Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bicycle Tim - the movie.

Someone's made a film about local cycling identity and frame builder Bicycle Tim Stredwick. Highly recommended if you've got ten minutes to spare, or you're looking for a new touring bike, or both.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A beginner's guide to becoming a cartoon villain.

I'm a pretty unobjectionable bloke most of the time. I go to work, I pay my taxes, I donate to charity. I try to be polite and courteous, I obey the law and generally try to treat others as I would like to be treated myself. Most of the time, as I say, I'm a pretty unobjectionable chap.

There is one thing  I do however, which marks me as a member of a dangerous and lawless minority, whose welfare counts for naught and who is open to discrimination and vilification at any time.

I ride a bike.

Public enemy number one. Also number two.

This revolutionary act, though somehow legal, transforms me from an upright citizen into a target for bile. It doesn't have to be reasonable, it doesn't have to have any basis in fact. You can even try to kill me, and there's a good chance the cops won't even care. And people far and wide will have it in for you, seemingly out of all proportion to the offence you think you're causing.

For example, here's an editorial from today's Australian. Keep in mind this is a newspaper which pretends to be a serious national broadsheet:

The arrogant sense of entitlement in our inner cities is also evident in the ever-growing number of cyclists snaking their way through pedestrians on overcrowded pathways, darting between cars and clogging-up lanes on our congested roadways.

The problem of city cyclists reached their apogee in Melbourne this week when a cyclist was “doored” on busy Collins Street, after a passenger opened a taxi door and a rider crashed into it. Neither the taxi nor its passenger could be deemed at fault because a narrow “bike lane” inhibited the taxi from stopping next to the kerb. The passenger was lucky to avoid serious injury.

What makes this incident even more absurd is that, although the lane was marked by a bicycle symbol, it was not actually a dedicated bicycle lane. Melbourne bike lanes must have signage, fixed to a pole, that shows the start and finish of a lane, as well as clear markings on the road itself. The state’s bicycle operations officer — yes, there is such a position — admits there is confusion for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Cyclists, including the one “doored” this week, are using cameras to film such incidents so they can make insurance claims. The Victorian government imposed even tougher on-the-spot fines in 2012 for people who opened car doors in the direct path of cyclists.

For too long, authorities have bowed to the demands of selfish cyclists and their lobby groups. Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling. We have no equivalent of Amsterdam and should stop pretending we do.

Charming isn't it? Now there's a lot of people riding bikes these days, for health and fitness and fun. They probably have an arrogant sense of entitlement to ride on road their tax dollars pay for. We need to get organised and we need to send a message that this sort of thing is just not on just because some fat white middle-aged editorial writer from The Australian nearly got skittled by bike one day ten years ago and got a gobful for not looking where he was going and hasn't gotten over the butthurt of it all. We need tougher penalties for the people who place our lives at risk and we need to stop taking this sort of shit from the media. It's time the bodies which purported to represent us started kicking some goals instead of fighting amongst themselves. And my message to The Australian? Fuck you. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Boeshield T9.

Despite the fact I pay a fair bit of attention to the rest of my bike, I'm a bit slack when it comes to maintaining my drivetrain. I do tend to pull may chain off every few months and degrease it but I've never been too fussy about what lube I put on the chain once it's time to go back on the bike. At least until recently.

I first came across Boeshield when a small bottle was included with a folding kayak we bought as a lubricant and anti-corrosive for the frame members. I heard good things about it an when I saw some online at Abbotsford Cycles I thought I'd give it a try. It comes in both an aerosol spray and a standard bottle, I prefer the latter.

In short: this is seriously good stuff. It's thinner than most chain lubes but really works its way into the chain links, seriously quietening the whole works. I've tried just about every way to lubricate a chain from paraffin wax to sewing machine oil and just about every specialist bicycle chain lube out there and this is the best I've come across by far, it makes a difference I can actually notice. There's a slight downside in that Boeshield T9 isn't as weather-resistant as claggier chain lubes and can sometimes need to be reapplied after 200km or so - although that's really only a matter of whacking some on your chain, waiting a couple of minutes and removing the excess. Highly recommended.

