Saturday 30 November 2013

Can cycling make you a better driver?

I have witnessed some monstrously stupid driving in the last few weeks. I don't know if it is the approach of the silly season, or the fact that lots of high school kids have finished exams and run out to pass their driving tests. Some of it has been caused by driver arrogance and impatience, but most of it has been really piss poor driving skills. In cooking terms, you wouldn't let these people into a kitchen to boil an egg. One of the major driving skills is being able to use the steering wheel to point the car where you want it to go - I've shaken my head at quite a few drivers this month who haven't even acquired more than the most basic handling skills. We're talking simple things, like being able to keep your car in your lane and out of the lanes beside you.

To digress for a moment. I spent a few years driving trucks in the Reserves (after back problems essentially invalided me out of my favourite infantry role). The Army spent a week teaching me how to drive on an enclosed circuit, and then another week of hands on training on the road. And by training, I mean 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. We did a lot more than just drive around - we covered basic maintenance, tyre changing (always a challenge on a truck), load management, convoy skills, paperwork, refueling and so on. This was followed up with more courses and practical work to teach off road driving - how to debog a truck buried up to the door handles etc in mud, sand or whatever horrible stuff our instructors could find; how to carry ammo and explosives, how to react to an ambush, how to carry fuel, how to use cranes to load and unload blah blah blah. It was terrifically good training, although I still can't tie a truckies hitch.

The vantage point of a high up driver's seat in a truck allowed me to see heaps of terrible driving by other road users. There were plenty of trips where I climbed down from the cab totally soaked in sweat from the stress of driving a truck full of troops through a maze of idiots in cars. The thing I hated the most was approaching a red light in the rain and having a car driver duck in front of the truck and then slam on the brakes. I worried a lot about simply running over, squashing and killing morons like that because I wouldn't be able to pull up in time. I learned a lot about bad driver behaviour during that time, and it made me a much better driver. I didn't want to be like them. When you're driving a truck with a crash gearbox, poor brakes, offroad tyres, no power steering and an underpowered petrol engine, you learn to think a long way ahead about what you are doing. If you don't keep your eyes open, anticipate what's going to happen and think about how to avoid problems that might arise, you will quickly end up in a world of shit. And that might involve a couple of dead people. That made me calm and methodical and it forced me to think about my driving and how it affects other drivers around me.

Given what I picked up as a truckie, it's plain as day to me when a driver is not paying attention, isn't thinking and hasn't grasped the intricacies of coordinating eyes, hands, brain and feet. Which is why I started thinking this week that maybe a big part of the problem with bad car-cyclist interactions (ie, close calls) could be attributed to totally shit driving skills. After all, I had plenty of close calls in trucks as a result of drivers not thinking about what they were doing - and I've had even more when driving a car. The main differences when commuting though are:

1. Truck hits car driven by idiot. Idiot in car comes off second best.
2. Car hits car driven by idiot. Might end up with some bent metal, broken glass and a tow truck, but no injuries
3. Bike gets hit by car driven by idiot. Idiot suffers no damage, bike rider ends up with injuries that range from a few bruises right up to death.

Which is why cyclists tend to get very touchy about bad driving. If you smash into my 4WD (as an idiot did last year after doing a U-turn burnout over a double white line after leaving a pub), you're coming off second best. (I drove away, he got towed. He had to put up with no car for a few weeks whilst the panels got beaten into shape, and he had to pay my excess). If you smash into my bike after doing the same stupid manouvere, I'm the one that suffers all the pain.

So how can cycling help with this?

When you're on a bike, you need to have your wits about you. You can't switch off for a second. A pot hole that would be a minor jolt in a car could throw you off the bike and land you in Emergency with a broken collar bone. Glass that a car will drive over without damage could cause you to puncture and crash. Drivers who aren't looking or paying attention will put you down. The doors of parked cars could be flung open in your face at any moment. The brain has to be engaged at all times and the eyes and ears constantly scanning for threats. In a way, it's a bit like an infantry patrol, but done at much higher speed (and without any threat of mines or booby traps - but everyone out there is trying to kill you). The hands have to be ready to pull on the brake levers at the sign of any problem, and you need to be looking for escape routes in case the worst happens. Plus you really have to ride to the conditions - you really don't want to slam into the back of that taxi in front of you because you were going too fast and not leaving enough of a gap. You can't afford distractions. You have to be able to recognise risks and know what to do about them. Of course there are cyclists that don't do any of this - essentially they are riding around with their head wedged firmly up their arse - perfect candidates for a Darwin Award.

