. But unless the truck was failing to indicate, that was all the cyclist's fault. It's easy for me - I've driven trucks and I know all about blind spots and turning circles and braking distances and that sort of thing, so I treat anything larger than a 4WD with a great deal of caution. I don't go ramming up the inside of slow moving buses and trucks - I exercise a bit of patience and wait. Taking a bit longer is preferable to having your legs squashed by a 10 ton truck.

Poor buggers - but I hope the rest of us can learn something from this.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Life behind the goat's cheese curtain

Bernard Salt came up with the term "goat's cheese curtain" a few years ago. Read more about it here. Since we live in the inner west, we're on the goat side of the curtain by default. And yes, if you open our fridge, you'll find at least one type of goat's cheese in the cheese section. We eat so much of the stuff, even the kids have started to like it.

The only problem with Salt's analysis is that he doesn't describe what sort of goat's cheese is important. Does he mean chevre, ash rolled, plain, ashed pyramids or even cheese in olive oil? Or even a blue goat's cheese, or a Tomme? Is one of these enough, or do you need to regularly consume all or most of them? And then there is this slide show of great French goat's cheeses that look fantastic.

I demand exactitude.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Copenhagen vs Sydney

I read a few cycle blogs, and they all hold up Copenhagen as the model city for cycling. I visited Copenhagen for a day or two about 30 years ago, and I don't remember much about it. I think it was just after Amsterdam, and I was recovering from ingesting way too much space cake and pommes frites. You know how getting stoned gives you the munchies? Well, I had the munchies for about 3 days solid, and all I wanted to eat was chips and mayo. And more chips and mayo. And even more chips and mayo. I gorged myself stupid on them.

Which is probably why I got to Copenhagen and did nothing but lie around and recover for a few days from the chips and mayo binge from hell.

Given the circumstances, how long ago it was and the effect mayo has on the memory, I remember almost nothing of Copenhagen. But apparently it is flat and pretty compact, and about 35% of all trips are taken by bike. That's about 35 times more than Sydney.

Whilst I was wondering about this, I did a bit more reading and found some conflicting stats. One said that the average trip on a bike in Copenhagen is between 0.6 and 1.2 miles - between 1-2km. Another said that had increased recently to 4km.

That's not very far - that really is just pootling around your suburb - taking the kids to a local school; visiting the local shops; wandering off to a local pub or restaurant; travelling to work if work happens to be nearby. And to me, that makes perfect sense. Short trips like these are best done on a bike, and you can easily ride that far in a suit if need be, and you don't need a fast, fancy bike.

The contrast with the cyclists I know in Sydney is interesting. The shortest one way commute out of my circle of bike associates is 5km. The longest is 40km. The rest are in the 15-25km range, and most of them involve hills that range from painful to totally bloody horrible. Which is why we wear lycra and people in Copenhagen don't.

My simple explanation for this is that the residents of Sydney don't want to live like medieval peasants. By that, I mean they don't want to live in a small dwelling crammed into the area within the city walls. European cities (or at least the central bits) are old, and their buildings are a product of their past. The past was a very violent, murderous blood thirsty place, so people built walls around their towns to keep the bastards out. Walls are expensive to build and take manpower to defend, so you build the shortest wall possible - which means a small surface area inside them. Hence buildings, roads and people are crammed in. In such a place, cycling is a sensible way to get around as A is not far from B and the road from A to B is likely to be narrow and winding and possibly covered in blood.

Sydney was founded after there was a need to build city walls. We can thank siege cannons and mortars for that. But the old city was still pretty cramped, because it was built at a time when water had to be carried around because there were no pipes (if you've ever had to carry 2 x 20 litre jerry cans of water up a hill, you'll understand why it is a good idea to live close to your water supply) and only the wealthy had horses. Everyone else got around by walking at 3 mph - 5 kph. But once trams and trains came along, the city spread like crazy. If you look at a map from say 1940, the suburbs had spread along the train lines. People still had to walk to the train station, so most of the housing was within a few km of one. Once everyone could afford a car, the empty spaces between the train lines filled in.

So one reason we don't cycle as much is because we don't want to live like medieval peasants. We want a nice bit of land with a house large enough to swing several cats at once.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Heck, there's a lot of oil on the roads

Someone must have been driving around in an oil tanker spraying oil on the roads, because bugger me if they aren't half greasy. I've been seeing the shiny rainbow patches all over the place since it started raining earlier this week, and I've gone sideways more than once (but thankfully never down). There's nothing like braking hard and feeling the back wheel suddenly want to overtake the front wheel; then backing off, regaining control, braking again and having it start sliding out the other way.

