Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bad Moon Rising, Good Bike-Riding. (Bike Hour)

I didn't think I was going to make it to the first Bike Hour of 2013, after a completely normal day I suddenly felt terrible around 4pm with sinus pain clouding my mind and a very strong lunch time coffee leaving my body feeling strung out (Which is why I rarely drink coffee). Ginger was engaged elsewhere and couldn't participate so I didn't even have the motivation of peer pressure to get me out of the house. Despite this I really just wanted to ride my bicycle and I especially wanted to try out the bell I had just installed on the Schwinn so I struggled through a 'Nanna Nap' but did not expect to feel able at 5:45. I predictably failed to achieve the perfect power snooze but I did manage to doze long enough for various nasal sprays and tablets to work their respiratory magic and enough caffeine to dissipate so that my heart stopped pounding like a gavel-happy judge. During this quasi-rest my phone had been buzzing with some frequency and on rising I was surprised to discover multiple weather alerts for approaching thunderstorms. My app assured me that the storm wouldn't hit until after midnight so I put my faith in technology, put some tights on under my skirt and headed out into the golden Autumn dusk to embrace Bike Hour.

Wool Modesty Tights? Check. New Bell? Check.
Dork Head and Narcissistic Selfie? Check.
Let's Bike Hour this bitch!

Deciding to take it easy but also target the 'visibility' element of Bike Hour I determined my route based upon the bike path as well as foot/car traffic in my town. I glided past some early diners in a local eatery and sailed towards the beach which is skirted by both a boardwalk and main road. The weather warnings might have scared motorists into hibernation because the usually busy highway was all but empty. People on foot seemed to have an entirely different attitude to the changing weather and I saw the usual amount of dog walkers, joggers and boardwalk strollers, though the playgrounds were curiously abandoned. It was temperate and there was no immediate threat of rain so in the end the only effect of the coming storm was dynamic and stunning scenery with constantly changing light. Next to the skate park I was literally brought to a halt by a spectacular 'Fingers of God' display. My phone could not really capture the clear delineation of each shaft of blazing light, or the scale of it.

To the West, Nature's Majesty.
To the East, surly teens and some of the only bicycles I saw during Bike Hour.
The sea air put me in excellent spirits so I smiled at everybody I passed and was pleased to note they all smiled back. I figured if nothing else, my Bike Hour could be labelled a success for the mere giving and receiving of goodwill. I had a big and bright "HELLO!" and a wave from a toddler as I exited the boardwalk and a lot of smiles from people who heard my new bell. I saw exactly one other bicycle outside of the skate park scooter/bmx posse, a Very Serious Roadie who was blazing along the bike path in lycra-cased sweatiness. I was sorely tempted to shout, "Happy Bike Hour!" in a cheerfully deranged fashion and confuse the hell out of him but I am not innately cruel and I could see he was thinking deeply about whether bike paths count as 'junk miles' so I didn't break his concentration. Instead I simply smiled at him as we passed like two ships in the night - Me, the plucky blue tug boat of the Schwinn and He, the kind of ship where your balls stick to your inner thigh. Thus ended my only encounter with a fellow cyclist during Bike Hour. The rest of the path out of town went exactly like this:
A couple of cars,
Leaning on a bench to check my phone,
And then taking a picture of myself once I realised nobody could see me.
Then I made a video of an ugly sand dune because I am nothing if not too lazy to check if I have actually videoed something interesting:

Around the bench leaning, phone checking portion of my Bike Hour I received a message from my Brother saying he was in a newly opened pub in town. Infused with a sense of purpose and the promise of a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage, I ordered him to stay put and eagerly bicycled back to town…with a quick stop on the boardwalk to document my highly important journey and the ever more turbulent sea, of course.

Once I arrived at the pub I discovered the streetscape was completely bereft of items to which a person may attach a bicycle. I wondered if I should have used the multistory car park bike lockers some blocks previous but in the end I chose immediate gratification/foolhardy trust in strangers and parked next to the entrance. Fortunately, my Brother was sitting within view of it so I could easily keep one eye on the precious and it was because of this I discovered that my laziness had actually resulted in the most successful part of my Bike Hour. As I sipped my lemonade and lime I had a perfect view of multiple people pausing to admire and comment on the Schwinn. Some were pub patrons, some were merely walking past but I did not see a single person fail to contemplate the obviously-being-used-for-transportation bicycle. Their interest gave me pleasure although I admit I tensed up when people came close to stroking it. (That's what HE said.) I was far enough away from the Jenny that nobody could tell which person in the pub had been so radical as to arrive on two wheels. My helmet was left in the basket and I was sweat free and dressed in a way that left no clues. The Schwinn appeared a free agent and so I had accidentally provided a blank canvas for the potential bicycle dreams of my fellow (wo)man. It probably helped that the Jenny looked rather delightful against the building as the light faded. I hope everybody had a safe and enjoyable Bike Hour and I look forward to a little more Bikeception at the next Bike Hour equinox in September!

