Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm Blue (Da-boo-dee-round the bum) AKA How to Clean a White Bicycle Seat

The Schwinn Jenny 7 speed is a cute looking bicycle. A large portion of this cuteness may be attributed to the crisp, white contrasting details of the saddle and grips. Unfortunately, white saddles on 'every day clothes' bicycles come with a major flaw: Everyday clothes are not as colourfast as athletics specific ones. Particularly if you ride in jeans. The Schwinn saddle was holding up well against my rear denim attack…until I bought a new pair of jeans. After one ride, the formerly still white-ish saddle of the Jenny transformed into a mouldy looking Smurf bukkake. E.g.

Think about it.
So how do you keep your white bike seat clean?! I tried cleaning it with a soapy damp cloth. I tried dish washing detergent. I tried gentle, non-destructive, non submerging methods of cleaning. No dice. Remembering my distant, childhood time in the 1980s when all sneakers (trainers/kicks/tennis shoes/what ever you kids are calling them) were made of vinyl, I recalled the existence of 'Sneaker Whitener' and wondered if it might help my poor saddle. I bought a sponge-tipped applicator of horrific smelling chemicals and went for it. (I'm not a 'patch test' kind of gal.) It stunk out a room of my house, made me cough and worst of all - did nothing to erase the mental image of Papa Smurf getting his freak on. I figured I was stuck with the mottled look and hoped that if I rubbed my denim clad butt on it enough, it might at least even out.

After moving to Tasmania - and long after I had stopped caring about the whiteness of my saddle, I was propping up the Jenny outside my local fish and chip shop when a passing stranger did a massive double-take at the state of my saddle. By this stage the blue had spread to the back of the seat around the 'S' (Fat bottom, hello.) and it really gave the visual impression of 'moistness' despite being dry. I could see them glance at my groin, attributing all sorts of yeasty horrors to my undercarriage. I wondered if perhaps it was time to revisit saddle whitening.

Since my first attempts I had fallen in love with a cleaning product called 'Magic Eraser'. Ostensibly marketed for removal of juvenile creative self expression from the walls of your lounge room, Magic Eraser is a thing of beauty and grace which I found had many unofficial applications relevant to my quest to see our bond returned when moving from Perth. (Which it was in full, the Landlady even asking if we had hired professionals, such was the sparkling condition of the house.) Magic Eraser. Learn it. Love it. This is not a sponsored message. Anyway, I decided to put its magic to the test and give the saddle another pass. As close to a patch test as I'll ever get, I started on the back around the 'S'. Immediate success. So I moved to the top. There was smearing and some drips from the eraser as the indigo dye lifted away, I ended up using a dry cloth to immediately wipe areas as they became clean.

I did this in the middle of the night, hence the awful phone pictures.

I used two small blocks of Magic Eraser, from an 8 pack.

Both blocks ended up disintegrated blue blobs from the friction.
(Aaaand we're back to the Smurfs again.)
Once I had finished two little blocks of eraser, I wiped the seat over with a plain cloth dampened with tap water (I didn't want eraser residue to linger) and left it to dry. But not before taking these last two pictures. I was impressed with the results. Though the saddle is not back to a factory whiteness, it now simply looks vaguely used rather than festering. I may try another pass in the future to see just how white I can get it. And I now no longer fear my bottom wreaking havoc on the snowy seat of the Jenny.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Scody Tour of Tasmania (With bicycle theft.)

Last weekend provided a treat for both North West Tasmanian bicycle enthusiasts and those enthusiastic about stealing bicycles. The 2012 Scody Tour of Tasmania ran from Hobart upwards including climbs up Mt Wellington, being thwarted by unusually wild winds and snow near Launceston and finally last Thursday it reached the north coast, colliding with the good citizens of Devonport. It was here that Queensland Gold-coast based outfit, 'Team Downunder' had two competition bicycles stolen after leaving them locked in their trailer overnight, amounting to a loss of about AU$26,000 and ending with one rider completely pulling out of the tour. As the news coverage suggested, it will be a hard task for the culprit to either ride or sell such equipment within Tasmania. Despite the presence of tours and roadies, being a bicycle backwater means there's not many $9000 Avanti Quantums with $1700 Garmon computers and $2500 wheels cruising the streets of the North West coast or indeed the state.

