Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shame on the Hell Riders

Melbourne's cyclists are enjoying a spell of very poor publicity at present thanks to a bunch of lycra clad louts called the Hell Riders. Long known for their inconsiderate antics on Beach Road, someone on the Hell Ride on the weekend ran a red light and knocked an old man down, killing him.

It's been an accident waiting to happen. The Hell Ride is hardly the only Beach Road bunch to flout the traffic laws, only the most infamous. Despite codes of conduct and awareness campaigns, red light running is an epidemic among cyclists. As a group, we surrender our moral authority to demand consideration and respect from other road users when we can't obey the most basic of road rules.

As cyclists, there's nothing particularly skilled or clever about Melbourne's legions of cafe racer nobodies. Anyone can ride a flash road bike fast if they're getting sucked along the flat stretches of Melbourne's waterfront in the middle of a big bunch. But it hurts the reputation of all cyclists when they form adrenalin-charged mobs which speed, contest bunch sprints on public roads, run red lights and intimidate other road users. We won't cop it from motorists, and we shouldn't tolerate it from other cyclists.

Shame on the Hell Riders.

4,003km so far this year.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Geek chic

This should lead to some fun: I've bought myself a tiny GPS receiver which will fit on the bike. The image to the left is this morning's drive/ride data downloaded, transformed by magnalox, pushed into Google Earth and saved as a screenshot. The route is represented by the wireframe, and speed (the red line) and altitude (the blue line) are displayed as a graph. Elapsed time is superimposed onto the map itself. Click the image to enlarge. It looks even better in 3D.

Hours of fun will no doubt ensue, although my longer term experiment with this technology may yet prove a useful way to record the route of Audax rides for future reference. By riding the route and making the file available, it might help remove some of the navigational uncertainty from events. In addition, it could be a useful way for people to log their rides, either as verification, or simply as a record for for their later enjoyment.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bunches Down the Bay

It was a great day for a ride yesterday and a great ride was had. The Bunches Down the Bay was a real treat. After a longish break from Audax rides, it was good to be back in the saddle again. It's a mainly a flat ride down the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay - from Parkville to Portsea and back.

I set off with the bunch at breakneck speed, suspecting I might regret my early exertions later. It's always a danger when you don't ride your own pace. But the carbon fibre and lycra brigade dropped me up the first set of hills and I was able to settle into a bit more of a rhythm. Besides, as is normal, I caught most of them at the 75km checkpoint.

Since I was feeling good and wasn't taking long breaks at the checkpoints to avoid warming down, this pattern repeated throughout. They'd catch me, I'd sit in for a while, get dropped, then overhaul them at the checkpoints. Oddly though, the bigger group didn't catch back up in the last 50km, and about 15km from the end I found a quicker wheel to sit on and was dragged along to the finish.

A very satisfying ride, more so for the fact that I did my fastest century yet - 3 hours and 59 minutes for the 100km and just over six hours for the 150. Now to get ready for a very different ride: 200km around Lake Eildon next weekend. It's all part of the buildup for the qualifying rides for next years Paris-Brest-Paris.

3,947km so far this year.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The beauty of the wheel.

There's something about bicycles that is more spiritual than mechanical. On the face of it, bikes are just machines - but what wonderful and efficient machines they are. It's something more people are beginning to appreciate as petrol prices bite. There's something special about these assemblages of steel tube and rubber and cable and wire that warms the soul of the enthusiast. They're a combination of transport, excerise, fun and style that adds up to a whole lot more than the mere sum of its parts.

For me, building a bicycle wheel is the perfect example of this. You start out with a hub, a hoop and a bunch of spokes. Slowly you weave a pattern which can carry many times its own weight, faithfully for year upon year. A well built wheel is a thing of great beauty and strength and a joy to own.

I rebuilt an old road wheel last night, a traditional 36 hole road racing wheel from the 80's with a Campagnolo hub, a spin-on six speed cluster and a tubular tyre. The flimsy aero spokes have been breaking, and I need it for a 150km ride this weekend, so I'm rebuilding it with straight-gauge stainless steel.

I've build about a dozen wheels for various bikes in the last few years and they've all turned out really well. The trick is taking your time and working methodically. There's a moment in the process when it all comes together - a complex equation of spoke length, lacing and tension - and the wheel all but tells you that you've got it right. As you bring the spokes to full tension, the wheel comes up straight and true and round, an endlessly beautiful and useful piece of hand-made sculpture. Building a bicycle wheel is a tremendously satisfying way of spending an evening.
3,797km so far this year.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Raging down the road.

I'm an angry man this morning. I gave up on the whole road rage thing back in my motorcycling days, after I opened someone's door at traffic lights and gave them an earful for cutting me off. The whole undignified episode took place in front of an unmarked police car. I swear officer, it looked a lot worse than it was. Deep down I know that violence isn't the answer, even though sometimes I forget what the question is.

So today's revving fool behind me at the traffic lights didn't particularly attract my attention as I passed him in the bike lane. 'He's either turning left, or he'll just have to wait,' I thought. Today's lesson folks: if you're going to zoom past me within the range of my outstretched arm, you're far too close. So don't act surprised if your front passenger window gets a tap almost but not quite hard enough to shatter it. And hurt my wrist. Damn those side windows are tough.

