Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Retro Raspberry Beret.

What a Bicycle-Chic treat! Drooled over in Melbourne CBD; a German Retrovelo in classic red. I forgot to see how many gears it had so I don't know if it's a 'Klara' or Paula' (And I always feel weird getting too close to strange bicycles.) but both models have the same lovely lights, flirty fenders, cushioning cream Schwalbe tyres and every other disturbingly sexual alliteration one might wish to apply to an inanimate object. Looks like a Basil 'Beauty Shopper' rattan look basket with the stem mounted quick release rather than the more common handlebar attachment. In fact, they seem to have removed the headlight in favour of the basket! Looking at the Retrovelo website, the front light comes mounted very high up, directly where the basket mount on this bicycle is sitting - so I can see they would have conflicted. How lucky for me that the Pashley light was already positioned to accommodate a basket. It seems a bit myopic of Retrovelo to do otherwise.

I've yet to try a bicycle with balloon tyres, it's on my list of future bicycle experiences. I bet it makes for a smoother inner city ride. Other features of note include the warmly hued Brooks saddle, colour matched grips and the rear rack sprayed the same colour as the frame, something I always find extra appealing. The Retrovelo site says that the rack is an optional item. Well, good decision, Person Who Bought This Bicycle! I hope it was still there when you returned.

According to the Retrovelo website, there is but a single dealer in Australia - In Victoria of course. Perhaps one day I'll get a test-ride. Until then, I can only suffer some serious bicycle envy. Love that red.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Really, Really, Ridiculously Good-Looking E-Bike?

Quick! Think of an electric bike! Gross, right? The thought of e-bikes tends to provoke images of camp futurism and lots of silver and plastic. Not to mention that unavoidably ugly battery. But I've just stumbled upon a radically beautiful looking e-bike developed and designed in the United States and about to go into its first ever production run. (Sadly, not available internationally…yet) It's called the Faraday Porteur, it's both a utility and an electrically assisted bicycle and it looks like this:

Image from Faraday website.
Please go there so I feel better about using their picture.

When was the last time you saw an e-bike that looked so good? The Faraday Porteur is revolutionary for many reasons and you can read about all of them either on their Kickstarter page or their website but I'll summarise a few here.

Firstly, the batteries are INSIDE the double top tube of the frame, solving the usual e-bike problem of chunky blocks squatting over the rear tyre or in the case of DIY e-bike kits, giant bricks wedged below the seat. That little green bit at the back is where the plug for recharging is housed. And check out the lovely leather pouch on the top tubes - charming! Not to mention the Brooks saddle and leather grips. A 21st Century bike with a firmly vintage aesthetic. I love the cream and mint colour scheme too. Unisex enough that the rider will push it either way.

Secondly, note the portage friendly features like double kickstand and front rack with weight distributed through the frame rather than down on the front wheel. This allows for heavier loads. If you check out the video on the Kickstarter page, you'll see that the front carrier is even detachable for when you want a narrower profile or lighter bicycle. The creators plan to release other accessories to click into the same quick release as the rack for a future of customisation and even pet carrying! Also proving its street cred, the Faraday Porteur has built in LED lighting. Two at the front (see the support tubes under the front carrier? The lights are inside there!) and red at the rear.

Another detail which adds to the Faraday Porteur's charm includes the complete lack of a giant computer screen, a thing which often plagues e-bikes. Instead there is an understated 'virtual ink level' next to the electronic assist switch which is itself a minty green little thumb shifter on the handlebars, very subtle. The fenders/mudguards are made of wood, an interesting choice. They certainly look pretty even if it feels a little gimmicky. I wonder if that was a weight reducing choice? I also wonder just how much protection that chain ring would offer - maybe they should have busted out a wooden chain case! I jest. I do like the clean look of it, though. You can really tell this is a 'Designer's bike' as well as a triumph of technological geekery. Dare I type it? It reminds me of a certain fruit-themed company that successfully combined attractive design with ease of use and innovative technology.

I don't really like to use pictures from other websites but my enthusiasm for this
has forced me to make an exception. This is a beautiful bike in general as well
as a significant leap forward for e-bikes.

I really hope this re-imagining of an e-bike takes off for the people at Faraday and perhaps inspires greater change in the e-bike industry. I'd love to see more traditional looking e-bikes offered as an attractive, prestige alternative to cars. The Kickstarter page says the Faraday Porteur is going to retail for almost US$4000 which is confrontingly expensive until you take into account the fact that it's made domestically (as far as they are concerned) out of high quality materials and parts, is an e-bike and is a fully loaded utility bike in a vintage inspired style. Best of all, the video boasts that the Faraday was bred to tackle the infamous hills of San Francisco - As a Tasmanian, that is definitely technology I can get behind.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Budget Bicycle Makeover.

When a Flower Child friend made a split second decision to buy a bike from ebay (The auction had less than a minute to go!) Ginger Man and I were excited at the thought of social bike adventures. The bicycle was an old steel beach cruiser being sold 'as is' and seemed like an okay deal for the low price. Somewhat ironically, the seller lived on the outskirts of Perth, nowhere near a beach - so Ginger and Hippie friend took a ute drive out to collect. It was almost satisfactory from a mechanical point of view (though some things wanted tightening) but on the style front it had definitely seen better days. The seat was old and split with rusted springs, there was no chain guard and it was sporting two completely different tyres. Sadly, our friend did not have money to spare on such trivial things as aesthetics. It was rideable and that was all that mattered. To everyone except Ginger, who was secretly longing for a project. Very soon after acquiring her bicycle, Hippie friend had to travel interstate and while she was gone, Ginger hatched a diabolical plan to bikenap and improve the cruiser.

