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.

Monday 24 February 2014

Note to self: do not race guys who are training to race

You'd think at my age, I would have developed a bit of wisdom and sense.

Nah. Not a bit of it.

I was out doing some cruisy laps in a spot that attracts lots of cyclists. I split them into three groups.

1. The totally recreational types, bumbling around in dresses and just enjoying a fine morning in the sun
2. The fitness oriented recreational type - like me - doing laps at all sorts of speeds. I put myself up towards the upper end of that group
3. The racing nazis who are hunched over and going like the clappers. There weren't many of them, but by gum, they move quickly

I was cruising along happily, overtaking lots of type 1 and type 2s, when a gaggle of type 3s shot past and then sat up right in front of me, not bothering to pedal and slowing me down - all except for one bloke who kept on blasting up the road.

So I went around them and worked back up to my regular speed.

The buggers had jumped onto my wheel.

So I cranked it up.

And cranked it up

And cranked it up until we were trotting along at a nice 40km/h.

The buggers were still there. We were burning past everyone, and I was starting to feel the lactic acid build up in the legs.

As soon as we caught up with their mate who had kept on blasting up the road, they jumped off my wheel and tore past him, laughing like hyenas as they went. They clearly being doing circuits, intervals and sprints, and had simply used me as their train for the next sprint.


I sure slept well that night. Talk about well and truly knackered. Don't start messing around with blokes somewhere around half your age and twice your fitness.

Saturday 22 February 2014

So, what are you training for?

I get asked this question occasionally - I don't know why. It's not like I look like a victim of starvation, and weight counts for a lot in cycling.

I had to think about this. I don't have a training program. I don't do intervals or attempt to estimate my threshold power or bother with a power meter. I just ride. I'll hammer it occasionally, but not as a deliberate activity. If I hammer it, it's because I feel like burning off a bit of steam. I'm always conscious of the fact that because I commute, I need to get home in the evening, and I need to get out of bed before dawn and make it into work the following day. I don't want to totally cook myself and then find that the bus is the only option because my legs refuse to rotate.

It was different when I was a teenager and training for school sports. Our coaches would deliberately hammer us into the ground so that our muscles would rebuild stronger and stronger after each session. The same went for when I was doing gym work in my 20's - the theory (and practice) was all about overtaxing a muscle group, which would then force it to repair and strengthen. I found gym work pretty easy - I'd do a different muscle group each day, giving the one I had beaten to death the day before some time to recover before it was hammered again. In that fashion, I bulked up pretty quickly. So much so, I walked like a gorilla for some years. It was so easy - train each muscle group to failure, eat lots of protein and get plenty of rest.

I had some bad experiences in my first few years of riding to work - they generally revolved around killing myself on the way in and then suffering really badly on the way home. I'm not in this for the pain, so I feel no urge to smash myself into the ground every other day.

The interesting thing is that since November, I've been riding a hell of lot harder than normal. Harder than ever in fact. And instead of being a gibbering mess, I'm actually feeling better than I can ever remember. I must have hardened up somewhat. I guess the lesson is that there is no point in going at it soft.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Making the most of the coolish weather

I don't remember this time of year usually being this cool - or perhaps it would be better to say that I thought it would be a lot hotter at the moment. The last few weeks have not seen the maximum temp go over 30. For the last few years, when I got home from work, I'd need to lie in as cold a bath as possible for a long time to cool down. A second shower before bed to cool off some more was compulsory.  Now, I am barely sweating.

I'm making the most of this weather before it starts to get properly cold. It's a good time of the year to be doing more kilometres. When it's really cold, it's hard to get motivated to get up and get on with it. When it's hot, there is the problem of cooking yourself. Now is Goldilocks time, so I am striving to be out of the house 15-30 minutes earlier than usual so that I can ride a bit extra before work. Every little bit counts.

Speaking of which - I need to split. The clock is ticking.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Audi - the new Volvo?

Congratulations Audi - you have obviously increased your market share by appealing to the sort of morons that used to drive Volvos.

An A4 is 2006mm from wing mirror to wing mirror. You average bike lane is about half that width. That didn't stop an idiot yesterday from deciding he would attempt to over take by driving a 6 foot wide car into a 4 foot wide gap - which just so happened to have a cyclist in it.

My fingers still ache from where I bashed them on the passenger window. I scared the utter crap out of the passenger - not her fault that her husband left his brains at home. I bet she's now complaining about the angry cyclist that rapped his knuckles on her window - I wonder if she'll ever think about how scared I was at suddenly having a 1.5 tonne vehicle suddenly swerve at you without warning and try and run you off the road.