There was an opportunity for me to take it further, and keen I was. But sometimes when the red mist descends it's best not to listen to the voices inside your head yelling "kill, kill, kill!". And so we return to the politness and the pacifism. For now. But motorists take heed: if you try to run me over because you're in a hurry, I'll beat you to a pulp if I catch up with you. It seems a fair swap.

Apart from that, I had a lovely ride to work. Serenity now, serenity now, serenity now...

Thanks for bindifry for the pic.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A week on the bike.

Another milestone falls - a week on the bike, or 168 hours to be precise. At this rate I will have ridden nearly 6,000 km by the end of the year and will have spent the equivalent of 12 days in the saddle. It is nearly time to start thinking about next year's goals. I have a feeling I might be aiming for 10,000km. Or 12,000. Why not?

A lazy weekend doing maintenance on the bikes and cranking out a slow 20km on the track to get the fixie set up perfectly. The final annoying creak has been identified and ruthlessly eliminated. (It was an undertightened crank arm). A silent bike means a happy rider.

I'm slowly getting closer to the time when I might have all four bikes on the road at the same time. The Surly and the track bike are now in perfect working order. The road bike needs its back wheel rebuilt (of course) before the Bunches Down the Bay 150km on Saturday, so I'm off to buy the spokes in the morning. The MTB needs its front brake fixed. If I achieve nothing else this month, I will have all my bikes working at once!

The problem then becomes which bike to ride. The Surly and the road bike both vie for my affections on the long rides: they're both great fun to ride, but the road bike has a slight edge on speed and the Surly lower gears in the hills and is ever so slightly more comfortable. I feel like I'm cheating on one when I wheel the other from the shed.

3,684km so far this year.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Spoiled for choice.

Having forgotten to enter this year's Round the Bay in a Day in time, I'm too late to join the anti-clockwise ride like I wanted , too late for the free jersey and too late for the 250km option too. Spewing.

Checking out my riding calendar, I realise how spoiled for choice we folk in Melbourne are. While trying to figure out whether to ride in the ATB at all, I opened the envelope containing my Alpine Classic nomination forms for next years ride, then idly wondered whether to have a go at either the Great Victorian Bike Ride or the Great Tasmanian Bike Ride. Then there's the dozens of audax events I'm trying to juggle. It's a nice problem to have - too many good rides to fit them all in.

And then, looming on the horizon looms the biggest prize of all - the Paris- Brest-Paris is less than 12 months away. Since we're contemplating a trip to see Le Tour not long before hand, it seems a tempting goal to grasp - if there is anything sane about contemplating a 1,200km ride with a 90 hour time limit.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A dangerous occupation?

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, has released a report into cyclist deaths from 1991 to 2005. 665 cyclists died during that period. Statistics sometimes seem to have a way of helping people amplify their own prejudices, and no doubt this set will be discussed at length among the cycling community online. These facts stood out for me:
  • Cyclist deaths are well down, which is good news. "In the 1990s, the number of cyclist deaths ranged from 40 to 80 per year. In the 2000s so far (2000 to 2005), the range has been from 26 to 46 per year". It's a statistic that reflects the general decline in the road toll.
  • One third of those killed were not wearing helmets. Most of those killed while not wearing helmets were under 18.
  • In over 60 per cent of crashes, the cyclist was deemed to be ‘responsible’ for the
    action that precipitated the fatal crash. This mainly consisted of failing to observe road rules by swerving in front of cars or cruising through intersections. Again, this seemed to kill a lot of young people.
Cyclists complain a lot about the actions of some motorists, often with good reason, but we also need to accept responsibility for our own safety. Wear a helmet, have good lights at night and obey the road rules, and you're stacking the deck in your favour. And you're also setting a good example for those who haven't yet learned that the roads can be a dangerous place.

3,636km so far this year.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A tour de fun

What a trip! At the last minute we decided to ditch the Mawson Trail and do a circuit of the Fleurieu Peninsula which turned out be a stroke of genius. The scenery was terrific, we missed the crowds and, despite heading out in the depths of winter, the days were mild and we didn't have a drop of rain. Even the drivers gave us plenty of space.

Every day had a highlight. Day one was the big climbs up into the Adelaide Hills and the long descents into Strathalbyn just on dusk. Then there was the Encounter Bikeway between Goolwa and Victor Harbour and the pod of Southern Right Whales cavorting just offshore. Day three's highlight was the spectacular tree-lined decent into Normanville. Then we hit the wineries of McLaren Vale and pushed onward to the Haigh's Chocolate factory in Adelaide. Highlights to many to mention. Best holiday in years.

The bikes didn't miss a beat the whole trip, although some of the big hills were a bit of a test for the riders - those granny gears sure got a workout. I'd forgotten how enjoyable it is to poodle along on a heavily loaded touring bike. After a few hours you get used to the load and settle into a happy rhythm and the kilometres just fly by.

Oddly for me, the absolute best part of the trip was a long uphill out of a little town called Clarendon on the Adelaide Hills. The guidebook warned it was a long steep ascent, but by that stage of the trip we were feeling fit and seemed to spin up it effortlessly. It made the long winding descent on the other side all the sweeter.

3,561km so far this year.