Tasmanian cyclist Ben Grenda lines up.
(He won the Burnie stage!)

Those unaffected continued across to Burnie on Saturday via Ulverstone on Friday, doing a 30 lap criterion around an 800m circuit of Burnie CBD before setting off back to Devonport for the big finish. Plebs who fancied cycling on the closed roads could pay $99 for the privilege and tag along as part of the 'Tour de Burnie Corporate Ride', like the annoying little brother of the main tour. On Saturday, Ginger walked into town to view proceedings, wondering why they had elected to set up the presentation podium outside the ugliest building in Burnie rather than the beach directly in front of said ugly building. He said there were about 100 people spectating and he phone-captured the general malaise for posterity. To be fair, the weather had taken a turn for the dour despite being Spring.

Clouds roll in by the beach.
Starting positions.
Rub and tug by the beach.
Praties is a fast food shop that sells baked potatoes with your choice of toppings.
The embarrassing Burnie clipart logo.
The ugliest building in Burnie.

Later, I dragged my fat bottom out of bed and we walked to a bottle-neck on Bass Highway outside one of our favourite cafés and stood waiting for three minutes until I managed to take four entire pictures of the tour as it left town. With a hit rate of 1 passable picture to 3 terrible pictures, I felt satisfied with my work and walked the 10 metres inside to buy an iced coffee and some macarons. Bicycle spectating is hard work.

An insult to bicycle race photography.

(Ginger's camera work.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ulverstone to Turner's Beach

On an early Autumn day, Ginger and I laboriously transported the Pashley along with his Schwinn and formally introduced ourselves to the Ulverstone to Turners Beach cycle path. Immediately we discovered that this was a cycle route beyond our most bucolic dreams.

The most picturesque cow's arse you will ever behold.

The 'official' path starts at Buttons Beach and runs through to Turners beach - this is the section on which you are completely shielded from cars and it goes for an all too brief 8-ish kms. Though Bass Highway and its suicide cycle lane run parallel, you'd have to be mad or mad and in training to choose battling trucks over the blissfully smooth, direct and civilised journey offered by the Ulverstone/Turners path. Set well back from the highway for the most part, the path sits quietly amongst pastoral land, allowing you to forget that Tasmania's main road is actually quite close by.

The ocean is ever present to the North as you cycle, peeking out from behind bush covered dunes, winking in the sun just beyond a field fence and glittering through gaps created by little boardwalk entrances to beaches. The combination of sea and countryside interwoven is genuinely cheering to the soul. You cannot cycle on this path in fine weather and be miserable.

Ginger with concrete, bicycles.

There are sights to see (You cycle past a miniature railway!) and a different landscape each season. On our first jaunt in Autumn we paused to admire a small creek and lush pasture whereupon this horse galloped up at speed, eager to greet us.

The horse was so enthusiastic about our stopping, we came to the conclusion that he too enjoys the mixed use path because some people have probably been bringing him treats. He was particularly excited about my camera bag and very disappointed when I produced an inedible camera though he was kind enough to pose with the Pashley despite my lack of treats. I think the resulting photos really emphasise the classic 'town and country' looks of the Pashley. We promised him carrots on our next visit.

When not passing farms, the Ulverstone/Turners path nips out to circumnavigate a holiday camp site and nudge Bass Highway. Though it never actually touches Bass, it does cross the holiday camp driveway and this is the time you must be wary of traffic. Fortunately, it is well sign-posted and gives you plenty of warning.

Many mammals in Fat-bottomed contemplation.