The upside is that the adrenaline rush from the near miss enabled me to post a personal best on the next section of road. The downside is that it gave me a headache from overcooking myself.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

It really is a good idea to stop at red lights

I pulled up at an intersection in town this morning when the lights were red and pedestrians were crossing in all directions. I thought for a moment about going from cyclist to pedestrian mode, and rolling slowly around the corner with the pedestrian flow.

For some reason, I held back. And just at that moment, a motorbike pulled up behind me.

I was a bit surprised, as I was in a bus lane and motorbikes usually stay out of them. I puzzled over it for a few seconds, and then it dawned on me that it was a powerful but quiet bike.

Only one sort of person has that sort of bike.

I turned to my left and had a look at our reflection in a shop window - sure enough, it was a police motorbike. He was sitting there behind me, waiting for me to run the red and give me a ticket. I've seen it happen in town a few times now. I never looked back at him, trying to give him the idea that I was blissfully ignorant of his presence.

I must have a sixth sense for this sort of thing.

Monday 3 February 2014

Making a right bollocks of it

I still love to watch this and have a laugh. Then it struck me - people usually go into these committee meetings with a set of prepared questions. Was this a spur of the moment question (a thought bubble?), or was this a carefully prepared "gotcha"?

If it was a thought bubble that went badly wrong - well, that's extremely embarrassing and many of us might think, "And there for the grace of God go I". But if it was prepared in advance with the assistance of staff.........heaven help us. That would make them thicker than a truck load of 4x2s.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Amping it up

For the last few years, I've been riding about 150km a week. That has been the most I've been able to do without collapsing in a heap at the end of every week, and being able to contribute to running a household full of kids.

Each year, I'd slowly lose weight and gain fitness - and then I'd have a month or two off due to illness, injury, holidays or a change in work or family circumstances. The weight would pile back on, since I'd still eat like I was riding every day.

Back in early December, I decided I'd try to amp it up.

For starters, I'd ride right through Christmas - that would ensure I didn't booze much (very hard to ride in summer with a hangover) and I'd balance the Christmas feasting with burning energy. That worked.

I also planned on cranking up my mileage by 33%, with a stretch target of 66%. I don't want to see the weight slowly dribbling away - I'd like to see it drop off in a hurry.

I've been able to do that too, although the extra time on the bike has cut into the blogging. Blogging for me is a luxury - it only gets done after the family is fed, the kitchen is clean, the clothes are washed, the gardening is done, the kids are read to etc etc. All that bloody housework has to be done first, and hours are finite.

The only way for me to do extra miles each week is to ride on the weekends. I used to leave the weekends alone - mainly to recover from doing 10 shortish rides during the week. The body needs some downtime. It's had less downtime this year - there have been times when I have ridden for 20 days straight - and it hasn't seemed to bother me. I was expecting that I'd be getting very stiff, sore, flat or tired, but that hasn't been a problem so far.

Now is the time to be doing this - the weather is warm and dry, so motivation is not an issue. It will be a lot harder to keep the miles up once it turns cold and wet. There is no problem with doing the base 150km each week - one has to get to and from work. The extras will be a challenge.

Thursday 30 January 2014


I can see why a lot of successful authors say that one of the secrets to their success is discipline - the ability to sit down day after day and churn out so many thousands words.

Writing leads to more writing. Maybe not good writing - but writing of some sort.

I've been pretty slack since Christmas; a lot of the reason for that is I simply fell out of the habit of sitting down each night, opening up Blogger and bashing out some words on whatever topic happened to pop into my head that day. It's not like my brain has ceased to throw new stuff at me each and every day - I just haven't parked my bum where it needs to be and plonked away at the keyboard.

Being on the bike is no different - it's not so much how many miles are done per day as the fact that you actually put rubber to the road nearly every day and do some exercise. Something is better than nothing, and if you do it often enough, you'll quickly start doing it properly and see some improvements.

Let's see if I can get back into the swing of writing nearly every day.

Sunday 5 January 2014

Poor preparation

I went for a ride just before the end of the new year; when I got home, I did my usual thing and parked the bike without looking at it.

The next day, I faffed around and ummed and aaahed about pulling it out and giving it a degrease, wash and tune up. Then I put those thoughts away and went and had a nap.

This was followed by the new year, and I went out for a ride on day 1.