"I'll just lock up on the…um…bastard."
"Eh. I can see the back wheel from inside."

Friday, March 15, 2013

If You Bike It, They Will Spend?

Despite being a Bicycle Backwater, the internet ensures that it doesn't take long for trends to filter through to Australia. We've suffered the same waves of fixies and tweed rides as everyone else which is why I was surprised that it's only in the last 12 months I've started seeing bicycles in retail marketing. I'm not counting the plethora of 'put a bike on it' merchandise in home-wares stores, that's been around for as long as we've been printing squirrels and birds on cushions; I'm talking about bicycles in shop windows. In my own microcosm of Northern Tasmania I have seen three separate shop windows featuring bicycles. It may not sound like many but statistically it's astonishing. Obviously the 'young, surburban cyclist' is officially a target market but if these displays are any indication that market is firmly defined as 'leisure' rather than 'transport'. Retailers here want to capture those cycling dollars but still do not see bicycles as anything other than toys. Regardless, it pleased me to see them because it's a step in the right direction.

Here's my 'Bikes in Shop Windows' collection thus far:

I saw this pedal-free budget respray in the window of an Optician, heralding the start of spring. I wondered if it was in basic working order and waiting to be a project or if it was on its way to the local tip. Though an optician is usually a gender neutral environment this bike was clearly there to symbolise GIRLY FUN and play on images of youthful femininity while appealing to the 'retro cool' Hipsterette (hence the brightly coloured, plastic cat-eye frames). Florals! Spring sunshine! BUY GLASSES! You're already a four-eyed outcast, why not be universally hated and get on a bicycle?!

The second one is a bit hard to make out, being so draped and surrounded by branded attire. This was a clothing shop for young men and teenage boys so the inclusion of something so potentially dorky as a beach cruiser along with the Adidas is in many ways remarkable. When you break it down, though - it's another point in the 'Bikes are toys for the idle middle-classes' column. The branded clothes are firmly targeting youth with a parentally-provided clothing budget and offering the kind of bland street cred all middle-class teenagers crave. After all, what kind of male would be aimlessly riding an upright bicycle while wearing regular clothes? One who cares a lot about 'kicks' and is not yet old enough to drive, of course!

The third one is most recent and most promising for what it says about the changing perception of bicycles. This is the current window of a nation-wide clothing and 'outdoor lifestyle' brand retailer, Rivers. Rivers mostly sells casual clothing and footwear for all ages but their brand image is based around the Australian love of the outdoors so you can also buy more utilitarian clothing, backpacks, picnic blankets, wellington boots and other outdoor accessories. A huge part of their brand is about quality tested goods at accessible prices so Rivers advertising material is deliberately 'budget' in style, proclaiming they spend their money on manufacturing rather than marketing. This window display is actually a Rivers Clearance shop - a much larger and less formal set-up than their shopping centre retail presence (which is still quite informal and not costly). The most interesting thing about this bicycle is that it is actually FOR SALE. Previously I had seen a Rivers branded bike in my local WA store but it was only for display. Not to mention a hideously ugly mountain bike with gun metal grey, huge decals and a 'sliced through' suspended seat post. This bicycle looks like a genuine effort to sell, the frame appears unisex and branding is practically invisible. There's even a range of 'Hike and Bike' clothing on offer. Although only for men…sigh. Of course, Rivers is not a bicycle shop so the bike comes in bits and requires professional intervention. I don't know how much it costs or anything about the quality. It's still a shop window bicycle being positioned primarily as a 'leisure' device but it's nice to see that leisure device aimed at a wide market in a regional area.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Tisket, A Tasket, There's Disappointment in my Basket.

As much as I adore my 'Pashley Princess Sovereign in Buckingham Black', today I finally had to admit to myself that it has a problem. And I don't refer to the notoriously unstable kickstand - We all know about that. This problem might be unique to my Pashley (a bike shop problem) or it could be widespread (a manufacturing problem), I have no real way of knowing. A Google image search of fellow Pashley Princesses shows mixed results. My problem is this:

Can you see it? Perhaps if I put this here. Can you spot the difference?