The very hefty cruiser in bought condition. I'd love to know how old it is, it weighs a tonne.
Note mismatched tyres which were also pretty wrecked from going over gumnuts.

The trouble was, we didn't have much money to throw around either - having bought our own bicycles of late. Ginger prioritised basic maintenance jobs and upgrades according to what we could afford. Firstly, the handlebars were not secure; the thread holding them in place had been stripped and they would slowly collapse downwards when in motion. Thankfully, Dads of a certain age with many bits of advice and tools were available as a resource. We took the cruiser to my parent's house, on top of a hill. The driveway became an outdoor, non-literal crash-course in bicycle maintenance. My Father, relishing the challenge of the handlebars, fabricated something to secure them inside the head tube - I wish I could be more specific but I missed that part of proceedings. I can guarantee it was a slightly insane yet workable solution and with my Father, it's often better not to ask. Especially as when I walked past during the problem solving phase, I heard him wishing he had an empty aluminium soft drink can. This is a man who built his own tone generating oscillator for fun and spends his days 'improving' various household objects that are in fact doing just fine sans improvements. Ginger set to work adjusting the brakes (which had been knocked out of alignment sometime in the past) under the guidance of my Father, learning as he went. They then took turns testing them downhill. Fortunately, they worked. The bicycle returned to our house where Ginger washed and polished every part of it he could, cleaning and lubing the chain.

The cruiser actually came with these caps. A quick way to personalise your bicycle!
I found a whole page of novelty valve caps here. They average $6 a pair.

With the mechanics out of the way it was time to look at other elements. We decided that if nothing else, we should put matching tyres on it and try to find a chain guard. This seemed like an impossible task, chain guards are not generally sold separately and casually in bicycle shops. At least not in Australia. Fortunately, we knew of a likely place in bicycle workshop/retail outlet Pal & Panther. They specialise in selling reconditioned Indi 500 bicycles and offer powder coating to order along with other bits and pieces. A singularity in Roadie-saturated Perth. Though their clients are all cool suburban types chasing nostalgia, the men of Pal & Panther are the antithesis of hipster. Just a couple of guys tinkering with bikes because they enjoy it and have done so for years. Not an ironic facial hair between them. The man in charge told us he had bought the business from the original owner who had hired him in his youth. Pal & Panther also deal with motorcycles (albeit in an adjoining building with different employees), probably carrying the financial load during the bicycle deficit of the late 20th Century. As Perth boomed and the suburb transformed into hot property, the hipsters arrived, opening gourmet taco shops and boutiques around the little bike shop. Suddenly, their work was in demand. (Although I've been told they've since moved to a place with more parking, sort of ending an era.)

The cruiser was crying out for some whitewall balloon tyres so we bought some. Sadly, the Hippie-friendly hibiscus tread pattern tyres we saw online were out of reach but Pal & Panther had a set with a wavy tread pattern and whitewall balloons of any kind look great on a cruiser, with the added advantage that they cushion the bumps. They cost $36 each (Not the pair!), the most expensive item in our budget makeover. We asked if they sold chain guards, not expecting an affirmative but we were in luck! Although we were told we'd probably have trouble attaching it. Ginger figured we could rig something up with cable ties if we got desperate. The chain guard was actually quite pretty, not the utilitarian item I had expected. Certainly excellent for about $15. We ended up attaching it with silver-toned metal cable ties to match, neatly finished and filed. The prop you can see at the front actually came with the guard. Otherwise it was a neat method of attachment.

Note the groove detailing. Also shown, new tyres!

We bought one more item from Pal & Panther, a bog-standard black metal rear basket for about $25. Ugly but very functional and tough. The cruiser was old enough that the back rack was a solid metal platform with no way of attaching modern quick release baskets. The black metal one we purchased came with bolts and plates to attach it semi-permanently underneath without drilling holes. Our bike shop budget was just about blown but we still needed a new seat, a light and of course, a bell. We headed to K-Mart because we knew they had a bicycle section. There we managed to pick up a completely boring but functional Schwinn comfort saddle for $20. We also bought a bottle cage and battery powered light for approximately $4 each and a bell for about $2.

Bell, Light, Weed.

The bicycle had evolved almost as far as we could take it. Except the ugly basket was bothering me. We made one last trip to a craft shop and I dug through the bargain ribbon, picking up dollar rolls, a couple of metres of some patterned stuff, a bit of piping and even a fake flower although I had no idea what I was going to do with it. All I had was a fair idea of my Hippie friend's aesthetic and a lot of superglue. Then I sat down with the ugly (and it turned out, not entirely symmetrical) basket and started weaving and gluing and weaving some more until my fingers were crusted with adhesive. The results were so:

Terrible photography…

because at this point…
I was pretty high on superglue, to be honest.

At last, we put it all together. We bolted the basket onto the rack as far back as we could, allowing for butt-space behind the low positioned saddle (I measured with my own fat bottom to ensure clearance) and throwing the flower into it because I'm not the hippie in this equation. For a total of about $140, it was now both functional and cheerful. More importantly, our friend loved it and we went for some pleasant trips together. Without fancy tread whitewalls, we could have had tyres at half the price or less, so a budget bicycle makeover is a lot closer than you think. Something to consider if you're feeling disheartened by your own bike. It might be as simple as a set of novelty valve caps.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So You Want to Get Back on a Bike: A Re-Beginner's Guide.

