Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bike snob

There's a much better bike blog than mine. Anybody who reads Astoria Bike and doesn't read Bike Snob is either ignorant or has serious time management problems.

Most of his posts are great. His More BSNYC Infrequently Asked Questions is a gem.

(But why is a threadless headset better than the old-fashioned kind? I thought that was just a solution to a nonexistent problem.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tandem Melbourne

Things picked up a bit in Melbourne, bike wise. I couldn't score free bikes (actually I probably could have, but hadn't yet thought of my Australian bike connection), and renting bikes is crazy expensive. $50 per day. It costs more to rent bikes than rent a car. What's up with that?

But we wanted bikes. And *I* wanted to ride a tandem. And the tandem was "only" $70 a day. A veritable bargain, if you don't think too hard.

I've never really ridden a tandem (I actually did once for a short distance, but it was not a good bike). They seem really cool and romantic to me. Then I learned that to most people they just look dorky. But that don't bother me.

It is a little tricky to get used to riding a tandem. But not so bad. A few hours and you're fine. But there are things to think about that you rarely do: which foot is down when you coast? Which way to you lean the bike when stopped at a light. Turns out that Zora and I do things opposite. So one of us (me) has to so it the other way. No big deal. It's also pretty easy to start and coast together. Though you may coast less just to keep a nice rhythm.

Being on the front is relatively easy. When I took over the stoker's seat (rear), I couldn't handle it. Zora said the weight of the bike was very funny with 220 lbs on the rear. I had a horrible posture because the rear handlebars are linked to the front seat. So with the rear seat up and the handlebars down, it just didn't work. It may have been the position, but I couldn't get used to being on the back and not being able to steer. Every bone in my body wanted to adjust for balance and move the handlebars. but things don't help matters. You just have to sit and peddle.

I've always wanted to smoke a big one, blast music on headphones, and completely zone out while riding a bike. The rear of a tandem is the perfect place for that. But it will have to wait.

After an hour or two, Zora got used to the rear seat and could wave her hands around and cabbage-patch or do whatever else seemed appropriate or inappropriate.

The main advantage to riding a tandem in a new city is that you stay together and can talk more easily (though the person on front still has to turn his head). When you don't know where you're going, this comes in handy.

And, in another of my tandem dreams, I was able to drop Zora for a meeting, and bike away (to return the bike).

A few minor notes:
1) the chain for the front rider is on the left.
2) like much of the world but not the US, the front brake handle is on the right and the rear on the left. On the tandem, though, this matters less than a regular bike. You can jam on the front and the bike still isn't going to flip over.
3) they drive on the left.
4) it was hot. This was the only heat of our trip. It hit 106 degrees. That's hot. I've never biked in that kind of heat. It's eyeball melting heat. It one point, I burnt myself trying to get a water fountain to turn on. It was hot. Slow and easy.
5) Melbourne has lots of flies. Sounds petty, but they never mention these things before you go. These aren't your standard flies. These are little African famine-picture flies. They're small and go right for your eyes and mouth to get moisture. They're really persistent. And nasty. They can keep up with you biking until about 10 mph.
6) Australia has a helmet law for all bikers. I don't like that.

Melbourne was surprisingly bike friendly. Lots of bike lanes. Flat city. Easy to get around.

This is our tandem.

That's not us mind, you. But our friends of friends look so much cooler than we do.
We're kind of daggy.


Coming soon, the Melbourne bike map. It ain't Pittsburgh (but what is?), but it's functional and does warn: "Avoid drunk people who may stop in front of you."

Still to come: Bike Brisbane and the pièce de résistance, bike Sydney!

Bike New Zealand

We weren't in New Zealand for long and it was closed. Early January is not, I repeat not a good time to visit cities in New Zealand. They're closed for the holidays. Spooky tumbleweed quiet.

In Wellington, I got a lead to go to the anarchist book store on the Left Bank off Cuba St (I'm not making that up). They told me to go to some bike squat that may have bikes. I was hoping to fix a few bikes for the use of two bikes. Off we went. The squat was closed for holiday. How can that be?

One bike store open. But didn't rent bikes. We failed. It was made worse by looking in this closed building at what may have been an art installation.

So many bikes and not one to ride.

There are no fenders (aka mudguards) on bikes in New Zealand. And people go barefoot an awfully lot. And though it was summer, it was cold. Best coffee in the world, perhaps. And our standards were high, coming from Portland. And the food was fresh. Weak dollar: bad.

Bike Portland

A month abroad and bike stories to share. From Portland, Wellington, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney. I'll start in chronological order.

New Years in Portland, Oregon.

Rumor has it that it's a biking haven. Rumor has it the food is delicious. Rumor has it they drink a lot of coffee. I'm naturally suspicious of any place people loooove so much. For the record, Santa Cruz gives me the creeps and I'm pretty dismissive of the whole states in the U.S.

But I liked Portland. It's true about the food and coffee. And beer flows freely. The utter whiteness of the place is a bit creepy, especially because, like white places everywhere, they seem so utterly unaware that it's not really normal. Especially when they keep calling each other "bro." I'm not your "bro," bro.

But let's talk bikes. At first glance, I was very disappointed. It does not jump out as biking heaven. There aren't bike lanes everywhere, much less bike paths anywhere. It's a car city. People drive. Public transportation is better than most US cities of its size, but simply not adequate.

But when you talk to people who bike, they all say great things about Portland. Because Portland cares about bikes. The city works to make things more bike friendly. This is what New York could learn. It's not just about lines of paint of roads (though that helps). It's about the little things:
On the new and nice if it's going your way streetcar (called "the Maxx"), there are hooks to hang your bike.

You plop your bike up and hang it from the front wheel. Suddenly your large two-wheeled obstruction takes up almost no space and is hassle free for the rider! Simple. Brilliant! Costs almost nothing. Everybody wins!

Bike racks are apleanty. Including ones for which they have (gasp) actually removed parking. How can anyone argue that parking for one car is better than parking for 14 bikes? Why isn't this done more?

(and notice the fancy extended rear carrying rack on the closest bike. Very nice!)

Again, it's the little things. On bridges going over the river, the bike lane is doubled into two bikes lanes going uphill. Because going uphill, it's very likely that you will pass or be passed by another bike. Then at the top of the hill, the lane narrows to its standard width. How considerate.

Portland isn't without faults. But it charmed me. Now if anybody could just explain to me why there are so few fenders in a city with so much rain...