1,339km so far this year.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

I'll Take the High Road 200km Audax

 I can't remember my excuse for missing the Audax I'll Take the High Road ride last year. I suspect it was a combination of poor fitness and a glance at the ride profile. This time around I thought I'd better make a slightly better effort and I was glad I did.

Determined to enjoy the outing, I decided to ride my Thorn Audax. It's not the fastest bike around, but I bought it to do longer rides at a stately pace. Given it has lights and a handlebar bag already fitted, it seemed less hassle than messing around getting the Bianchi racer ready for an Audax event.  Although the Thorn is a lot heavier, it's also a lot more comfortable and reliable and despite the cushy wide Challenge tyres I figured it was the best bike for the job.

The big red mile eater.
Nine riders turned up for the event and after a quick briefing we were off. The faster riders disappeared over the horizon and I settled down into a steady pace at the back of the field. My plan was to ride the first hundred kilometres without exerting myself too greatly, or at least as much as possible given the 1500 metres plus of climbing on the way to Oatlands.

Andrew kindly kept me company and we chatted away as we made good time past Sorell talking about epic rides past and comparing notes on eating during rides. Knowing the course, Andrew was able to preview the hills too. Black Charlies Opening was a good workout and beyond Levendale there was a couple of sharp pinches but with the granny gear on the Thorn I was able to just spin up without raising my heart rate too greatly.

The handlebar bag fanciers club.
The weather was perfect for this type of adventure. The wind was low and the temperature rose gradually from the mid-teens to the low-20s. I dipped into my handlebar bag a couple of times for snacks as lunchtime drew nearer and we stopped briefly to refill our waterbottles around the 60km mark. We pedalled along the mostly-uphill outbound course, amazed to see the fast riders already on their way back when we were still about 20km out from Oatlands. Closer to Oatland we saw Frank and Nathan who were making good time and were on their way back and had a chat. We stopped for a quick lunch and set out again. I was pleasantly surprised how good I was feeling.

The return voyage was just as pleasant, despite a brief episode of upset stomach about 10km from Oatlands. The road seemed mostly downhill and the back sides of the climbs we'd done earlier seemed much less daunting and the country seemed extra scenic. The promised wind change came late in the day and wasn't too overpowering. We stopped again Woodsdale for water and at the firestation a few kilometres past  Levendale. Even the reverse side of Black Charlies Opening wasn't too big a big deal, although the gentle headwind down the highway was a bit of a grind beyond there. Nonetheless the miles were ticking over nicely and I was still feeling strong.

Another hill. I love hills, they make me stronger. Such scenic countryside.

I wolfed down a couple of Mars bars as the miles ticked by although by the time we reached Cambridge at the 185km mark I found myself flagging a little. I wolfed down some sweets as Andrew gradually drew away and stopped at the shop for a quick Coke, which seemed to help and we regrouped for the last push. After the final climb, the last six or eight kilometres were a fast enjoyable downhill to the finish. All in all a most enjoyable day on the bike and a reminder how much fun 200km rides can be.

1085km so far this year.

Andrew leading the way.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Audax Airwalk Extraordinaire 100km

Off into the great beyond.

Another gravel grinder, this this time a little longer than normal, but taking on some of the same great scenery. The Airwalk Extraordinaire is a 100km ride I put on last year, but haven't actually ridden in in one go myself. This year was the second running, so I was determined to take part.

The ride is a loop starting and ending at the famed Summer Kitchen bakery in Ranelagh and our compliment of five set off at 9am in prefect conditions. Chatting away, the miles quickly rolled by and we were at the foot of Denison Hill in what seemed like no time. My hill climbing isn't getting any better and I was determined to maintain a stately pace, so the others soon rolled away from me but we regrouped at the top. I made better work of the following climb and we were soon on our way to the Weld River. A stop at the bridge while one of our number fixed a puncture and we pushed on up the third major climb ahead of a lengthy lunch stop at the Tahune Airwalk.