So many of us have fond memories of bicycling as children. So many of us abandoned our two-wheeled friends when we 'upgraded' to cars. Many of us would love to get back into bicycling for leisure or fitness, maybe even for transportation. We know have to start somewhere. Yet there is understandable trepidation - "What if I've forgotten how to ride a bike?" "What if I look stupid or fall off?" "What if I buy the wrong bike?" "As an adult, what will it be like?"

When we made our triumphant return to bicycling, "What's it like?" is a question Ginger and I encountered more than once from friends and acquaintances, even strangers. People like us who hadn't ridden a bicycle since their age ended in -teen. And one day, when asked that question yet again, Ginger replied with a revelatory simplicity containing such a fundamental truth that it has also been my answer ever since. I share it here with you in case it's just what you have been wanting to know:

"Remember when you were a kid and you used to ride your bike with a huge smile on your face? Well, it still feels exactly like that."

And it's true. Part of the reason I knew the Schwinn Jenny 7 speed was the perfect bike for me to get back into cycling was because even underneath my cautious awareness during the test ride, even having not been on a bicycle for many years, that feeling was there. It's the feeling Ginger got from the Schwinn Classic Al Cruiser and now with different skills, the feeling he gets from his Trek road bike. And I honestly believe that's the secret to buying 'the right' bike. You can't do that online - especially if you haven't been on a bicycle since you were 15. By all means, do your research online. I did. It's a fantastic way to discover what's available, what you might need and to make a short list. Once you have found a bicycle/s that you think will suit your local topography in terms of gearing and your personal preference in terms of looks and features, find a stockist and go to the shop wearing the type of clothes and shoes you intend to cycle in. Bike Exchange is a great Australian resource listing stock from both independent and franchised bicycle shops in every state. Run your short-list through it and see what pops up in your area. It's also easy to search for sale items and old stock either in your area or in individual shops. If you're on a budget, there are often heavy discounts on last years models and the only difference in larger brands between years is the paint job. In the case of more niche finds like Pashley, the bike will probably look exactly the same.

Really, the only in-store advice you need as a Re-Beginner is if the bike is the right size frame for your body and confirmation that it has the right number of gears for your area. A good bike shop will understand you don't want much more from them at this stage, just a bit of encouragement and disaster prevention. A good bike shop proprietor will not try to sell you something wildly beyond your skill level just to make a quick buck so be honest about your fears and expectations. After all, if they treat you well as a Re-Beginner, they're more likely to get your future business if you ever decide to lay down some serious cash and even if you don't, you'll have to see them again for your complimentary service so it's better for everybody to be friendly. Tell them what you liked about bikes on your shortlist (e.g. "It had mudguards," or "It could carry things.") and give them a price point based on your research. Get them to adjust at least the saddle and possibly handlebars to fit you so that they are not negatively affecting your test ride. This is a minute of their time, two minutes at most so if the saddle needs adjusting and they won't do it, turn around and walk out. As a Re-Beginner, you do not want or have to give these people your money. Once it fits you? Get on it. Test ride it. You don't have to go far but you do have to at least go out of sight of the shop proprietor and your spouse or your friend - whoever came with you to the bike shop*. Go as far as you need to in order to get a moment alone on the bike, to really be pedalling free of the expectations of anybody but yourself. Whether that turns out to be just around the corner of the bike shop where you can go up and down and around the same 100 square metres of car park until you're sick of it or out in the suburban streets a couple of blocks away, make sure you're cycling alone long enough to stop worrying about how you look or if you're doing it wrong. Long enough to do some turns, do some braking, stop and start and gain enough confidence to think beyond any residual anxiety. What you need is to ride long enough to answer the most important question: "Is this making me happy?" It will be an easy question to answer. If you feel giddy inside despite being slightly wobbly outside - if you feel like you're 6 years old going around the block for the first time, you don't need to know anything else.

It should feel like this.

*If you're at the bike shop alone, it's generally good form to leave your handbag/something of personal value with the proprietor so they know you'll bring their bicycle back. At some point you have to trust each other if you want a decent test ride. I personally find it easier to leave a human companion behind but I know that's not possible for everybody and there have been times Ginger and I test rode together and I left my handbag behind as collateral. On that occasion, the bike shop staffer even lent us the lights from his own bike as we were testing at night and riding away from the well lit street the shop was on. It's about a basic level of trust and respect so if you're not getting that from your Re-Beginner retail experience, shop around until you do. Don't let bad customer service ruin the potential joy of cycling.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Might As Well Face It: You'll Accessorise the Bike.

Of course, once you have bought your charmingly upright bicycle, you may suffer from the delusion that it is complete. It's not. Any bicycle shop sales person will undoubtedly convince you. Even if they don't, the law may require you to accessorise anyway with helmet, bell and lights so you might as well start Googling 'super cute head lights' and surrender to the madness.

The original Pashley basket.
Looks fine until you try to attach it to the bicycle.
Then it is too miniature!
When I purchased the Pashley, I was so uncomfortable with the service I received at the point of sale that we actually drove straight to Ginger's favourite bike shop and 'completed' my bicycle there. For a start, the famous Pashley wicker basket the original shop presented me with was broken. I asked if they had a remedy and was pleased to be told they could swap it out. It was only after getting the Pashley home and looking over many pictures and web sites that I realised the basket they had given me did not look like the quintessential Pashley basket. It was significantly smaller compared to the bike than examples I had seen online. I wondered if it was because of export differences but I've seen many photos of North American Pashleys with large basket intact so I suppose I'll never know for certain. Worst of all, it did not actually bridge the distance between basket support and handlebars so it could not be attached to the bike. Long before I noticed the size discrepancy I noticed its fragility so part of my mission at Ginger's bike shop was basket replacement.