All of that good stuff is second nature to me now, and I drive like I ride. The roads would be a lot safer for everyone if all drivers did that all the time.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Both sides are to blame?

The most annoying comment I have heard recently was from some peanut who, when discussing car-bike crashes, said that "both sides are to blame".


I've been collected twice by a car. In both cases, the Police charged the driver. One copped a dangerous driving charge. I was almost collected coming home last week by a bloke who turned across my path - he was on his mobile phone of course and not watching the road. I've had a near miss with a lady who drifted into the bike lane because she had one hand holding a bowl of rice and another holding a pair of chopsticks as she drove (and ate). I have near misses with tradies on a regular basis who refuse to give way at traffic lights and roundabouts. I could go on and on for hours about the stupidity I witness on a regular basis.

And I am equally to blame for all of this?

Sod that.

The get out of jail card for anyone spouting this sort of rubbish is that "lawless cyclists ride through red lights all the time". Somehow, the actions of a few idiots make me equally to blame when some moron fixated on texting his mate cleans me up.

Just one question - of all the cyclists that do go zipping through red lights, how many end up spread eagled on the pavement after crashing into a vehicle? Are the papers full of stories recounting the deaths of cyclists who disregarded the lights and charged through regardless?

No. Most of the cyclists killed recently around the western world have been killed by drivers overtaking them and then turning left into their path (or right if you're in that funny part of the world) - including turning across marked cycle lanes. Impatient drivers kill cyclists - and they are solely to blame. I'm sick of this "both sides are to blame" crap. Next time someone comes out with that statement, I'll have to ask them why they think rape victims are also equally to blame for being raped.

Good movies need good baddies

Why do so many action movies flop?

Simple - their baddies are not good enough. A strong good guy needs to overcome a powerful bad guy for a movie to really resonate.

Which is why Jaws worked so well for instance. OK, the bad guy was a shark, but he was a monstrous, unstoppable nasty shark. Same with the Terminator. Both were so much more powerful than the puny humans ranged against them, so taking them out was a truly heroic achievement.

Two movies I have really enjoyed recently have been Man of Steel and the 13th Warrior (an oldie but a goody).

Man of Steel features General Zod as the bad guy. He is so good as the bad guy because he thinks he is doing good - it's just sucks that the outcomes of his actions will be bad for the human race. He is totally driven by his desire to restart Krypton - and to him and his troops, that is a Good Thing. We're just unfortunate enough to be standing in his way. He isn't a cartoon bad guy who is doing bad things because they are fun to do - he is doing bad things because they have to be done to resurrect his race. He needs to kill a few billion people so that his people might live again. He's great.

The 13th Warrior didn't do very well at the box office, but I must have watched it at least 20 times. The characters are a hoot, and the interplay between them is done well. But again, you have a band of 13 guys facing a terrible, implacable foe. There is no reasoning with the bad guys (and there are a lot of them). They can't be bargained with. They can't be bought off. There is no discussion about the rights and wrongs of their actions - they simply want to kill everyone and eat them. There is no fluffing around with moral equivalencies and the good guys aren't torn with anguish about whether they are doing the right thing or not. They are facing a ruthless, evil enemy, and they need to kill them all. There are no pathetic civilians muttering about doing a deal with the enemy or "learning to get along". No one tries to understand why the bad guys are bad, and the only negotiating that they do is with the pointy end of a sword.

Great stuff.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Rain makes you fat

At least that's what I thought when I got to work earlier this week. Thanks to the rain pouring down for the entire journey, I reckon I weighed a few kilos more than usual by the time it came to disrobe. Everything was saturated - my jersey was easily 3 or 4 times its normal weight.

But it was very pleasant rain. It wasn't the useless piffling rain that falls in hot weather, dries as soon as it hits the ground and does nothing except crank the humidity up to 119%. It also wasn't the pounding rain that stings your eyeballs and lips when you smack into the larger drops when going downhill at over 40km/h. It was in between rain - Goldilocks rain.Enough of it to keep the body beautifully cool, but not so much of it that you'd start to think it would be more pleasant to ride into a fire hose.

I don't know why so many people hate getting out in the rain - it's blissful.

Monday 11 November 2013

My name is not Gaylord

I got asked a lot today if I rode to work. Sure I did. OK, so I had to put up with 50km/h wind gusts and pouring rain - but what's the problem? It's just air and water.