The tarmac section back towards the southern forestry town of Geeveston is the section I haven't ridden before and despite the gentle nature of the climb I really struggled. The others had left me long behind as everyone settled into their own rhythm. I suspect it was the combination of the heat and the large early lunch I'd consumed, but I seemed to come good by the end of the second climb, which heralded the 7km downhill run into Geeveston.

By now, I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to be testing the 6h40m cutoff for the ride, something I haven't had a problem with on Audax rides for years. I had a good hour to make the 20km, but I was suffering a lot from hotfoot. I stopped at the Port Huon Store and refilled my waterbottles with lovely cool water and pushed on. I needn't have worried too much about the cutoff, I was in with 15 minutes to spare, which isn't such a bad effort considering the number and length of breaks we took.

658km so far this year.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

GoPro stills.

Here's a selection of stills from the GoPro last weekend. I fixed it onto my handlebars with a K-Edge mount and set it it take an image every five seconds whenever the video was also running. Obviously the vast bulk of the images aren't worth a second look but there are some that come out ok without the hassle and risk of using a hand-held camera to capture the moment. (There's a minor cheat, a couple of these images are stills from video. The quality difference should give them away.)

320km so far this year.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Crash and burn

1/24th of a second off the deck.

Long experience has taught me that if you ride a bike long enough, sooner or later you're going to come off. It's preferable not to of course and a degree of care and experience - on the road in particular - can go a long way to reducing the risk. But most riders are still going to have the odd incident, whether through clumsiness (not getting your foot out in time) or just sheer bad luck - or pushing your luck. The latter of these probably best describes what happened to me on the weekend.
Glovers Bluff. Well worth the ride. 
On Sunday four of us set out in fine weather for a ride along the gravel roads in the Tahune. It was a lovely day and we were feeling good, so we rode up to Glovers Bluff to enjoy the views. On the way back down the narrow road from the lookout I managed to crash. One moment I was zipping along at a comfortable speed, the next I was lying on the ground, groaning in pain. 

I had a GoPro camera attached to my handlebars and turned on at the time. The footage shows the rider in front of me bunnyhopping a small obstacle, which I apparently didn't see or properly avoid. The still frame at the top shows that my handlebars snapped to the right. In a moment I was on my back. (I'm blaming a combination of speed and inattention for the mishap.)

The happiest rider.
The first few seconds after a crash I find it hard to tell how badly I'm hurt. The rider ahead of me stopped and we established my collarbone wasn't broken. I had gravel rash type grazes on my right leg, side, shoulder and arm as well as skinned left knuckles. My helmet had taken a blow on the left side and I had some pain in my back. Oddly, my new summer jersey wasn't damaged, nor were my shorts.  We were about an hour's riding from the cars in an area with poor or non-existent mobile phone reception so there wasn't much choice but to keep riding. 

After straightening the handlebars, we continued on. The dérailleur hanger on the bike was bent inwards, so I made a mental note to avoid the bottom two gears where the dérailleur was hitting the spokes. We stopped for lunch at the Tahune Airwalk and feeling sore, but ok, I continued on for the last sub-20km push back to the cars.

Everything was going ok until I managed to put my derailleur into the spokes, breaking it in half and making a bad day even worse. An attempt to rig the bike as a single-speed by breaking and shortening the chain wasn't much of a success because the chain was badly bent and the other riders left me alone and went to get a car to retrieve me with. Once they left, I fiddled around and fixed the gear and stubbornly continued as best I could, reaching the carpark not long after the others.

A trip to the doctor and for x-rays revealed no broken bones, although I seem to have done something to my one of my ribs which is making breathing painful. An osteopath I visited told me the damage I've done will take some days or weeks to heal. Given the amount of pain and my inflexibility, I've taken some time off work and the bike and will hopefully bounce back soon. I've managed to repair the bent dérailleur hanger by bending it back - one of the advantages of steel frames.

Looking back over the last ten years, I seem to have had four crashes worth noting. Two were minor and caused by mechanical problems, the third - in 2006 - was caused by hitting a tram line in Melbourne and left me with lower back pain for several months. The fourth was in Vietnam recently, and while spectacular left me with not much more than a grazed knee. Hopefully there won't be anything more to add to the tally for a while yet.