Being a Roadie-centric retail outfit, the shop was filled with the usual clipless pedals and green lyrcra taint cushions but there was also a small collection of decidedly upright accessories. I had previously spotted the Bontrager faux-wicker front and rear baskets as well as some Brooks items and was keen to investigate. Fortunately for me, the macho branding of the shop had produced mainly macho customers and the demand for faux-wicker was low, to say the least. I was offered my front and rear baskets at a discount (though the Bontrager rear was incompatible so I ended up with a nice enough 'no-name' rear basket)

'No-Name' basket even had a plate
for rear light attachment!
The Bontrager basket is satisfyingly large and the Pashley basket
rest gives extra support to the handlebar mounted
quick-release system of attachment.

"It's not you, it's me. And my regret at
ever having purchased you."
I had also spent far too much time looking at pictures of honey coloured, luxurious Brooks leather grips on the internet so when I saw a green pair (The last pair of Brooks grips in the entire shop) I wondered if they'd look nice on the Pashley. They were offered to me at half price. I bought them. Rashly. For the Pashley. Yes, after careful consideration, I realised they were too chunky. I also realised that GREEN WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! Now the grips wait patiently in a cupboard for a bicycle to call home while the Pashley continues to sport the black plastic originals. One day, Brown, Slim-line Brooks grips! One day!

After my silly grips purchase, I even toyed with the idea of crocheting brown covers for the plain Pashley.

Honestly, the less said about that - The better.

Thankfully, Pashleys come with lights and bell so my insanity was curtailed on that occasion. For the Schwinn Jenny I bought the cheapest, most standard wicker basket in the shop of bicycle purchase and have been looking for a larger and nicer one ever since.

The quest for basket perfection is equalled
only by the search for the perfect lip balm.
Knog Boomers front and rear.

I also bought Knog lights which happened to be available in almost the same colour as the frame. Although if I had my time over, I would have bought the USB rechargeable versions rather than the battery powered. There's nothing wrong with the battery powered, I'm just not very good at remembering to keep batteries in the house. 

K-Mart bell.
They also sold streamers and
'Spokie Dokes'.
Of course, there are as many ways to spend money on your bike as there are outlets ready to sell you things and the bicycle world is full of $400 saddle bags that will make you ache for their leather-strapped beauty, but you can still add a personal touch to your bicycle without breaking the bank. You'd be surprised at the possibilities in your local K-Mart or craft supplies shop if you are quirky or love a spot of twee. Online shopping is great for finding bicycle accessories you didn't even know existed (Like many kinds of novelty valve-caps!) but there's also a lot to be said for exploring the ignored corner of your local bike shop. Even Roadie-centric retail will often stock a couple of items they begrudgingly included to appeal to the girlie crowd. I saw some mammoth Electra brand 'ding-dong' bells in one of my local shops despite the fact they don't stock Electra bikes. I may yet buy one. The largest range of upright bicycle accessories in Australian bike retail outlets would have to be Basil, the accessories offshoot of Royal Dutch Gazelle. They make a huge range of bike bags, baskets, seat rain covers, garlands, pet carriers and other things people in transport biking countries take for granted. If your local bike shop is a stockist, you have been blessed. If not, try asking. The same goes for anything you've seen online. Sometimes you'll get a condescending look but other times you might discover that the proprietor has been wanting to stock more accessories but wasn't sure if there was a local market beyond the Roadie customers. (This has happened to me in a few places.) If nothing else, you're building a relationship with your LBS (Local Bike Shop) that will definitely benefit you both in the future.

If you can only afford the low-end metal basket from
your LBS, check out the dollar ribbon bin
in your local craft shop. This took me an
hour and one too many whiffs of super-glue.
I'm not really one for adding a lot to my own bicycles
(though I love to see it on other bikes) but even I
couldn't resist attaching a pretend poppy to my basket
because it matched the red clips on my bungee strap.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bikes and Those Summer Nights. (And an absolute refusal to reference the movie 'Grease'.)

Because it's an awful movie that teaches little girls to change their identity to please their peers, that's why!

There are very few advantages for a summer-phobe such as myself to living in a perpetual oven like Perth. If the definition of 'advantage' was sufficiently loose then I might be able to point to the frequent opportunity for dusk and night time leisure rides. During our especially foolish experiments with daylight savings, Perth was also in the grips of an unbearable summer. Even after the sun set, the heat of the day would linger. And linger. Though dark, the air was still hot and any movement produced rivers of sweat; but being outside and on a bicycle meant creating your own breeze so we soon took to riding the East Perth path in the evenings. It was a cooler way to exercise without having to pay for the pool seven nights a week.

Fraser's Point cycleway just past East Perth includes some boardwalks.

Living right next to the start of the East Perth bicycle path made these night time jaunts close to ideal in terms of getting some summer recreation. The protection from cars and the well lit, smooth surfaces allowed us to go as fast or slow as we wished according to the temperature. Best of all, at the East Perth end was a pretty view of the city and river, twinkling lights and bars or cafés to enjoy refreshment. I was able to do many solo rides along the path when Ginger was working late as it's a safe and predictable environment, though I did avoid doing anything other than cycling on the bike - on such a sheltered path, listening to music is tempting but I prefer to hear potential hazards as well as see them. I did take an iPod shuffle with me once but only because Ginger was riding behind me. He tried music once when I was behind him but we both concluded that we didn't feel comfortable bicycling in a cocoon of sound. Jogging or walking is slow enough that potential hazards see you even if you don't see them. The bike at full speed can still suffer from an element of surprise.