The path ends where the railway line meets the town of Turners Beach, thereafter if you continue you are relegated to some of the roughest road surface ever tolerated in the gentle streets of suburbia. Your jolting skeleton will find that the road shoulder is actually the roughest part, with a clear and spitefully visible demarcation between surface for cars down the centre and surface for everyone else. The slightly more tolerable road mocks you from your bumpy place in the designated bike zone but as we discovered on our first trip, it's worth the skull rattling. Only a kilometre or so later you arrive at a café, ice-cream and gift shop directly opposite the beach at Turners. This popular spot is a pleasant interlude before the return journey and a walk on the beach is recommended. There is no official bicycle parking but there are plenty of poles to lock up against and alfresco seating if you are feeling separation anxiety.

After a few autumn rides we've since ridden the path semi-regularly, noting the changing light and landscape. Now that spring has really sprung, I look forward to seeing what else this delightful diversion has to offer. Even it's just more cow behinds.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Orange Crush 2.0

Spotted on a perfect Spring Saturday strolling the Burnie boardwalk, this tangerine Electra:

You are sooo good looking.
We'd spent the morning seeing uninspiring hybrid after mountain bike rolling along next to the ocean, the casual riders wearing exercise clothes or safety vests but this Electra belonged to an ordinarily dressed lady sitting on a nearby bench, supervising family on the playground. There was a little childrens bike next to it. The bright pop of the frame made me smile and wish my own bicycle was with me. I was enamoured enough to ask her permission to photograph it and she was kind enough to allow me, even moving the little bicycle out of the way. As I'd already interrupted her conversation, I did not stop to ask where she'd purchased the cheerful Electra but I hope she didn't have to import it interstate. I like the thought of a Tasmanian repository for such joy dispensing machines.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Friends With Bikes.

There's a bicycle for everyone. Differences in budget, physical requirements and personality contribute to a delightful variety amongst the casual bicycling community, as evidenced by a sampling of my friends with a glimpse of East Perth café strip. Starting with my own bicycles:

Schwinn Jenny 7 Speed 2011 model.
(With another in the background!)
Pashley Princess Sovereign in Buckingham Black.

When bicycle shopping, my physical requirements are not too difficult to satisfy. I prefer to stay on the saddle and toe-touch stabilise the slightly tilted bicycle when at a stop rather than hopping off and standing astride as some people do. I am injury free from the middle down (some neck and shoulder problems) with reasonable strength in my legs thanks to life as a pedestrian. I am 175cm (5ft 9inches) tall, which is either average height or tall depending upon where you live. In Western Australia particularly, I am firmly average so it was very easy for me to find bicycle frames in my size. The Pashley is a medium  20" frame which was also the only available size in Perth. Being on the line between average and tall, I could also fit a 22.5" Pashley frame if it was offered. Some people prefer their bicycles to feel large, Dutch bikes are very good at this but the Pashley strikes me as being designed more compactly and I don't really have a preference in relative scale. Distance between seat and bars matters less in an upright bicycle as you're not stretching your torso forward to the handlebars so I'm happy with the medium. The seat post adjusts to fit my leg length and the bars also raise accordingly so the overall feel of the 20" Pashley for me is 'neatly tailored' rather than tight.

The Schwinn Jenny is a size S(Small) frame and was also the only size available in that particular shop. However, many Schwinn dealers in Australia offer bikes from XS to L so if your requirements are more specific, be sure to check bikeexchange. A sticker affixed to the seat post declared me at the very upper limit of suitability for the small size (It read 'Up to 175cm'.). Again, the seat is high enough so I don't feel cramped. It also has a handy quick adjustment lever which makes it great for lending to bikeless friends of most heights when on social jaunts. The handlebars stay at my preferred height as they require a spanner.