257km so far this year.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

First impressions: Challenge Griffo XS33 tyres

I've been looking around for a decent set of gravel tyres since my trusty old Schwalbe Marathons wore out. The Marathons are brilliant tyres but they keep messing around with the model names, so it's hard to figure out what the equivalent new models are. Besides, it's a good thing to try something new. I saw a Challenge Griffo on a mate's bike and liked the look of them.The reviews of Challenge tyres on the internet are mixed with some people saying they're a bit prone to punctures, although some others says this problem has been fixed by the addition of puncture protection in recent times. Hoping I was going to get some of the second type, I ordered myself a pair online a bit before Christmas. They're not exactly cheap at $A70 a tyre.

The tyres came the other day and I picked up some tubes and fitted them the other morning. They are nice looking (and even nice-smelling) tyres, light and 33mm wide with a tan sidewall and a low-profile raised diamond file tread with some small sidelugs, presumably to assist with cornering traction. They go on easily too despite a reputation for being tight. The red puncture proof strip in some Challenge tyres wasn't present in the tyres I received, nor was the PPS logo on the sidewall. I'm assuming this stands for (Puncture Protection System). 

I'm wary of initial impressions after finding Grand Bois tyres lovely in the short term but puncture prone once they have a few miles on them and I have sneaking reservations I might get bitten again. I managed to get a gravel ride in last night and I have to say I'm impressed. I inflated the tyres to a modest 70psi or so in the hope the greater width would soak up some of the bumps and that they most certainly did. The tyres felt grippy on tarmac and plush on gravel, making light work of a few ruts I hit and cornering well. Supple was the word that sprung to mind. Some of these qualities are common to all wide tyres, but the Griffos rolled well too, something not all wide tyres manage with the same elan.  I think I might have bored my riding companion by mentioning several times "I like these tyres". I'm enjoying the Griffos for now and hope they live up to their initial promise. At the same time I'm looking closely at what Challenge might have to offer for my touring bike.

Yes I know my stem is off-centre.
146km so far this year. 

Saturday, January 04, 2014

2013 annual report

What a year it was - 2103 turned out to be a very good year for me on the bike. I managed to ride 7290km, which is my best year since I returned to riding in 2005. It's a major improvement on the 4,008km I rode last year. My best month was May with 923km, illness in February kept me to 295km - an average month was 600km.

Three things helped with my quest to crack the 7200km mark, an arbitrary goal I set some years ago.  One was definitely Strava which helped keep me honest and injected some friendly comparison between my riding and that of my mates.The second was a set of warmer kit for winter, which meant I was able to get out in relative comfort on even the coldest days. Being able to keep the miles up through winter really helped. And some of those cold winters mornings were pretty spectacular, riding out on the bike path in sub-zero temperatures, waiting for the warming light of the sun's first rays of the day. And having a bunch of mates like Ben and Keith to ride with helped too.

So the maths. I rode 346 hours in 188 rides this year, the equivalent of about 14 days on the bike at an average speed of 21.03km/h. I did 56% of the distance on the Thorn, 17% on the Crosscheck, 13% on my Bianchi and much of the rest on a crappy mountain bike in Vietnman. My longest ride was 374km on the Oppy, where I really struggled. And 7290km works out to be 20.01km a day or 140km a week.  My total since 2005 now stands at 47,200km.

Now the counter is rest and it's time to set some new goals.

80.1km so far this year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Heaven and Hell.

Another ride on a similar route to the Central Plateau Gravel Grinder. Two very interesting days. I'll let the photos tell the story. Tassie riders keep an eye out for a 160km/200km ride over these roads in mid-February.


Ash Dash 2013

A group powers away from the Silver Hill control.
One of the great pleasures of being involved in Audax cycling is being able to play the role of ride organiser once in a while. I love riding, but running a ride is a uniquely enjoyable and rewarding experience in a way I would not have suspected until I took over the running of some events from a previous organiser. One of these is the Ash Dash. Also known as the Annual Seven Hills Dash, this 210km ride traverses the biggest hills around Hobart in a single outing. It's a formidable day in the saddle and attracts only the toughest of local riders and the occasional daring interstate entrant. The Ash Dash ranks up with the Alpine Classic in Victoria and Fitz's Challenge in the ACT as one of Australia's hardest one day rides. I added a 120km option this year, although both rides are challenges with 4071m of vertical in the 210km event and 3032m in the shorter distance.