The year did not start well - as soon as I pulled the bike out, I found that I had a flat. If I'd gotten my act together the day before and done what I should have done, I would have found it and fixed it. I was not happy with changing a tube at 6 in the morning - especially when it was totally avoidable. If I was flexible enough to kick myself, I would have.

Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance.

True to form, I still haven't cleaned the bike.

Saturday 4 January 2014

King tide

I was out for a spin around the Bay during the week when I noticed the tide was right up - I read later that it was a king tide that is common at this time of the year. I rode down along the Hawthorne Canal just to see how high the water was - it was lapping right up against the lip of the canal.

A short section of Hawthorne Parade had water on it - you'd probably get wet ankles if you walked through it. I didn't look very closely, but I think this section of land is below the level of the top of the canal, so water might have come up through the drains and flooded the road.

View Larger Map

It wasn't much of a flood - maybe 50 metres long.

One short section of the footpath was also under about an inch of water - again, it was a the lowest lying point. It would be pretty simple to dump a few truckloads of dirt along here, build up the path a bit and that would be that.

Friday 3 January 2014

Losing control

I put this up last year and questions were raised about bikes "losing control

Fifty seven (57) of the recorded bicycle crashes involved a collision between a bicycle and another vehicle, predominantly cars. The most common types of crashes recorded were:
A motor vehicle side swiping a bicycle (12);
A motor vehicle emerging from a driveway or footpath impacting with a bicycle (10);
A bicycle and another vehicle impacting from adjacent directions at intersections (9);
A bicycle and another vehicle impacting from opposite direction (7);
A bicycle colliding with a vehicle door being opened (7); and
A bicycle losing control on a carriageway (4).

I've lost control a few times and crashed off the bike - both occasions required basic medical attention in the form of me walking into a clinic and getting bits of road scrubbed out of my arms and legs, followed by a few weeks of wearing shorts and short sleeved shirts to work whilst the open scabs dried out and healed. Tough Maori nurses, big tubs of undiluted Dettol and harsh scrubbing pads are not a pleasant combination.

The first one happened on a wet day as I crossed a set of tram tracks. It was my first experience of crossing wet tram tracks, and it was unforgettable. Instead of crossing them at a 90 degree angle, I crossed them at around 45 degrees and wasn't sitting bolt upright in the saddle. The front wheel went straight out from underneath me and I splattered on the road in an ungainly heap. There wasn't a car or tram in sight.

The second involved going around a corner and running over a bit of rubbish with the front wheel. Again, the front wheel went out from underneath me, and I slid down a concrete ramp shedding bits of skin along the way. I was on a shared bike/footpath at the time, so there were definitely no cars involved.

I've had plenty of close calls over the years thanks to hitting patches of oil, blowing tyres on broken glass or sliding on loose scree on the road surface. The scree can be in the form of gravel or nuts and stuff dropped by trees. One moment, you're burning down the road, and then you suddenly feel the front or back end move sideways in a little hop or slide. There are corners where I know gravel can often be found, and I take them carefully - I don't want to be leaning over at speed when the front wheel loses traction and goes sideways. I'm not too bothered with a rear wheel slide - I can handle them and am fairly good at recovering from them. However, front wheel slides give me the willies, and I'm amazed I haven't come a cropper more often.

Resolutions, or lack thereof

I gave up on making resolutions on New Year's Eve at least 20 years ago. It was pretty clear that most people talked a lot about doing something different, but it never came to anything. The only reason that I could think of as to why people made resolutions is that it gave them something to talk about during interminably boring NYE parties.

I have made a few changes to my life over the years which have generally stuck, and none of them have been made within sight of NYE.

So I have survived another year without making even the slightest hint of a resolution for the new year. I did make one small resolution back before Christmas - that was to ride for pleasure over the holidays. That was a resolution I could stick with, and I have.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Spring cleaning has knobs on it

Christmas break? Ha! Not for us unfortunately. Someone (not me) got the bright idea of scrubbing the place up whilst we had a bit of time on our hands. So much for things like lazing on the beach and going for long rides.

One thing I noticed when we were doing Junior's room is just how much stuff he has. He owns maybe 3-4 times more things at his age than I did at mine. Not only in volume, but in value. He's bought a fair bit of it himself, and I was wondering why he has been able to do that.

Then I realised he doesn't own the great money-sucker that was a must-have when I was growing up. A car. If you're not running one, the savings can be very considerable, and that allows for the purchase of an amazing array of goodies.

Why no car?

Public transport around here isn't too bad, and a lot of his friends live within walking distance. Plus he's got us to drive him around, and if you're driving, you can't be drinking.

Makes you think.