Scared of traffic ? No bike infrastructure ? Too Far ? Helmet hair ?


Fuck it, ride anyway

This is not a post about Alan

Rather, this is the story of how Sprocketman and I ended up 20km from home, in our pyjamas, at 4pm on a Sunday, with no wallet, no money, no phone, no car, no ID (quelle horreur Duncan Gay!) just us and two bikes that didn’t belong to us.

What happened was - and Sprocketman and I agreed on this wholeheartedly - we mutually decided that Alan is just too beautiful to convert to an electric bike as we had planned.

So that left me commuting with my BH, currently named Emmeline, which let’s face it, was no longer cutting it for me.

So reluctantly, because it feels like the greatest act of betrayal, I started thinking about trading in Emmeline for a new e-bike.  Someone I once read said it was “ungentlemanly” to sell on your old bikes, but quite frankly we’ve got nine of the things between us already with bike spares and equipment dominating our double garage, and with the Sydney property market the way it is, we have too much competition in other wannabe buyers to simply buy the mansion next door for bike storage.

Sprocketman reclining in our main bike workshop.

Sprocketman reclining in our main bike workshop.

This is where an e-bike differs from a regular bike – I bought my BH 5 or 6 years ago, and she would have been maybe the previous year’s model at that. I paid maybe just over $2k for her then, and she’s going to be worth around $1,250 as a trade in – that is holding your value and then some I think.

One careful gentle lady rider owner … who definitely has not fallen over or crashed the bike ever.

So we started looking at what was out there in e-bike world and ooh, we liked what we saw. Advances in tech, built in GPS tracking, huge improvements in battery capacity & size - beautiful workmanship from clever, clever people all meant I had a lot more fabulous bikes to chose from this time around and if I was in Europe I’d have a whole load more, but never mind. Even I draw the line at flying overseas to go bike shopping, but only because I haven’t got enough time off.

This go round, I knew a lot more about what was important to me in a bike, and what my support crew thought were minimum standards.

Research got serious about 9.30 one night, and that is nearly bedtime for us early risers, so I brought my work skills to the fore and drew up a comparison matrix, and was roundly mocked for it. In my own home. Fancy that. And yet several of the bike store guys grabbed it and read it as we talked, and one of them may have said it was the smartest thing he'd seen a customer do ... ahem.

Oh hang on, this is George W Bush's bike purchasing matrix. 

Oh hang on, this is George W Bush's bike purchasing matrix. 

But it ruled in and out all the bikes I was interested in, and so on Saturday morning we saddled up to ride/train into the city, on the Tour de Bike Shop, to genially chat bullshizzle with sales people, waste their time by taking all their lovely bikes on test rides, and just generally add to the matrix – you get the picture.

Now, I would have sworn Emmeline’s battery was charged, but alas it was not, so instead we took the train into the city and walked in almost 40 degree heat. Eugh.

Climate change deniers - won't you think of the children ?

Climate change deniers - won't you think of the children ?

We cruised in and out of Atelier de Velo, Clarence Street Cyclery, Giant, Specialized, and we marvelled at each of their e-bikes, usually in a catalogue because they didn’t have floor models. Why enter the e-bike market and then not have any there for people to try?  It seems like a box-ticking exercise, contemptuous of the local market. Mind you, they probably know cycling won't get a decent look in in Sydney until Duncan Gay is run out of town in, or preferably under, a Big Surly.

[There's a thought, wouldn't it be great if top international bike manufacturers actually got behind bike advocacy in Sydney and pushed for decent infrastructure if only to increase their market, instead of piddling around with tiny retail outposts selling to only dedicated transport martyrs ?]

To be fair the Giant e-bikes had just been delivered and were crated up awaiting assembly, and Simon there was a top bloke to chat with.

But still, c’mon. No bike, no sale.  

Finally we walked like animals over to Sydney Electric Bikes in Pyrmont where Jake has about 100 e-bikes of most ranges in stock and lets you take them for a 24 hour test ride, which we gleefully took full advantage of. He trusted us with about 10 grand worth of e-bikes for almost 2 days, the latest BH Revo (a sportier upgraded Emmeline) and a Focus Jarifa which for the life of me I can never remember the proper name of. Jarifa ? I was calling the it the Jafira, the Jazeera, the Jaffa etc.

Jake equipped us with a couple of his ratty old shop helmets (we’d forgotten ours) and a backpack to put my handbag in, and off we went. We rode around the city and then eventually trained it most of the rest of the way home because it was stupidly hot and the middle of the day and peak weekend traffic, eugh.

