Spokes(Wo)Man

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

 

Fuck it, ride anyway

Filtering by Tag: Getting Started

Back to Square … 3 maybe?

Regular readers of this blog would know that I have not been a regular rider of my bicycle-cycle this winter.

This has made me quite sad. As well as SAD. I love my bike, and I love the feeling I get from riding it.

And as if having almost 12 weeks continuous cold, sinus and flu wasn’t debilitating enough – this year I spent so much time laid up in bed that I seized up my sciatic nerve. Motherf*cker, it has been SO painful. It’s like having part of your body locked off from movement, and when you try … screamingly painful. I’ve barely been able to physically get myself out of bed, or an armchair without floundering around like a beached … well, flounder I guess.

My osteopath gets married this coming Friday (congrats Ricey!)  and I can’t help but think that I have single-handedly paid for much of her wedding. Eh, you’re welcome.

Anyway, Ricey diligently worked on my latest area of incapacitation, gave me homework in the form of several stretches, which let’s face it, I will mostly forget to do, and told me to slowly increase my daily walking to “loosen things up”.

I chose to interpret this last as “go for a nice long bike ride”.  Sounds legit eh?

This is the same thinking that when my nutritionist wearily asks me to eat more fruit, sees me sitting here with a bag of posh, nectarine-flavoured jelly babies.

Having finally regained enough breath to give a my bike a go, I decided to ignore the debilitating back pain, because when has that ever really stopped anyone? 

But I wasn’t stupid about it (or not much more so than the original level of stupidity in thinking this was a good idea) – I decided that Sprocketman and I should go gently explore the M7 cycleway – a purpose-built, separated bike path which runs along the M7 freeway for about 40km. I didn't fancy having to be on public roads, with drivers and the heightened sense of alertness/impending death that one usually requires when cycling in Sydney. So a bike path seemed like a lovely compromise. To make the slower speed official, I left my basket on my bike; to make it clear I was riding at “gentlewomen’s pace”. This has had unintended consequences on my bike camera, as you will soon see.

Panoramic shot of my bike basket - but note the high walls keeping murderous cars at bay

Panoramic shot of my bike basket - but note the high walls keeping murderous cars at bay

It’s interesting that someone in NSW was able to plan ahead and install a fantastic dedicated bike/walking track along a newish freeway – unfortunately it runs from Sydney’s Hill District to Southern Woop-Woop and is therefore of bugger all use to most commuter or utility riders; but hey, someone at least tried. The biggest danger on the bike path is venomous snakes sunning themselves on the bitumen, and I’d happily take one of those bastards over riding alongside a speeding semi-trailer with an amphetamine-popping driver texting while driving.

Sydney bushland surrounds, aaaand my bike basket again

Sydney bushland surrounds, aaaand my bike basket again

And what a fantastic path it is.  We zigzagged back and forth to find the start, and then spotted several people in bikes who we followed, and then boom! The loveliest, wide enough to ride two abreast path, separated from the traffic, with it’s own dedicated bridges. It was, quite frankly, surreal. It was, Netherlandish.

Separated cycle track, with it's own bridges; wonderful community infrastructue.

Separated cycle track, with it's own bridges; wonderful community infrastructue.

As I said to Sprocketman, as we rode along at a gentle pace side-by-side and chatted, this was gold standard for NSW. If we had cycling infrastructure like this going from any of the outer-suburbs of Sydney to the CBD, you’d get literally thousands of new riders commuting daily by bike. Thousands of people out of cars and freeing up more public transport. I’d even ride in the rain; it’d be that safe.

Oooh, you can see a bit of the path surface when I corner ...

Oooh, you can see a bit of the path surface when I corner ...

There’s a big boom in road infrastructure going on in NSW at present, namely the highly controversial WestConnex and the less publically abused NorthConnex, one of the construction outposts for which was snuck into our neighbourhood. They are abominations in their own right.

They’ve been horrific in their destruction of bushland, habitat for endangered native animals; the compulsorily acquired homes of people at sub-market values and the blatantly dishonest financial manoeuvrings of the NSW government; it’s the stuff of nightmares quite frankly. Some of it brings me to tears, albeit furiously angry tears where I’d cheerfully assassinate Mike Baird and Duncan Gay. Lucky for Australian politicians that we have sensible gun restrictions in this country. And that I am inherently very lazy. And apparently you can just call this sort of thing "locker room talk" and not be held accountable for your words.