Ginger poses outside of Toast Café East Perth,
a popular non-lycra clad rider bicycle destination.
'Trek 1.2' 2011 model, 18 Speed Aluminium frame Men's Road Bike.
Schwinn Classic Al 3 Speed 2009 model aluminium cruiser.
Pictured at Burnie Beach. (Storm Trooper helmet not included.)
At 186cm tall (6ft and a smidgeon), Ginger is on par with the average Australian man of Gen-Y and a majority in the generations above and below (Each new generation tending to be taller than the last). His Trek 1.2 2011 road bike is a size 56cm/Large men's specific frame. As men have longer torsos compared to leg length, your average lightweight, modern road bike frame is scaled accordingly between seat and handlebars. Traditional style steel flat bar road bikes tend to be unisex with the smaller sized frames being suitable for most women.

Ginger's Schwinn cruiser is officially a men's frame but has a one size fits most construction thanks to the crank forward (aka 'flat foot') positioning of the pedal to seat post relationship. This means that at rest your feet are both firmly touching the ground, making it excellent for nervous cyclists and yet another flexible bike for lending to friends of different heights.

Australian Giant 'Via 2W', 8 Speed 2012 model, XS frame.
All Giant Via for women frames are slender steel with attached basket and an elegantly
swooping, mixte inspired split top tube. American models differ in features and colours.
Boo and Bike, a match made in very short heaven.
At a diminutive 149cm (4ft 11") tall, our friend Boo had some difficulty finding a bicycle frame in Perth as not many retailers in Australia offer truly smaller sized frames. (Just look at how big my small Schwinn is!) Initially she purchased a size S Giant 'Via W' 8 Speed 2011 model in black but even with the seat down as far as it would go, her toe was nowhere near the ground and Boo keenly felt the lack of stability when stopping. There was a half-joking investigation into children's bicycles until it was realised that Giant Australia do actually offer frames in an XS size. Sadly, the 2011 was not available in an extra small as the models were transitioning into 2012 editions (New models of common bike brands arrive mid-year) but fortunately, the shop of purchase was willing to exchange her small 2011 Via for a 2012 in an XS. Rather than black with silver floral flourishes, the 2012 Via 8 Speed was a quirky chocolate with pops of pink and hints of white, giving the whole affair a distinctly 'Rocky Road' vibe. It makes me happy when I see it because it reminds me of marshmallows at a fondue party. Giant Vias also come in 3 or single speed depending upon country of sale. If you are petite, Giant is worth investigating as their XS is in fact EXTRA small.

Mystery Cruiser, Mystery Hippie.
Perhaps a centimetre difference in height compared to me but definitely the same shoe size, The Hippie is also fortunate enough to be average in her bicycle requirements. Her cruiser was purchased from ebay; second-hand and already resprayed. Consequently nobody knows the make or model but I can tell you that it is incredibly heavy so it must be made of steel and also be the oldest of these bikes. As you can see, the frame shape is the same as Ginger's cruiser. Technically I suppose it's a men's frame but the cruiser style reads as unisex so nobody throws rotten fruit at her in the street for defying gender expectations. Like all cruisers, The Hippie's bike has a 'flat foot' position when at rest so fit is flexible and determined by comfort rather than measurements. Together, the cruiser and The Hippie work in laid-back harmony.

Despite differences in bike type, dress and riding style within my own circle of friends, all of our bicycles are compatible because the riders are compatible, willing to stick with each other on social rides no matter how relaxed the pace. Regardless of personality, height, leg length or comfort level there is a bike to satisfy all of us. Do the research, try as many as you can, add some pleasant people and you can't go wrong either.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vintage Ten Speed is Painless, it Brings on Many Changes.

(Apparently the 1980s is Vintage now. I am so very, very old.)