No planned bike storage on Sydney Trains, because why would we want to learn from the rest of the world ?

No planned bike storage on Sydney Trains, because why would we want to learn from the rest of the world ?

Sunday dawned cool and pleasantly overcast – perfect for a long bike ride. Which Sprocketman was oddly reluctant to do. He made us breakfast in bed, read the news with me, and then we leapt out to finish building a fat bike, and give the house it’s annual decent clean as was our respective wont.

Around 2pm I kind of lost it with the domestic bliss “Look, I’m going for a ride on these bikes we borrowed because otherwise what was the point? We went to so much hassle to borrow them …”

Hah ! at that point I didn’t yet know the half of it …

“I’m just going around the block to get used to the gears” I said to Sprocketman.

At this stage I was still in the top I’d slept in last night, and then cleaned the house in and 2013’s sad and baggy yoga pants. I went upstairs, threw on some hand-me down bike shorts and my mountain bike shoes, and came downstairs to find Sprocketman and Al Jazeera gone. Motherf*cka.  This was the one he’d ridden home from the shop and had been frankly unimpressed with. 

When the fashion industry encourages us to leave the house in our pyjamas, they're thinking more like this ...

When the fashion industry encourages us to leave the house in our pyjamas, they're thinking more like this ...

And less like this ...  and yet who would I rather be ? HBC by a country mile.

And less like this ...  and yet who would I rather be ? HBC by a country mile.

Only seconds later though he cruised up the driveway grinning like a loon.

“SO much better” he declared, “I changed the German display over to English and then adjusted the torque settings to suit you and it’s a far better ride now …”

Oh isn’t he a gem ? I take it all back. I had been enjoying translating the German indicator panel, but yes, English would be so much easier. And I could get on and ignore the bike's instructions to invade Poland. Too soon ?

So off I rode around the block from home to test my gear selection on our own more convenient hills. Sprocketman jumped on the newer BH and came with. Who needed to go 20km down the road to the national park to test this out – we have bigger and better hills in our own neighbourhood, albeit populated with carz. Yuk. Not my favourite thing to have a motorist up my bumper when I’m fiddling around getting used to a new gear system.

We rode to the end of our street and up an incline we locals struggle to walk up without a convenient sherpa. Al Jazeera sped up it easily, with me giving it a good hard crack at the pedals. I was puffing, but I was at the top of a hill I couldn’t climb on my BH, and I was laughing.

"Let’s go back this way", said Sprocketman.

And “Let’s go this way” he said at the next pause. We circled our street, headed down through the neighbouring suburb, through the first nature reserve, and spied a rocky side track - we looked at each other, both of us in our pj tops, me in a set of knicks with no grip at the end so that they had already rolled up and looked like I was wearing giant black granny-pants out of the house. Sprocketman was also in a Kris Kringle t-shirt he uses as sleepwear, illustrated with toy dinosaurs, truly excellent. Dear god, let no-one I know see us right now.

Old enemy it is then ...

Old enemy it is then ...

Back to the rocky side track. "I've always wanted to ride this" said Sprocketman.

“Then you shall.” I flicked the switch that converted Al Jazeera from a bloody good e-road bike to a bloody good e-mountain bike, and off we went on the rockiest track I have ever ridden.  Definately the rockiest one I have ever fallen over on, but it's ok, it was a "controlled fall". And the bike was fine.

We rode another 15km, through the mercifully closed university, through another suburb, through the national park, and desperately I wished for a drink and ice-cream, anything – but we had not a souk nor the proverbial brass razoo on us, we drank gratefully from national park water fountains and I approached my arch nemesis with some apprehension. Fullers Road, or as the ER Hobbits refer to it – Mount Doom. Or as I refer to it "that fucking Fullers Road hill". Who was Fuller ? I don't know, but screw him and his hill.

It is the scariest descent on my commute home. It is the impossible climb on my commute in, it is the reason I cycle along the Pacific Highway – because I knew I would never make it up these series of hills, starting with this big bastard one. It is a piece of cake on the Jarifa. I pedalled as hard as I could and didn’t even need my absolute lowest gear, he climbed like there was no effort, no wheezing, no protest of motor – it was like being carted up on silk, albeit I was working hard. But I did it. Then I turned around, rode down, and then did it all over again straight away.

Then we rode the remaining 20km home weary but infinitely do-able, including up the bastard hill rated as my second nemesis. The one I have only ever made it up with fresh legs.

I no longer need legs like this to get home via the hills on my bike ...

I no longer need legs like this to get home via the hills on my bike ...

Boom. Take that bitches.

Best. Test. Ride. Ever. I’ll have one in red please.