But because this is a biking blog; Imma stick with the theme and ask “why couldn’t they have added a few extra metres and incorporated a safely separated bike path to their ugly new car lanes at the same time?”

There’s a famous quote, beloved of bike advocates globally;

Trying to solve congestion by making roadways wider is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants. You’re not really getting at the fundamental problem that’s going on.

Adding separate bike infrastructure to new roads is a bit like the obese NSW, burping after finishing dinner, suddenly refusing second helpings and saying, “ I think… I think I might take the dog for a walk.

I mean it’s quite possible the dog has long since died of neglect but it’s a nod to what needs to be done.

So there we were, riding alongside each other, having a very pleasant chat, making room for occasional walkers, and runners, and a lovely big family all out walking their dog together; it was the nicest piece of infra I have used in a long while. Because the path starts and terminates in the middle of nowhere, we were riding through areas of preserved bushland, with birdlife and native flora everywhere. 

Bloody good job. Along the 40km of track there are something like 60 entry points, other local bike paths from residential areas converging on the main path; some of the side tracks leading off to parklands, river reserves, bushland regeneration areas. I loved everything about that ride of discovery.

Car-free bridges

Car-free bridges

Except. Oh. My back. And my arse. Having not ridden for more than a couple of kilometres to and from the food markets for several months, after a laughable 10km of steady riding my lower back decided to start screaming at me. I thought about what Ricey had said and thought "hmm". 

This track was 40km, and I had intended Sprocketman and I to cycle it both ways, and try and add an extra 20km to reach my first century. We'd packed my basket with bananas, drinks, muesli bars, sunscreen. We were planning on having a day of it. 

Hahahahhahahah. 

I stood on the pedals to stretch my back, I rode at weird angles to relieve my backside which had definitely lost it's imperviousness to saddle soreness. I remembered then, that it often took a day or so for one beauteoux to re-acquire saddle affinity. Great. only 90km to go.

Reluctantly a few more kilometres on I pulled over to stretch and have a drink, and to confess to poor bloody Sprocketman that I was in some pain and bit worried I was compounding my original injury. I'd really pushed for us to do this ride today, so I was a bit chagrined.

But he again proved his worth as a riding and a life partner by saying rather thoughtfully,  "I think I've left my wallet and mobile phone back on the dashboard of the car...."

"Bloody typical." I said happily. "Well, I won't be able to enjoy the rest of this ride worrying your wallet and phone might be stolen, we better go STRAIGHT BACK RIGHT NOW." 

I tsk'd at him and gave him a big "thank you" hug, and set off to ride back. 

Sprocketman finally takes the lead

Sprocketman finally takes the lead

I spent the evening with a TeNS machine shocking me at random intervals whilst cuddling a lava-like heat-bag. Bliss.

But we will go back and try it again. When my back is better and I have re-acquired arse-impervioscity. And in the meantime, my goal is to be back commuting regularly by Wednesday 12 October, or Ride2Work Day 2016.

The 1 year anniversary of my plunge into both biking and blogging...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And with a bound ...

Commute no5 – uneventful.

Commute no6 – the ride in, uneventful.

Commute no6 – the ride home, an event !

Commute no7 – events all over the show !

Commute no8 – Boom !

On a quiet day at work we’re done by 4.30. No-one there is a great believer in busy-work for the sake of it, so if we’re done, we’re gone. Besides, riding in gets you to the office between 7.30 and 8am, so come 4.30 it’s not unreasonable to adios.

Buuut, I then have a 45 minute wait for the first ER Grand Depart of the evening. And I could be halfway home in that time – so the question arose, was I ready to ride home by myself ?

Turns out, yes indeedy I was. With a little trepidation and a muesli bar I set out, and while I will always be so appreciative of the group for it’s valuable teachings, support and sheer physical mass on the roads; the guilt of knowing you’re last and probably slowing everyone down is real. So riding north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at my own pace was dee-lightful,

The Good  ...

The Good ...

epic infrastructure fail notwithstanding.

... the bad and the definitely ugly.

... the bad and the definitely ugly.

Popping up in North Sydney amongst the buses and homeward-bound cars, not nearly as busy as after 5pm. Usually it's like a game of Whack-a-mole, with yours truly feeling a bit like the mole. The route, not that difficult to recall, the nature reserves and national parks just lovely to take a spin through. I rode for just under 2 hours on my own, I took 2 turns wrong but realised pretty quickly and corrected, and it was all great.

