Archive for the ‘Biking’ Category

The Bicycle and the Bush: Man and Machine in Rural Australia

To show just how far adrift I am in catching up with books, I purchased this at the end of 2011 and have just now gotten around to it. I’m sure there are other books in my library that are even older that I probably don’t even remember having.

This was actually an Amazon purchase which I listened to using Voice Dream for the iPad. Yeah, there was a bit of trickery to get it to the ePub format which Voice Dream can read, but that is a simple matter of Calibre and a DRM plugin.

The Bicycle and the Bush is a pretty interesting look at the bicycle on it’s role in society at the turn of the century in Australia. This isn’t really a story, nor is it a documentary, but rather a series of narratives put together that give insight into the beginnings of the bike and the adoption of it as both a means of transportation and a labor saving tool in Australia.

What should make Australia different than anywhere else? Well, on the outset nothing really. Australia has the same small towns separated by less than ideal roads, difficult riding surfaces and a society that isn’t sure this new machine will catch on. However, Australia does have the vast deserts and huge isolated cattle stations where getting around by bicycle would save both horse and camel. Water would be in short supply and the bike didn’t need to be fed or watered. It won’t eat poisonous plants nor will it get eaten by a pack of dingos.

As someone who does a lot of cycling, I think we easily forget the humble beginnings and near extinction of the bike. It was a bit of an eye-opener to go back and remember those original models didn’t even have cranks or pedals. The bike started as a strange two-wheeled cart that you pushed down the road. I’m not sure how that considered fun or convenient, but that’s the way things started.

We then move onto that famous model, the Penny Farthing, with the gigantic front wheel and teeny back wheel. It certainly looks amusing, but my goodness, how impractical was that thing? Who thought that set up was a good idea? I’m sure the view was quite excellent from all the way up there, but how exactly do you stop and not fall to your death?

After a rethink on development, all sorts of models show up. There are 3, 4, and 5 wheel contraptions, sort of like a car. The idea of the chain wouldn’t come into play for awhile. Nor was there air in the tires. Those rascals were solid rubber or in some cases wood and metal. Not only were the designs pretty unusual, they were exceedingly heavy coming in at 30+ pounds. This indeed a far cry from the carbon fiber frames of today with lightweight aluminum parts.

But, they did have their place and they were pressed into service. They helped tend the cattle, delivered mail, helped the clergy and doctors get to people and allowed plenty of people to travel vast distances without the cost or restriction of train travel.

The parts that really struck me were the fact these bikes had no brakes, solid tries, were made of steel and no freewheel, yet, people rode 100+ miles a day on them. And they did it dressed in woolen suits! None of this spandex or lycra business! Oh yes, they were all a single gear. I still haven’t ridden my bike 100 miles in a single day and look at all the crazy technology I have! I suppose I shouldn’t take my air filled tires, bike pumps, CO2 cylinders and Zertz for granted anymore. Seeing my bike would be like seeing a spacecraft.

There are lots of amusing little stories of men setting off to work on the bicycle instead of having to walk. There are plenty of bike races and endurance runs. There are plenty of stories of crashes and cyclists having to share the road with the horse and buggy. There are also the wild tales of how the bike would lead to sin and was the work of the devil. And strangely, it was seen as taboo for women to ride bikes. Somehow they were going to ride astray and lead themselves into promiscuity by riding a bike. There are some crazy damn notions back in those early days. Oh wait, we kind of haven’t gotten past a lot of those notions and it’s not like religious and government entities have stopped trying to tell us what to do.

Another thing that struck me as funny was the US involvement in bikes. The US was flush with companies trying to make bikes and bike parts. Once the idea caught on, everyone wanted a bike. Unfortunately, that attitude has died off pretty severely and the US is not a bike centric country at all. The US has some big bike manufacturers, but cities are not planned with bike lanes and the average driver is just as content to run over a cyclist as share the road. We have more style of bikes than ever before, but probably less desire to actually get out there and ride them. I live within a quick 5-10 minute bike ride of several grocery stores and restaurants, yet I’m scared to death to leave the car at home for fear of being run over (again). I wish we could get back to that attitude of the bike as a liberating mode of transportation that let you cover vast distances with relative ease.