View from the East Perth bridge.

Through the summer, as our bicycle enthusiasm spread to our circle of friends, we even did some social night time rides. On my very first ride with a friend, the chain on the Schwinn Jenny popped off shifting out of 4th gear (it was my fault, I accidentally flicked multiple gears and simultaneously put power through the crank and it hadn't had its complimentary service where everything gets 'tightened up'. Never had a problem since.). We weren't very far into our ride and I was at that time ignorant of the ease with which a chain on a derailleur is wrestled back into position. Being the tail end of Roadie Rush Hour, a be-lycraed, pleasant stranger responded to my flagging him down and proceeded to make me feel very foolish by fixing my chain in about one and a half seconds. For the record: Push derailleur forward with one hand, rehook chain with other (this will be a bit greasy with a chain guard to get around), turn cranks by hand until it clicks into place. Mind numbingly, embarrassingly simple once you see somebody else do it. Which is why I am still looking for a simple bicycle maintenance course.

East Perth at night.

Though a few of our friends caught bicycle fever and bought bikes of their own, having more than one bicycle each allowed us to invite friends who didn't own bicycles and we spent quite a few pleasant evenings cycling along the foreshore or to a café strip or music venue. The paths were all but abandoned after rush hour and have excellent distance visibility so we could ride two-abreast at a leisurely pace, conversing and relaxing. One friend hadn't been on a bicycle for years and wondered aloud how she would manage. After cycling half of the East Perth path to Mt Lawley, on the return trip she proceeded to put a bag of hot chips in the Schwinn Jenny's front basket and cycle home one-handed while scoffing potato. The Schwinns do an excellent job of being 'loaner' bikes because their gears are so intuitive, posture so relaxed and their handling requires only rudimentary bike skills. Nothing compensates for a bit of summer sweat like knowing there's a watermelon and mint cocktail at the end of it. Just one, though - No drinking and biking! I do miss the security and convenience of the East Perth path, it was perfect for those spontaneous summer rides, day or night. But I won't miss always having to blot my face with tissues when arriving at my destination.

Sweaty bike friends stop at the jetty.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

They Call Me 'Hellish Yellow'.

Spotted outside a second hand shop in Wynyard, Tasmania: An electrically assisted bicycle masquerading as a vespa.

"Remember when all your cool friends bought adorable vespas and you were hella jealous?
That's not going to change."

It says 'Kamikaze' on the back. I hope the eventual owner used it to smugly cart their groceries up the many insane inclines of North West Tasmania and not as part of a suicide mission. Although the decals, colour scheme and generally chunky form of the whole affair do make me question whether life is worth living. Regardless, any bike is good bike!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pashley Picnic.

Before high-tailing it across the Tasman, Ginger and I had the rare opportunity of using bicycle transportation during the middle of the day without the 6 litres of sweat which usually accompanies anything more strenuous than getting up from the sofa during a Perth summer. There was a 'Jazz Picnic' being held by the river, less than three kilometres from our house, at Bayswater Riverside Gardens. Usually we would walk that distance but it was breezy and bright outside and perfect for a Saturday morning bicycle. It was also a lot easier to bring food if we cycled. So, Jazz Picnic. Deciding that sounded suitably pretentious an event to bicycle towards, we slathered ourselves in several layers of sunscreen and set off into the unseasonably cool late morning. After the requisite posing on the front lawn, obviously.

When your belt matches your handbag so perfectly, you have no choice but to record it for posterity.

This was my first time with a heavy weight in the Pashley's rear basket, and I was interested to see if it affected the handling. I asked Ginger to ride his 3 speed cruiser rather than his road bike, just in case I was a lot slower. I strapped sun hats, a large IKEA insulated bag full of multiple large drinks (The heavier portion of the load), fruit salad and cold rice salad into the basket, put an enormous handbag in the front basket and proceeded down a fairly major road. Fortunately, the usually intimidating road was abnormally quiet. It was still warm but a lovely sea breeze was drifting from the coast and preventing sweat from forming. The Pashley steamrolled over the uneven surfaces in typical fashion and I realised that I couldn't actually feel the load, I wasn't even in a lower gear. The great thing about the heft of the Pashley is that even a microscopic downwards slope can keep you rolling for a long time. It's the initial collecting of inertia that could be perceived as taxing. Once we arrived (the entrance is 'Official' bike path and runs through a Bird Sanctuary) we were pleased to see a few other bicycles around but raised an eyebrow at the council decision to allow cars IN the park. What was usually a green open space quite removed from the road, full of exercise equipment, BBQs and right next to the Bird Sanctuary had transformed into an ugly car park. This was extra-stupid for the fact that there were real car parks right next to the gardens and they weren't even half full. Sadly, people took the opportunity to park 20 metres closer to the bouncy castle. I wonder how much the lawn rehabilitation cost afterward?

You can see Ginger's back wheel on the left, it's already parked in the bike rack next to the real car park.
This is the same spot from a different angle (as we were getting ready to leave).
I am next to the bike rack and one of three car parks, yet you
can see the cars blotting the lawn behind the tents.