I'm more concerned about all the gaylords who took the bus.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Is Al Gore in town?

Went for a ride yesterday. Thought it was a bit warm - looked at the bike computer and found it was showing 37 degrees. Flipping forecast was for 29. Had to sleep with the fan on all night to cool down.

Went for another ride today - got absolutely pissed on. Half froze. Now wearing fleecy pants to stay warm. Very glad I didn't bother washing the bike on Saturday as it is now completely covered in filthy road crap.

Is this what it's like to live in bloody Melbourne?

Tandoori in minature

I don't get to eat a lot of Indian food these days - just about everyone else in the family dislikes it, so it's pretty much off the menu all year round.

I finally got the chance to have some last night - possibly my first Indian dinner this year. It was my first time ordering from the restaurant I chose, and I was taken by the idea that they served an entire chicken tandoori, not just chunks of breast or thigh meat.

My suspicions should have been raised by the fact that they were willing to cook a chicken tandoori style and deliver it to my door for about the same price as a supermarket roast chicken. But my mind was elsewhere, and I didn't pick up on that salient point.

The chicken duly arrived (with the other dishes). It was pretty much as advertised - a chicken, chopped into 8 bits and cooked in tandoori marinade.

There was just one small problem.

It was the smallest chicken I have ever seen. Either this restaurant has invented a shrink ray, or I now have an explanation for the shrinking population of pigeons in the neighbourhood.

I won't be eating Indian for another year, and after this experience, I won't be missing it much.

Monday 4 November 2013

Cardamom ambush

I'm a bit of a sucker for Indian desserts, but I've always held back from actually making any. There's just something a bit weird about them that puts me off putting one together.

I took the cheats way out tonight by making a dessert with cardamom - that's close enough for me.

It's a lime and cardamom sauce for bananas. Just the sort of thing that's needed to fuel a hungry cyclist.

I made this with just one large banana - the recipe calls for 6 small bananas. I reduced my quantities a bit for one large banana. Here is the recipe proper. It should be enough to feed two hungry cyclists.

Here we go.

- 6 small bananas
- 50 gm butter
- 50 gm flaked almonds
- seeds from 4 cardamom pods
- 2 limes - juiced and zested
- 50 gm 1/4 cup) brown sugar. Or molasses
- 2 tablespoons of dark rum
- ice cream to serve

Here's how you do it.

Lightly squash the cardamom pods and pull out the seeds. Don't smash the pods - if you do, you'll have bits of pod stuck to your banana. Just crack them hard enough so that the pods split open.

Add the pods to the 50gm of flaked almonds. (I like to put everything in its place beforehand, so I had a little bowl for the almonds and chucked the seeds into that). I didn't have flaked almonds - but I did have slivered almonds. They did the trick.

Peel your bananas - as in take the skins off. Slice them in half down the middle. Chuck half the butter into a frying pan and fry your bananas until brown on each side. As I was doing one banana in a medium sized frying pan, I had an easy time of it. With 6 bananas, you'd probably need to do 2-3 batches. Be careful turning the bananas as they tend to fall to bits as they cook. I started with 2 slices of banana and finished with six chunks of banana.

When the bananas are cooked, slide them onto a plate - or even into the bowls you are going to serve them in.

Chuck the other half of the butter into the frying pan and add the almonds and cardamom. (This is why I put them together in one small bowl). When the almonds are a nice brown colour, tip in your lime juice and lime zest. Whizz it around for say 10-20 seconds and then throw in the sugar. Reduce it a bit and then tip in the rum. Stir some more, then pour over the bananas, add ice cream and scoff.

I used very dark sugar - it was almost black. That was quite good. I might try it with a lighter sugar next time. I also added the sugar before the lime, but it appeared to make no difference. I also paid no attention to the measurement of rum, simply tipping in a reasonable quantity. Probably a lot more than the recipe called for.

To begin with, I could only taste the merest hint of cardamom. I was starting to think that I had wimped out by only adding the seeds of one pod.

However, the little buggers ambushed me towards the end - all the seeds must have ended up in the last three spoonfuls, because I was pounded with cardamom. That's not a bad thing, but it can be a bit overpowering, when hosed on like that.

This thing is a piece of cake to make, and it's very tasty. I reckon it took me no longer than 10 minutes from reading the recipe to eating it.