Erk. Something I can do without at my age.

Thank goodness I did lots and lots of broggies when I was a kid and have retained the muscle memory required to stay upright in a skid.

None of this was helped by morons deciding that the sudden outbreak of wet roads would be a great time to start overtaking cyclists and then immediately turning left in front of them. I had two close calls in two days - I thought I was going to be impacting on a couple of rear quarter panels if the buggers didn't get around the corner a bit quicker. I wonder what the etiquette is in those scenarios if you do make contact. Should I smack their face repeatedly against their car bonnet, or just boot them in the nuts with my cleated shoes?

Thursday 3 April 2014

Will cycling make me thin?

The answer is this - unless you are doing at least 500 miles per month, no. From doing a quick survey of other middle aged cyclists that I know, that seems to be the magic number. At 600 miles a month, you start to pull in the belt notches every few weeks. At 700 miles a month, you can almost see their body collapsing in upon itself.

Which makes me wonder about the regular government advice about doing 30 minutes of activity per day, or whatever it is.

Doing 500 miles per month at a reasonably steady clip will require you to be on the bike for 30-36 hours. At least 1 hour per day. Every day of the month. 600 miles requires 1.5 hours every day of the month - and we're talking about sweaty miles too. 700 miles is 1 3/4 hours per day. Not per weekday - per day. If you miss a day, you need to do 3-3.5 hours the next day to make it up.

I'm using an average speed of 22km/h, which is what you tend to get in parts of Sydney after accounting for Stop signs, traffic lights, pedestrian traffic on shared paths, traffic congestion and hills. The more time you spend waiting at red lights or stuck behind someone walking a dog, the lower your average speed. In order to average 22km/h, I need to be doing 30km/h or faster on the flat, open bits of road.

That's a hefty time commitment to exercise, which is probably why most of us are getting fatter. The only way I manage to do between 400 and 600 miles per month (1-1.5 hours every day) is to do the following:

1. Ride to and from work - it's time I would have spent walking to a bus stop, waiting for a bus and sitting on a bus, so riding is a good alternative use of that time
2. Give up TV. Surprisingly, that was not hard. The main problem with watching TV is that I was staying up late, which meant I was getting up late, which means I couldn't get that extra 15-30 minutes on the bike in the morning that you need to get your average riding time up. Speaking of which - time to go. The sun will be up soon.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Old roads vs new roads

I made a shocking discovery recently - old roads are not like new roads.

I'm not referring to the quality of the road surface - I'm talking about how they were constructed.

In the old days, when the country as a whole was not as rich as it is today, roads were built over or around things. If there was a hill, the road went up one side of the hill and down the other. They just scraped off the top layer of dirt, put down a foundation and plopped tar on top.

Fifty years later, a richer country builds roads differently. If there is a big hill in the way, in come the bulldozers and a chunk of the road is removed to reduce the gradient. If there is a valley, it's either filled in or bridged.

This becomes pretty bloody obvious when cycling because if you have an old road and a new road running through the same countryside, one will murder your legs and lungs and the other will be a breeze. Gradients count for a lot when you provide all the motive power.

The legs of course want me to stick to new roads. However, the training part of my brain says I have to mix in some older roads in order to bash the crap out of my muscles. It can be hard work balancing out the desires of the two body parts. Half a ride can be taken up with the decision making process regarding which road to take when that certain intersection is reached.

If nothing else, it gives you something to think about.

Monday 24 March 2014

Teen troubles

There's nothing so amusing as listening to one teenager bag out the housework abilities of another.

For instance, T1 was whinging this week that T2 had left the house (for work) without drying the dishes. T1 whinged for a good 10 minutes about this appalling behaviour.

T1 is not working or studying at present, and is spending the bulk of their time playing video games, hanging out and watching movies before leaving shortly on an overseas jaunt.

T1 was tasked that same night with doing the dishes after dinner. At around 2300hrs, T1 was reminded about the need to wash the dishes. When I wandered into the kitchen at 0530hrs, it was clear that T1 needed to be reminded yet again about the need to wash the dishes.

Amazingly, when I got home after work, the dishes were still piled up around the sink.

If I so much as dare to mention the word "hypocrisy", T1 immediately goes on a very noisy and argumentative journey down that lengthy river known as "De Nile".

I don't get mad - I just chuckle.