Having been regulars to the gardens on foot several times a week for exercise, Ginger and I had never consciously looked for bicycle parking but we eventually found an older style rack near the public toilets. We were the first bicycles to use the lone rack but just after we locked up, a woman arrived on a hybrid bicycle towing a bike trailer full of her smiling offspring. The trailer had bench seats, a pennant shaped safety flag streaming behind, a solid awning top and enclosed fly-screen sides, the kind which makes me wish they had been available when I was a child as they look like the very best way to experience the neighbourhood. Somewhat bizarrely, the woman was decked out in full lycra with logos included. Her children were wearing everyday clothes and not sports specific fabrics for their ride in the trailer. I looked around for some kind of roadie gathering but she was alone. Perhaps she was planning to unhitch the children and leave them to be raised by birds so that she could finally live her dream life of sweaty hybrid cycling? I can't believe that she really thought she HAD to wear that simply because she was on a bicycle but if by some black magic that was the case, I hope she was encouraged by the ordinary clothes of the few other cyclists in the park. We exchanged smiles in the way bicyclists do, acknowledging our stubborn freakishness.

Note almost empty car parks in the distance as well as right next to this bicycle rack.

There was a community policing station set up next to the bicycle rack so we felt totally at ease about leaving our bikes and wandering around on foot. There was a jazz band on a stage, some market stalls and plenty of entertainment for the children. I purchased a pair of vintage, costume jewellery clip-on earrings from a second hand stall because they were identical to a pair my maternal grandmother wore when she was alive and I was already feeling nostalgic thanks to the bicycling and summer breezes. Ginger bought a hat for a costume party we were attending later in the season. We sat in the shade of a tent to eat and drink while the band played to a mostly disinterested audience. Somebody from the council was distributing free watermelon slices, a lovely idea for a summer day. The temperature was starting to climb so we decided to make our way home before the sunscreen sweated off to uselessness.

As most of the people had driven, the area outside of the cluster of tents and cars was deserted and we had the bike paths and bird sanctuary to ourselves, enjoying the leafy shade and heron sightings. I do wonder why there was a such an unusually high rate of car transportation for a small, local outing; Bayswater events are generally full of local area residents who live within walking distance. I surmise it was because of the emphasis on children's entertainment in the promotional materials. The people of Perth seem to find transporting their children to be a herculean task requiring the latest in equine absent horsepower, as confirmed by half of the park by our house being filled with cars for the tiny Carols by Candlelight later that summer. Obviously the bicycle trailer industry needs some serious advertising.

View from a Pashley. The Bird Sanctuary.

The Ginger-crested Wanker in its native habitat.

Friday, July 13, 2012

You've got a fast car, I've got trouble proving my identity.

By now, we know that 100% adult car ownership is not a sensible solution for our growing population. We know that if we're going to work towards sustainable cities, there needs to be a radical shift in personal transport attitudes both at an individual and especially at a government level. I'm not sure what that thinking would look like but I can identify a major contributor to our current failure: Photo ID.

When was the last time you had to provide photo identification? At a night club? A bank? Signing a mobile phone contract? Posting a package overseas? How about collecting a money transfer? Chances are, you did not whip out your passport in response to this request because if you have one, carrying your passport around with you is both impractical and potential trouble. The amount of bureaucracy one wades through to get a passport is not likely to encourage one to use it for something as routine as going to the pub. So you used your driver's licence. Now. What would you do if you didn't have a driver's licence?

I can tell you.

You'd spend your time convincing officials that your government approved identity card, obtained from the same government department that issues the majority a driver's licence, was not something you made in photoshop. Australia has avenues for people to obtain alternative photo identification, each state has a different card design just like each state has a different licence. At 19, I applied for a Western Australian Proof of Age Card so that I could enter nightclubs and pubs. I had to provide many forms of non-photo identification and photos signed by a Justice of the Peace or appropriate official, along with a fee for the licencing centre. Duly, I collected my card which contained my image, my signature, name and date of birth. It had all the usual security holograms you'd find on a driver's licence but nothing else. No address. No card number. No organ donation information. No expiry date. I thought it was short sighted. It seemed to imply that the WA attitude to alternative photo ID is an assumption that you are young and want to get drunk but haven't got around to driving yet. That's why it's even called a 'Proof of Age' card and not 'Identification Card.' As WA is a state with a very high level of car ownership and a strong car culture, it made sense that they would not take life-long non-drivers into account. In fact, WA is a state so enamoured of the car that I would sometimes find myself having to convince civil servants or bouncers that my ID was legitimate and even provided by the licencing centre. They could not conceive of a world where people didn't drive.

Now that I live in Tasmania, I am finding the backwards attitude of WA towards non-drivers is causing me all sorts of irritation. I had assumed that every state had an expiry free 'Proof of Age' card, though I'd started wondering what would happen as I began to act out a reverse Dorian Gray with my teenaged photo. I was asked to provide photo ID three times last week so I presented my trusty old card. This was how I discovered that 'Proof of Age' cards have been replaced by a more sensible card in Tasmania and New South Wales. One that works exactly like a driver's licence apart from authorising you to get behind the wheel of a car. One that has a card number, must be renewed every 5 years and even includes your address. Though my WA card is legal, I will be applying for a Tasmanian one but in the meantime it got me thinking about social attitudes towards these things. If you suggested the national introduction of an official, photo 'Identity Card' with all of your personal information and required every citizen by law to hold one, people would be outraged. Yet I've never heard a single licence holder complain about giving the government the same level of information and control in exchange for driving a car. It seems our love affair with automobiles has provided a neat work-around for the government to monitor the populace. We even pay for it ourselves.