Happy riders at the Kaoota control. Only one more hill to go.
The ride takes a bit of organising, but online entry has made life so much easier. We had a respectable 23 starters this year and most entered beforehand so I was able to be very precise about how much food and drink I needed to buy for the supported controls. Saturday was spend shopping and then taking the food to the Woodbridge control for the volunteer there. Sunday night was spend on paperwork, including sorting out a running sheet so I knew where riders were likely to be on the course during the day and the opening and closing times of controls. I run the start, finish and one control myself and set up and pack up another control, so there's a bit of running around to do.

Plentiful uphills means downhills in spades too.
Sunday is a somewhat long one for the organiser with more than 13 hours separating the start time and the cutoff and a fair bit of driving, but it was made most enjoyable by the unfailingly cheerful riders who were clearly having a good time despite the challenges of the day. The weather was kind, not too hot for most of the day and the wind wasn't too much of a problem on most of the course giving some riders a welcome push up the final hill towards the finish. Even the rain held off.

What was most remarkable was the speed of this year's event. The first rider was around he course in nine hours, including stops. The last rider was barely over 11 hours. Last year the last rider finished at 8.20pm, whereas this year I was on my way home by 6.30pm, which seemed a little early. The volunteer who was to run the second-two hour shift on the final control turned up just as the last rider was passing through .

The Silver Hill control. Food and drink to satisfy the hungriest of riders.
The great benefit of having run this ride for a couple of years in a row now is that I'm constantly getting ideas about how it might be run better which I'm keen to put into practice next year. Thanks to everyone who helped out with the running of the ride and thanks to all the riders for their feedback on this year's event. I hope to see you all again on the second Sunday in December next year.

6907km so far this year.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Trucker.

I've put an old fashioned Carradice bag on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. It's the longest serving bike in the shed and I don't ride it nearly as often as I should but it looks really sweet and goes like a rocket on expeditions to the bakery about 15km down the road. Nicole has a matching LHT but with flat bars which she rides like a demon. Both of them have very low granny gears which come in very handy for the 200m climb back up the dirt road to home where the photo above is taken. Good views means steep climbs. And climbing makes us stronger.

6708km so far this year.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The question need not even be asked.

In South Australia, a judge has been charged with drink driving after hitting a cyclist. Her blood alcohol reading was allegedly 0.121, which is more than twice the legal limit.

Her future is in doubt? There should be no doubt. If convicted, this judge should step down.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Cycling Vietnam

Rural traffic.
In hindsight, the typhoon season might not be the best time to visit Vietnam, but the two and a bit weeks we just spent touring the country were among the most enjoyable holidays I've had on a bike. We joined an Intrepid Travel group travelling on the Cycle Vietnam tour from Hanoi to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer). There are advantages and disadvantages to this kind of travel, but we decided that having someone else look after the organisation was well worth the cost. 

The group assembled in Hanoi on what was nominally Day 1 of the trip. There was no cycling this day, just some formalities of filling out some forms and sorting out bike hire ($US150), the snack kitty ($US40) and the tipping kitty (from memory about $60) for the trip. Day 2 saw us fitted to some fairly ratty mountain bikes and a 90 minute spin around Ho Tay Lake.  

Most of the kids we encountered were friendly.
Day 3 was the first real day of cycling. We began with a long descent of a mountain pass, during which my front rim disintegrated while I was braking, causing a front wheel blowout. This potentially quite dangerous failure didn't enamour me of our bikes greatly. Soon after I grabbed a handful of left brake when I tried to stop in a hurry (left brake is rear in Australia, has been all my life) and fired myself over the handlebars. A skinned knee seemed to be the worst of my injuries. I frequently wished I bought my own bike with me, although the conditions of he road meant mountain bikes were probably the best choice. While it is possible to bring your own steed, it is all but discouraged in the tour information. In hindsight it would have been easier than I thought before we departed.

