Thursday 24 October 2013

Riding in the big smoke

Thanks to the fires around Sydney this week, it's been a bit smokey on the ride home.

And before you ask if the fires are close by - no, they are not. Sydney is a big place, and the fires are on the outskirts. For instance, if I was sitting in Washington DC, the fires would be out around Fredericksburg. If I was in London, they'd be around Milton Keynes. Sure, it's really smokey if you're near the fires - but around here, you can just barely smell them (unless I have become completely desensitised to smoke).

We've had health warnings every day about not doing strenuous exercise due to the smoke, but that hasn't stopped me - or a lot of other cyclists around this way. I've slowed down and taken it easy so that my breathing is shallower, but that's about it. I've seen one bloke in a face mask.

Bob Carr and a sad decrease in hazard reduction burns

I found this graph in an Australian Institute of Criminality report on trends in deliberate vegetation fires in Australia. They have reports for each state - the one for Victoria is here.

Labor, under Bob Carr, came to power in 1995. Bob had a distinctly green tinge to him. I haven't been able to find the figures fore before 1995, but they were certainly pretty low in 1995/96 and they got much worse from that point on - declining to zero in 1999/2000. I guess Bob didn't want any smoke to interfere with the Sydney Olympics.

Thursday 17 October 2013


There were some bloody awful bush fires around Sydney today - lots of houses destroyed but thankfully no one killed (so far). We've had some very good rains over the last 2 years, and that has meant lots of grass. The grass has now dried out and - woof - it's gone up in smoke.

One result of getting knocked off my bike some years ago and landing on my head is that I have a very reduced sense of smell. I actually couldn't smell the smoke today - even though the sky was black with it. I wasn't bothered by it riding home - it didn't seem to clog up my lungs at all. Needed to give the eyes a good wash though - they were full of muck.The worst thing was the horrible head winds - apparently it was gusting up to 60km/h, and it certainly felt that way. I was getting blown backwards and side wards and when I got home, I was expecting the side fences to blow over.

This photo doesn't do this justice - the sun was a blood red orb glowing through the smoke. It was quite spectacularly spooky. Those bare topped poles by the way are were the monorail used to be. The demolition crew is still in the process of chopping it up into little bits and carting it away.

This photo didn't capture the scene either - that patch of sky in the middle was the most brilliant blue, with the black clouds above it.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Fascinating view of the past

Well, if you view the dim dark past as 1973 and 1978. Two videos that are worth a look - the first for what technology was like 35 years ago, and the second for what then navy was like 40 years ago.

Monday 14 October 2013

Surviving riding when it's 39 degrees outside

We've finally had a burst of hot weather - 39 degrees last week and 36 yesterday (although a cold change came through overnight and I am currently freezing - I'll need arm warmers and a vest this morning!).

Riding when it's 39 isn't that bad if you're prepared for it. If you ask me, apart from drinking plenty of water before setting out, carrying enough for the trip and drinking some electrolytes, the main thing is to have a good level of fitness. The hills and the heat could easily kill someone who is badly out of shape. I'm now at a level where if I potter along easily, I don't sweat at all.

On hot days, I leave around sunrise so that I get to work whilst it is still relatively cool - I don't have a hard time cooling down with a shower. Riding home in the heat is unavoidable - you just have to suck it up. All I do is drop my speed by 20-25%. That causes a serious drop in the level of effort that I have to make, so I don't overcook myself. It's hard to rein in the speed when you're used to charging along a certain section at a certain pace - I really have to watch the speedo and think about it.

Yesterday was worse, even though the temp was lower at 36. There was a howling headwind blowing, which meant I had to work bloody hard to make it up some hills. That negated the "take it easy"philosophy. For instance, although I was in low gear going up the Anzac Bridge (doing a paltry 11km/h - almost standing still), I was still working like a maniac due to the wind. If I'd dropped my effort level, I would have come to a standstill and fallen off the bike. I had to pedal hard down the other side just to keep moving. I was thinking about hopping off and pushing it was that bad. It was seriously hard work, and I am still feeling it this morning.

Friday 11 October 2013

If you're going to honk at a cyclist, make sure you can run away

Had a fun little run in with a motorist this morning in the city. It ended up with me calling him a number of rude things through his open window.

Here's the deal. Two lane road, with the left lane turning left and the right lane going straight ahead. I'm in the right lane, intending to jump into the left hand lane (which is a bus lane) as soon as the lights go green and I am across the intersection.

One small problem - about 50 metres up the road, there's a taxi stopped in the bus lane letting out a passenger. Or waiting for the passenger to pay. So I stay in the right lane and intend to stay there until I'm past the taxi - at that point, I'll hoik hard left into the bus lane and everyone will be happy.

The thing to note is that at this time of the day, traffic rarely moves more than 35km/h, and I'm doing nearly 30, so it's not like I'm going to cause people to be an hour late for work.