Jealousy and curiosity being equally powerful motivators, it wasn't long after Ginger went Full Roadie that I began to wish I could experience the social aspect of the road ride without all the attendant arse padding. Especially when special 'family' rides were offered by various organisations and I found myself road-blocked from even the lower end rides because my bicycles were too 'slow'. "Road bikes only!" they inevitably specified. Aside from justified outrage that a 'slow' ride did not appear to exist in Perth (I have since discovered there was a Tweed Ride in Fremantle last year. Fie on after-the-fact facts!), I was genuinely interested in expanding my bicycle skills by experiencing different types of bicycles. I had also seen how slender road rider's arms were, thus invoking the third motivator: Vanity. The pseudo-nonchalant viewing of local ebay listings reached its inescapable conclusion…

circa 1980s 10 Speed Repco Traveller.
The comfortingly solid steel and lugged Repco was purchased with visions of a bicycle touring Tasmanian future. These visions are still a work in progress, as is the Repco. It was sold in technically rideable condition but with more room for potential satisfaction than current jubilation. For a start, the brake levers are an evolutionary dead-end in the bicycle world. A dead-end which I came to discover had been lovingly christened, 'Suicide Brakes'.

Suicide and lavender. A winning combination.
Note that the usual brake lever sitting on the curve of the drops has a strange side projection. This runs parallel to the straight middle of the bars, supposedly providing the ability to brake while your hands are on top rather than moving them down to the drops. According to internet bicycle history, sports cycling was all the rage in the 1970s and so bicycle shops sold drop bar road after drop bar road to Average Joe despite what Average Joe (or Jollene's) requirements and skills might actually warrant. Instead of admitting that one style of bicycle does not fit all, (and likely blinded by dollar signs as they rode the craze for…um…road bikes…that they rode.) somebody clever came up with the idea of 'safety brakes'; extra levers right next to the top of the bars, coincidentally where the drop bar averse automatically like to put their hands because going from zero to drop bars is freaking scary and people don't instantly take to hunching forward with reduced field of view. Surprising, I know. Great, right? Safety wins again! Except: Turns out that a secondary brake lever is not nearly as powerful as a primary one so you actually get less braking power from the 'safety' brake. It also turns out that the top middle of the bars is the absolute worst place for an inexperienced road cyclist to put their hands as it gives the least amount of stability and control. Lastly, the suicide levers made other hand positions awkward. Ultimately, brake lever technology moved forward and bicycling fell out of fashion so that unsuitable bicycles were no longer being forced upon unsuspecting and innocently ignorant consumers. Until the mountain bike craze of the 1990s when it happened all over again. And now the hybrid bike push. And fixie epidemic. Anyway, having personally experienced these 'safety' brakes, I can anecdotally confirm that they suck. Stopping distance is not so much about stopping as it is about hoping there is a cushioned surface somewhere in the next 5 metres. Or at least not a car.

Stem mounted gear shifters.
The other problem with the Repco is one of my inexperience rather than mechanics. The stem mounted gear shifters and the gears themselves are terrifying to me. They are not 'indexed' as I am used to when it comes to gears. By not indexed I mean that they, 1. Don't have any kind of numbers or lines anywhere, and, 2. Do not reassuringly 'clunk' into place in the way that I am used to gears sounding. Usually, when shifting gears there is a nice click or a clunk to signal to the modern rider that teeth and cogs are interacting harmoniously and you are not about to participate in anything awful like the chain making a bid for freedom or your face meeting the pavement. If indexed bicycle gearing is like a staircase inside your house, these gears are like finding your staircase has been replaced with a water slide. They are known as friction gears and I am told they are a pleasure if you know how to use them. Because there is no predetermined sweet spot, you are able to tweak them to your liking. Great in theory but as I am still learning how to deal with indexed gears of more than one chainring, still a little above my skillset for now. I am aiming to conquer them though because I would hate to replace something which works and also because I think the stem mounted shifters are very pretty.

Lastly, I am not a huge fan of the orange and silver colour scheme but that's a problem for Future Fat-bottomed Girl and the powder-coater of her choice. Hmm…I've always wanted a cherry red frame…here's the rest of the Repco without comment. Or a bit of comment.