Mechanical issues aside, the riding was wonderful. The scenery we passed through was superb, great karst landscapes with beetling crags and lovely flat travelling through rice paddies. We stayed the night under mosquito nets in a longhouse especially set up for tourists, an enjoyable experience.

The pattern that emerged over the next few days became an easy routine. We'd get up around 7am and have a light breakfast before a shuttle on the bus to the starting point for the day. Because we had a bus and a truck supporting us we didn't need to carry anything heavier than a camera. Chi, the capable, informative and endlessly patient tour leader would set the pace, and a mechanic would follow up the rear. The bus or the truck would be parked at intersections to show us the turns.

We'd ride for 45 minutes to an hour and have a drink and a snack before tackling another section of roughly the same length. We'd have lunch in a local restaurant, often pho, then do another section before a bus transfer to our accommodation for the night. It's not cycle touring from point to point for the purist, but it did allow us to cover a fair bit of ground. Mostly we rode 70km to 90km a day and finished in time for a few beers before dinner. 

The pace was easy and although we strung out along the road, we regrouped at each rest point so nobody was every too far behind and the last rider had the mechanic for company. We were also fortunate to have a most convivial group of 11 cyclist ranging from the hugely experienced and fit to a woman who bravely decided on the trip despite not having ridden a bike since childhood. She completed the tour in fine style. That said, there was a bit less cycling than I expected. There were three days along the way we either didn't ride much or at all, plus the nominal first and last days. Overall we covered about 515km.

Another flooded crossing.
The tour took us from Hanoi to Mai Chau and on to visit a primate sanctuary in the Cuc Phuong National Park before heading south to Nihn Binh, where we jumped on the overnight train to Hue, which was one of the highlights of the trip. From there we stayed in Da Nang, Hoi Ann (which was unfortunately flooded) Quy Nohn, Nha Trang and Da Lat before a long bus transfer to Saigon. Each of these towns was well chosen and we had a great time in each.

Along the road we'd often encounter groups of children travelling to or from school or who just wanted to say hi. Most were delightful, although there was the occasional one who would deliver a slap or try to grab you as you went past. A couple of riders reported having a stone thrown at them or being hit with a stick. I suppose it's to be expected.

And another. We rode around this one. 

Also to be expected was the traffic. Traffic in Vietnam might charitably described as chaotic. Even something as basic as which side of the road to travel on doesn't seem to have been agreed upon definitively. All the same, people are less challenged by the presence of cyclists than western motorists and even in heavy traffic I generally felt safe. Most Vietnamese get around on motor scooters. Those few who drive cars bear watching because they're infested with the sense of entitlement that seems to afflict some of our drivers too. 

There was only one slight downer of the trip, and that was the weather. It rained a lot, although it was warm rain so it wasn't as bad as two weeks of wet weather touring in Tasmania would be. The start of our trip was impacted by rains associated with the devastating typhoon which hit the Phillipines several days before. Under the circumstances there I wouldn't dare complain about the minor inconvenience we suffered. And having signed up for an outdoor holiday, you tend to have to take what comes your way.

Typical scenery.
The highlights for me included the quaint National Park Hotel with it's mosquito-netted beds, the bustle of Hanoi's old quarter, the beachside restaurants in Nha Trang and the cool and beautiful Da Lat. There were many more highlights of course, but those stand out. The people we travelled with were also a highlight, we had a good group. The accomodation was generally of a good standard and Vietnam is an extremely cheap place to travel. Dinner for two of us frequently cost less than $A30 including drinks and the food was excellent.

If you're thinking of cycletouring in Vietnam, I highly recommend it. With the benefit of this experience under our belt I would think about travelling independently next time, particularly as I'd much prefer riding my own bike. A well-planned trip would need to take into account the sheer size of the country, certainly we could not have covered the ground we did without the many transfers. Even expanding the trip out to three weeks, it would be wise to confine oneself to the north or the south rather than trying to pack too much in. 

6708km so far this year.