Image from

 It's the damned basket. Look at the gaping chasm between original basket and basket rest, even with the straps extended to full length:

"You think you're cool with this but it's like bamboo under your fingernails! HAHAHA!" - The Pashley

As the shop where I bought the Pashley only offered one frame size I do not know whether the basket sizes up with each frame (but I have a medium, anyway - not a small!) or of this is an export thing or a cost cutting measure. All I know is that the basket is barely large enough to carry a modest handbag and that's part of the reason why I swapped it for a beefy Bontrager clip-on. It's the gap I find most annoying. It's such a pretty bicycle, so well proportioned and carefully accessorised until you get to the inadequate basket. A basket so puny, it looks like an after-thought.

I'd love to buy a properly giant, leather strapped basket to replace it. Unfortunately there is no way to source that locally and it's sort of hard to find web sites that will list the dimensions of any wicker baskets they might be selling. It's even harder to find a 'D' shaped basket like the Pashley original. One day I hope to remedy this problem but for now I'll keep hauling in the Bontrager, which despite being a handlebar mounted clip-on comes so close to touching the basket support that it gives the illusion of correct 'basketude'. Until then I'll put my disappointment and the original basket on a shelf.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Safety Dance

A great and wise Safety expert once told me:
We can dance if we want to.
We can leave your friends behind.
'Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine.

And this guy is reigning Safety Dance Champion 1996 - 2004 inclusive.

No reckless car driver is going to get away with the old, "But I didn't see him, Officer!" if this dude can help it. I often see this bike outside the supermarket in Ulverstone or riding up a side street. It's the kind of bike that makes me instantly respect the rider. A bike that says, "IDGAF what you think, I just came here to buy toilet paper in all potential lighting conditions."

Behold, the glorious cockpit.
Dance on, my friend. Dance on.

Bike Hour.

You've heard of Earth Hour, where all around the globe people switch off electrical things for an hour to increase mindfulness about the way we consume resources - But have you heard of Bike Hour?

Probably not. Maybe. I only just learned of it myself, fortunately in time to participate later this month. Bike Hour was born in Australia, in fact it was created by a resident of my own recently adopted little island. It is to be conducted twice every year at the equinox so the next one is due on March 20th and if you want to join in you should be on a bicycle between 6 and 7pm.

"What the fuck is this Bike Hour shit anyway?", I hear you politely enquire as you are possibly also an uncouth Antipodean like myself. The full history can be found on the cycle-space blog (a fascinating exploration of bicycles and urban planning) but the notion of Bike Hour is something rather different from the familiar organised rides. If you are expecting to be bolstered en masse by whackily dressed (or undressed) fellow cyclists or Hippie political enthusiasts, you will be disappointed. What Bike Hour aims to achieve is awareness through free and semi-quiet enjoyment rather than annoyance or spectacle.

Bike Hour longs to get all the neglected bikes in all the sheds and all the spare bedrooms out onto the streets and pavements for a no-good-reason-joy-ride to where ever the hell you want or need to go, Just Because. Bike Hour knows that statistically quite a lot of us have purchased a bicycle but also that a lot of us don't really ride them. Bike Hour just wants you to ride your bicycle because you like the idea of riding your bicycle and it is giving you permission to do so in the manner entirely of your choosing. You can dress up like an olde-timey person and bust out the penny farthing. You can slide your sweaty testicles into their lycra prison and improve your Strava ranking. You can commute home if your work hours coincide. You can not change your clothes and just get out into the neighbourhood. If you really can't stand the thought of a world without structure you can even put on a little Bike Hour party for your bicycling friends or organise a community event or group ride, the website has posters to download but the important thing is that you don't have to do anything but the bare minimum which is to use a bicycle for an hour.

Sometimes I use my bicycle to see new places.
Sometimes I use my bicycle as an excuse to eat chips.
Hence the fat bottom.

Bike Hour simply posits that it might be nice if we all went for a ride at the same time without having the same destination. So that maybe people in cars who are watching you glide past or people sitting at caf├ęs who are watching you cruise up to the coffee counter or people walking around on their feet seeing a completely ordinary person like you roll by wonder to themselves, "What the fuck is up with suddenly all of these bikes?" because they are possibly grammatically questionable, vulgar residents of far-flung former colonies too. And then later perhaps they will think about the bicycle they have in their own shed or remember the bicycle they had in their youth and wonder if maybe they too can ride one somewhere for some reason at some time. Hopefully not just on the equinox.

Bike Hour belongs to us all and you are encouraged to spread
the word with free access to promotional materials.
Or not. Do what you like.