More to the point, I was watching one of the bike Belgium bike races and was so envious of their wide bike lanes that were everywhere. They had the main road, the bike lane and then the footpath. See, we can all get along if we just plan ahead!

But anyway, this was an interesting read full of stories and statistics. There is no goal to try and prove a point, just merely point out the place the bicycle has a tool of work and transportation. It’s also a nice trip into the past to see just how far bikes have come. Even now the bicycle looks like such a simple machine with a chain so that the big gear can move the little gear. Go back to the beginning and you’ll soon realize how much of an improvement these everyday pieces are.

We should embrace the bicycle! It is a powerful people mover, a wonderful tool for exercise and stamina and if you want to get quite political and philosophical a symbol for the liberation of multiple groups of people. As I read just recently, the bicycle had a helping hand in the rights for women.

If you’re interested in cycling, or in Australia, or enjoy a bit of history The Bicycle and the Bush can give you a fun read.

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The smaller Topeak Fuel Tank Bag

While I don’t believe that good much of a good thing is bad, my original Topeak Tank Bag might actually be a bit much – at least for group rides. So, I bought the slightly shorter version of the same bag. It’s only about 6 inches versus the 9 of the original. The secondary compartment has been removed to reduce the length. There is still plenty of room for snacks and a phone or anything else you want to get to quickly. In short, it has ample space. This will make a nice compliment to the bike for my supported 60 mile rides. However, when I’m going out on my own I think I’ll take the larger bag. A I said, I’d rather have and not need, than need and not have.

Either way it’s good since I can always put the other bag on my Sirrus. Both bikes are riding longer distances and if we end up going to the Blue Ridge Parkway or some other long trek, the bigger bag is definitely coming along for the ride.

Like the original, it’s a quality bag with three hoops to secure it. One goes around the neck, the other two Velcro to the frame. I suppose if you really wanted to go all out, you could attach one to the neck then spin the other around and attach it to the seat. Might look a bit strange, but if you truly need the cargo space it would work like a charm.

The mornings are growing a little cool so I don’t know how many times I’ll get to use this bag, but I’d rather have it now than wait. Seems things get discontinued at random and I didn’t want to miss out.

I have both bags and think they will serve me very well. When the day comes for me to try and tackle the true century, I wonder which bag will get me there?


Topeak Fuel Tank

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Friday Night at the Giordana Velodrome

It was the final event of the season and the night was delightful. Well, delightful if you’re not speeding around the track at 20+ mph. As the sun set it got a little cool, but for the audience we needed nothing more than a sweatshirt. I guess the biking season really is over. It’s hard to find anything to watch after The Tour is over, even though there is still plenty of racing out there. I was quite satisfied with driving mere minutes down the road to catch the racing on the oval. I can’t say I completely understand the rules and that Madison completely freaks me out! But watching bike racing is always fun.

Tonight was no different although there were a lot more thrills and spills than any other night. The banking is so damn steep that several riders didn’t take heed to the minimum speed it takes to stick to the track. It’s a hell of a long way down and even though it looks smooth, it will tear you up by the time you reach the bottom. That point was proven by some of blood stains left behind. Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt, but there were quite a few gasps from the crowd. Gravity is indeed a harsh mistress.

There are some really talented riders out there. They have incredible acceleration and excellent strategy. This isn’t just straight line racing like I’m used to. You have to use the banks, plot when you’re going to descend and judge how far you need to go based on either the small or big gearing you’re riding with. These are fixed wheels, you don’t get to change gears. It’s really exciting to watch. Hell, there was even a tandem bike out there setting a sub 14 second time around the track. A fixed gear tandem bike with no brakes? Good lord!!

That was a fun way to spend the evening. Too bad it’s over for the year. Can’t blame them though, it’s tough to race against the wind and the cold. That Pedal for Pediatrics ride was a brutal one and I wasn’t sprinting like these guys.

I’ll be looking forward to getting out there again next year and watching as many weekend event as I can. Even on the weekends I work, I might sneak in an hour. Is it wrong to eat a greasy burger and watch bike racing?

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