There's that 'Vintage' patina! You know. Rust.
I have no idea if this is good or bad.
Restrained lugs.
"Repco Cycle Company Huntingdale Victoria"
Australian manufacturing or just a sticker?
None of that Yankee spelling here. Ls and Us everywhere!
The days of the metal head badge were but a memory when this Repco was born.
Shimano branding detail.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We are the Champions…of the Driveway.

After a 10 day long bikeless visit from my in-laws, Ginger and I were eager to return to cycling. When people visit us in Tasmania, inevitably there is a lot of walking up stairs and inclines; this holiday was no exception. We scaled 'The Nut' at Stanley…

When it's already called 'The Nut', innuendo becomes redundant.
View from the top. The Zig-Zag path ascends in only a little over 400m so it's rather steep.
Those ascending tend to share a facial expression,
one of 'Abandon hope, all ye who nut.'
Those descending are generally contemplating arthroplasty.
The casual stance of this man is a LIE.

…strolled leisurely down the many mossy steps to the bottom of Guide Falls…

Grey zip-up Hoodie - $39.95 Grey Cardigan - $29.95
Bland Catalogue Posers with Nature's Majesty - Free to a bad home.

…trotted up and down viewing platforms and generally spent time repeatedly navigating the torturous entrances to our abode. Sometimes it felt like exercise but other times it didn't and in between bouts of walking we ate ourselves sick enjoying all the benefits of a burgeoning culinary tourism industry. (Watching Ginger eat Belgian waffles for breakfast at the House of Anvers Chocolate Factory sent me into paroxysms of Gluten Jealousy.) Unfortunately, I was struck down with a sinus infection just before the major walking and spent the day being very dizzy on the sofa instead of visiting Cradle Mountain. Consequently, I wasn't feeling healthy let alone any fitter over the week and was genuinely surprised to discover last Saturday that I could do this:

Usually, I require assistance at this point.

Triumphant and Fat-bottomed about to crest the summit.
Granted, the Jenny is the lightest of my two steel upright bicycles but it's still heavy and I hadn't even attempted to get it up the driveway since my initial failure just after we moved in. As usual, these photos don't do the driveway justice - it's such that Ginger cannot walk down it when he's wearing clipless cycling shoes. He has to carry them down and put them on at the bottom. Taking the bins out is an extreme sport. It's the kind of slope that whispers temptingly every time you roll a bicycle out to the top, "I bet riding down here would be fuuuuun…until you broke your pelvis." Walking our bikes to the bottom often makes the brakes squeak with effort. I was pleased with my calf muscles for propelling the Schwinn post-ride but also mystified as to their sudden strength. I've since decided to credit infrequent road bike bouts on the bike trainer over winter. Now that Spring has arrived, I'm looking forward to a lot more bicycling outside of my lounge room.

And even more ludicrous poses insulting to the natural beauty of the landscape.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Colour Peugeot.

Seen gracefully gliding to a halt in Devonport shopping district on a rainy day, this purple bit of interest:

It took quite a lot of willpower to not title this post after a Prince album.

Despite the smaller wheels messing with expectations of perspective, this is actually an adult Peugeot brand bicycle in the 'shopper' style that is once again becoming popular thanks to manufacturers like Bobbin. I'd guess it's from the same era as the Indi 500 Family Bicycle, late 1970s or early 1980s? Its compact convenience even appears to be complimented by a basic folding mechanism as evidenced by the hinge on the down tube. The Tasmanian rider of the Peugeot was young, hip and female - a cyclist almost as rare as her bicycle despite Devonport cycling infrastructure being the most comprehensive on the north coast. It made me smile because it's great to see increasing diversity amongst Tasmanian cyclists, hopefully the new spring weather will encourage all the less 'serious' riders to venture out on their bicycles and afford me more bicycle spotting opportunities!