Perhaps the radical shift in thinking would look something like abolishing the distinction between Driver's Licence and Other Photo Identity? One identity card; but also stating whether or not the holder is entitled to drive. You've already given the government that amount of control, why not streamline the process and include everyone so that people can choose to be car free in the future?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Killing Us Softly.

It was with no small share of vested interest that I clicked upon the link for 'How Not to Kill a Cyclist', thinking that approaching the issue from the car driver's worst case scenario might be a great way to advance the discourse on sharing the road. I was immediately disappointed. Amongst a lot of sensible remarks I was confronted by what I think is a very unhelpful addition to the mêlée,

"…there are also many things bike riders would like drivers to know… that “cyclists” and “pedestrians on bicycles” are two distinct groups, or that we know we look ridiculous in bike shorts.…"
(Emphasis mine, obviously. And you certainly do.)
 Later in the article, the author goes on to describe what he probably considers 'real' cyclists, as

"…travelling at a high velocity, and chock full o’ adrenaline…"

and so that is why you shouldn't randomly honk your horn at them out of pure annoyance. Not because it's discourteous, an abuse of the horn and generally a dick-move to make loud noises in public spaces - but because 'real' cyclists are constantly in a 'fight or flight' mode and might bolt from their state of cat-like readiness into oncoming traffic!

Here's the thing about Real Cyclists™ Vs 'Pedestrians on bicycles': As somebody who has spent her entire life at leisure to observe the driving style of friends, family and strangers without a layer of personal ideology for what I think is the 'correct' way to drive (i.e "Exactly how I would do it," as most drivers think) I can tell you that a large portion of car drivers are 'Pedestrians in Cars'. They don't really 'understand' their vehicle and its consequences, they use speed limits as a vague guide, they don't ever consider that they might be at fault, they text or phone or do their make-up or read maps or try to drink scalding hot coffee or smoke or do any manner of things inside their car that in an ideal world would be confined to their lounge rooms. Even drivers who are not spilling lattes on their groins can be unpredictable 'Pedestrians in cars', darting about in a way that does not technically break the law but makes the road more dangerous for everyone around them. Why? Because they are not professional car drivers. Nor do the majority of them drive cars as a sport or take a defensive driving course or learn how to drive as a fleet. They scrape through their driving test and then THAT'S IT FOR LIFE. Now we are supposed to classify them as 'Real' drivers, even if they spend their entire career on the road failing to advance their skills or increase their confidence and racking up speeding fines because they believe that breaking the law in their car somehow 'doesn't count'. So how do other drivers, how would a professional or top amateur racer treat these, the weaker of their brethren? How would current Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel, a man who is such a 'Real Driver' that people pay him to do it, treat YOU and your lack of equal skill on the road? Would he tell other road users that you are the cause of all driving related problems? Would he burn rubber rings around you as he passed you on the freeway? No. He would take you and the varying style of people around him into account.

A cyclist does not have to be speed matching the average car, wearing lycra or "chock full o’ adrenaline" to obey the rules of the road and cycle courteously anymore than weaker drivers have to sit on the speed limit and drive aggressively to be acceptable to other car drivers. What we all have to do is be predictable as possible and make sure everybody knows the rules. If you drive a car, you should already be able to transfer those rules across to cycling and indeed, the majority of cyclists are actually 'drivers' first, cyclists second. It's rare to find somebody who is pure pedestrian/cyclist so the idea that a pedestrian mindset is to blame becomes even less relevant to the debate. To be fair, the article spoke about predictability and cars following the rules as usual when a cyclist is near - but the testosterone fueled 'us and them' mentality hidden within that casual quote is actively damaging to our transport evolution. Ultimately, all cyclists are only as safe as the largest vehicles around them. Yes, the occasional impatient car driver will spend their entire time complaining that not everyone is as fast or nimble as they - heck, they'll probably even honk their horn at other road users as they overtake and then speed off to get to the next red light before everyone else. But does the civilised transport world cater exclusively to the 'Professionals'? Or are we all just trying to get somewhere in one piece?

In the end, the only kind of pedestrians we should worry about? Every single person we see, regardless of what they're driving or riding. We were all born with squashy pedestrian bodies and fragile pedestrian skulls and it doesn't matter how good we are at pretending to be invincible.

Frankenstein's Mixte

Exclaimed over on the streets of inner city Melbourne: Sporty, mixte frame with stem shifters…and chopper style bars? Hey, let your freak flag of relaxed geometry fly! Don't let 'The Man' tell you how laid back you should be! Be all the way back!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Adventures in Portage (I like back racks and I cannot lie.)

The first time I put the Schwinn's carrying capacity to full use, I willfully engaged in folly. Friends were gathering for a casual dinner party a couple of suburbs away. That summer we had bicycled to the house many times and on many evenings. Taking us up a couple of steep hills, across a busy main road and then smoothly along the backstreets of a flat and vehicularly mild suburb of Perth, the route was one I knew well and did not feel particularly challenged by. Until I decided to transport a whole boxed cheesecake, with cream and cherries on top.