All is well, except for the impatient little turd behind me who decides he wants to overtake. Which he can't, because there isn't room. He does the usual impatient driver thing, which involves moving up enough so this front wheel is overlapping my back wheel. It's a horrible position to be in - the equivalent of having a gun held to your head. One false move by either party and things could end badly for me. It scares the willies out of me, but it also makes me mad as hell.

As I passed the taxi, I indicated I was moving left and then turned around and gave Mr Honker the middle finger. Honker gave me another honk, then came up along side me and returned the middle finger through his open passenger window (he was smoking).

Honker had one small problem. Although he was able to take off up the road, he was stuck behind a delivery van - and the van pulled up at the next red light.

And that's when I pulled up alongside Honker and gave him a good serve through his open window. It turned out the guy was perhaps in his 20s and quite fat - his gut was a lot larger and rounder than mine. He looked vaguely like a beach ball intersected by a seat belt. He really hadn't been expected that there would be a Round Two - that the cyclist might actually catch him and call him out on his stupidity. He thought he could be a dick and then run away from the consequences.

I definitely had the last laugh. My lane was clear. The lights changed and I took off. The van that Honker was stuck behind was not as quick as me. I made it through the next set of lights, but the van and Honker didn't. Honker was an idiot because he wanted to race ahead, but in the end, I ended up way ahead of him through lucky light changes. Being in a hurry did him no good at all.

I'll tell you what though - it gave me a super adrenaline rush. I was ready to rip his spleen out and feed it to him raw.

Monday 7 October 2013

I don't get to overtake Police cars very often

I went into town again today to witness the madness that is the naval review. The hordes that were there yesterday were there again today. Not sure if they were the same horde or a new horde, but they were certainly a horde.

Even though there were a bazillion people walking around, there was very little vehicle traffic. Everyone must have grown a brain and caught public transport. That didn't stop the police though from cruising around slowly to keep the cars down to a nice, calm pace.

But I don't do "nice, calm pace". I tend to go as fast as I can until I'm about to blow a gasket. So when I found myself behind a 10 car line moving at a snail's pace, I hotfooted it up to the front by zipping down the inside. And yes, up front was Plod, plodding along at about 25km/h.

I hung back for just a little bit - until we hit a stretch of road with a bike lane - and then decided it was time to leave Plod behind. Just one small problem - there was a roundabout coming up, and we went through it side by side. Which you can do (thanks to the bike lane) - but Plod made the usual driver's mistake of going to wide on the left as he exited the roundabout, which would have smeared me if I wasn't ready for it. Of all the drivers in the city today, I really didn't expect to get smacked by a meandering plod.

On that note, I planted it and left Plod to eat my dust. You're much safer in front of a car than beside one. I wonder how Plod felt about being dragged off by an old guy on a push bike.

I had to swerve out of the bike lane a few seconds later - did I mention Plod was out in force? Right in front of me, in the bike lane, were two mounted police. Thankfully, their horses had decided to crap somewhere else this afternoon, so I didn't have to put up with dodging around (or plowing through) some enormous horse pancakes.

Thanks to that, I am now cooked. I can barely walk.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Manners - or lack thereof

I ducked into town today to have a look all the kerfuffle the Navy has been causing. Plenty of people must like sailors and warships because the bloody place was heaving with people. I don't think I have ever seen so many people on the Pyrmont Bridge as today. A ship was tied up at Barangaroo, and there was a long line of people waiting to go onboard to have a look.

I pass the Star Casino on the way home. Some days, they have some sort of chimney malfunction and the smell of smoking ribs is ejected into the street to tempt terribly those like me who are passing by. But that was not what happened today.

The stretch along there is proper, solid, green, well marked bike path. I sometimes have a problem with people walking in or crossing the path without looking, but it's not often that they block the entire path.

Here's the scene: a stretch limo has pulled up to take on passengers. It's big enough to comfortably carry 6 large people - and it had to be, because it was picking up 6 hefalumps today. Instead of lining up parallel to the limo whilst they waiting to squeeze on board, they gaggled right across the path so that they blocked it entirely. And they were large people. Very large. Each as wide as the bike lane. Prime targets for extra serves of ribs.

Being a busy day, there were bikes coming in both directions. Half a dozen cyclists came to a halt on either side of this enormous human obstruction and just stood there waiting for one of the bovine critters to move out of the way so that we could squeeze past. They didn't need to get off the path - they just needed to clear one side of it so we could be on our way.

But they just stood there like a herd of stunned buffalo. Eventually, one of them woke up and moved a few feet forward. He tried to get one of his fellow lumps to move as well, but the lump was not for moving. The buffalo had to explain to the lump why it was necessary to move - including pointing at us - and the lump slowly started to move. Turning to look our way was not easy, as lump had no neck. The entire body had to be rotated, starting with the feet. It was like watching an old tank trying to do a track turn.

He moved with bad grace. For some reason, lump thought he was perfectly entitled to stand in the bike lane like an idiot. A very large idiot. Yes, he had to get into the lane to get into his limo, but that didn't mean that lump and his super-sized mates had to block both lanes with their mammoth carcasses.