I began by neatly wedging the box between the spring-loaded trap on the Jenny's back rack and the springs under the saddle. It seemed very solid but having never trusted the rack before, I decided I should also strap it down. At this stage, I did not own any occy straps so the best I could do was a ridiculous waist belt with a bow for a buckle. The cheesecake box looked twee-ly secure with its accessory but I still had reservations about the cake transportation. I had visions of falling off and splattering baked cheese over the tarmac in a tragic waste of sugar, especially as I was wearing a mini-skirt which required some manoeuvring even to mount the bicycle. And it was dusk. But with lights and balance and low gearing, the Jenny hauled dessert at a surprisingly fast, stable rate. As we neared our destination, I was already chalking up my victory. Unfortunately, I failed to note an enormous pothole hidden in the evening gloom of an overgrown dwarf palm and rolled right into it. I felt the whole back of the bike drop and shudder but did not stop, mentally resigning myself to a decimated cheesecake but comforted by the knowledge that my friends are wholesale pigs like myself and wouldn't let a little deviation of form prevent them from accessing dessert. In the end, only a few of the decorative cherries and blobs of cream had fallen off - the rest was immaculate, leading me to create Rule 1 of Upright Bicycle Dessert Portage: Flat top cakes only.

After this modest success I transported food in a biscuit tin (bad idea, the trap scraped the tin surface), then I discovered a round, 'squashable' esky that I could force between the trap and the seat. My evening food portaging reached dizzy heights:

Dork Face delivers Dinner and drinks for 5.

Being light for a steel bicycle, a heavier load on the Jenny did affect the handling in that I could 'feel' the rear weight (and it made it a bit harder uphill) but in no way was it impossible to ride. In fact I quite enjoyed the armchair-like configuration of something tall on the back rack.

Once I had the Pashley and then fitted it out with a rear basket, I eagerly tested its child-seat approved rack - Not by abducting children but by loading it with assorted consumables and bicycling even further before devouring them. I found that the more weight I applied to the Pashley's rack, the more stable it felt during transit and the less I was conscious of carrying anything. Sadly, the terrible kick-stand did not perform proportionately. Often I had to ask Ginger to hold the Pashley while I loaded the baskets, learning the hard way that trusting the kickstand resulted in a forced realignment of the handlebars.

"I hate you, inferior kickstand."

I don't think I'd trust a toddler's face to the Pashley kickstand but the rack is certainly a worthy component, especially with a large rear basket. I'm curious as to how both bikes would perform with heavy front and rear loads (Fat Bottom not withstanding). As it is, since moving to Tasmania there has been little opportunity for local 'portage'. Although I did carry TWO ENTIRE boxes of gluten free snack chips back from town.

"Thank god I bought Carbon Flavour!"

Monday, July 2, 2012

2012 Tour de Pants.

Well, the live-streaming of this years Tour de France has begun - which means the Fat Bottom household is awash with boring conversation about sprint stats and the aerodynamics of rear wheels countered with vapid remarks about how pretty the Leopard Trek outfits are and what a pity it is they are now called Team RadioShack Nissan Trek because it's a lot less mysterious to have 'Nissan' written on your badonka-donk.

I am personally mourning the absence of Andy Schleck, only because I enjoy saying 'Andy Schleck' a lot more than saying 'Frank Schleck' but fate has been kind and given me a gift in the form of Edvald Boasson Hagen and I challenge any person alive not to think fondly about waffles and icecream when saying 'Boasson Hagen'. Sometimes I whisper it softly to myself as I squirt Cottee's Ice Magic on a Pop-Tart and shed a single tear for 2011 edition Andy Schleck. His sorbet blue helmet left a hole in my heart.

Come back, Pastel Andy Schleck!

Of course, Australia is almost as emotionally invested in the 2012 Tour as they are in say, Olympic Curling - thanks to the defending champion being ONE OF US. Yes, like a marsupial transmitted urinary tract infection, I am supposed to feel the sting of patriotism deep inside when I see Cadel Evans - But instead I suffer from what can only be described as extremely localised Tourette's syndrome. Whenever I see his 'Thunderbirds puppet who was too wooden for Thunderbirds' visage, words spill from my mouth entirely beyond my control.

"Muppet. Muppet face. Muppet face butt chin."

"For goodness sake, cut back on the waving before you get his string tangled."

So long as our internet connection remains, there will be little respite from the testosterone driven glory of the Tour de France and my chances of a mutually upright bicycle with Ginger (Not a euphemism) will be slim to none as the fever takes him. I must resign myself to the endless whirr of the bike trainer, be-lycraed bottoms flashing across my screen and the fact that not even my traditional methods of communication will break through his mania:

"Over here! Booooooobeeeeeees!"

And pray to the Roadie Gods that he doesn't find out about 'Bicycle-jersey.net' because I don't know if I can stand to see car advertising wobbling along in front of me without stabbing it with a fork.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guess how close this is parked to artisanal bread.

Less than four metres.

A rare pleasure: An Australian Papillionaire bicycle on the streets of Perth, many miles away from the Melbourne hipster cluster that birthed it. I spotted this one parked outside a firmly suburban, middle class 'Farmer's Market'. (Nowhere near any farmers.) Yes, I was there buying artisanal gluten free bread and brownies. I am nothing if not a raging hypocrite. I'd previously seen a lone black Papillionaire in a shop display (it was not available for test rides) but had long admired their website pictures and wanted to see others in person. Especially that blue. I appreciate the solid looking back rack being coated the same colour as the frame. I wonder if the lack of a sprung 'trap' on the rack was responsible for the owner leaving croissant carrying duties to the silver bike's panniers? Of course, there are systems for carrying without a trap - Maybe she wanted something to match the charming front basket? The accessories offered by Papillionaire are certainly in keeping with the vintage aesthetic - leather grips and saddles embossed with the butterfly. Stylish (in YOUR opinion) and functional is key to loving your bicycle enough to use it regularly and Papillionaire bicycles certainly seem like they tick both boxes. If they ride as prettily as they display then there's a lot of hope for the Australian bicycle industry.