Commute no7 was also the day of the protest against the idiotic new cycling laws proposed by Minister for Cars Duncan Gay and weasily supported by the Teflonesque NSW Premier Mike Baird.

Sprocketman and I both wanted to attend and yell “Shame” and “Booo” at the appropriate moments, but to do so we had to leave around 6am -  45 minutes before my usual inward-bound group. I refused to ride along the ill-named Pacific Highway, so instead Sprocketman would ride with me all the way along the ER route.  As long as I could remember it.

So I lead him out just after dawn, we two arrived at Martin Place without incident, although not with out a grumble from my SO that my journey in was too winding and chop n’ change. I think he prefers to point himself in the direction of the city and ride like a one-man Panzer tank , flattening all before him and leaving nothing but a sonic boom in his wake.

We collected one of my other cycling friends RGH, made new friends with a lovely German lady who doesn’t ride in Sydney because our cycling laws are so fucking restrictive; and off we went to hear from politicians of all sides give the Liberal Party coal-industry fanbois some stick, and generally boo and hiss as required.

That evening, I nonchalantly donned my lycra and rode home, alone again, cheerfully.

Commute no8, I went solo both ways without even thinking about it.

It occurs to me that while I have been commuting by bike since October 2015, for various reasons, holidays, weather & medical, I had only actually ridden in 5 times before I graduated to making the journey alone.

I think for someone as utterly scared as I was, this is a terrific milestone. For anyone else who’s afraid to ride, or to ride in, or dithering about something else entirely; I hope this give you lashings of encouragement.

So what else am I afraid of?

The Road Less Travelled*

* Because it was the wrong fucking way.

It turns out that when a certain cyclist in our group issues an invitation to swing by his house for beers; the group immediately rides to his house en masse.

What could go wrong ?

What could go wrong ?

Nobody was going via the usual way home, which I have yet to commit to memory, having only managed to ride it one time, about 3 months ago.

I learned about this route change after we’d already departed Observatory Hill and thought to self, “Oh well, take the beer detour. What's the worst that could happen?” 

It was even on my way home and actually close enough that I could get from the festivities to my own house without a guide if need be. All was fine while we were on a route I’d been over once or twice before, but when we hit the new-to-me part of the route, I got dropped like the proverbial hot potato; 

As I slowed to make a few unfamiliar descents, and take some very tight corners on a narrow winding bridge, my group pulled ahead more and more until only a single jersey remained in view. I kept him on my horizon for 10 minutes and peddled like a m*therfucking dervish to shrink the gap, and drew level with him as he waited for the lights to change. At which point he jumped and said “Where the hell did you come from?” Followed by “Ah, and where are you going?”

Turns out I followed the one person who wasn’t going to drinks, and who was heading off in a completely different direction from where I live. Awe …some…

A quick chat with him regarding directions revealed a stunning lack of knowledge on my part as to a) the suburb I was in and b) the suburbs surrounding the suburb I was in.

Given that I had missed a crucial turnoff many kilometres back, and probably wouldn’t be able to find the group again anyway, I decided to continue on and see if I couldn’t make my own way in the general direction required and somehow cross paths with them on the National Park trails. Yes, the odds of that happening were firmly in my favour…

   I consulted my handy compass ...   

 

I consulted my handy compass ...

 

Anyway, a long a tiresome ride heading straight into the baking Sydney summer sun, along the side of a major road, eventually I found a few signs pointing to a university halfway between the city and home. I knew the SO used to ride through the campus on his journey home, so a quick chat with him on the mobile, and I found the entrance to the bike path, and boom, a mere TWO HOURS after setting off, I reached home. Utterly parched. Probably sunburned. Certainly very happy. I lay in bed, ate a small bucket of pasta and passed out.

Umm, no. I was quite clearly f%cking lost...

Umm, no. I was quite clearly f%cking lost...

[Edit] I kept an eye and an ear out for signs of their Hobbit gathering, but no luck, and I also updated my Strava the moment I arrived home, in case they were worried by my disappearance; and lo their Strava routes revealed some repeated back and forth at a key junction which could only have been them retracing their route looking for me.  That offset my inner pouting a great deal. Thanks ER Hobbits and Blue Stravos in particular !

D’uh, the bike and an unplanned bit about just getting on with it.

Eight or nine posts in, I realise I’ve been merrily writing away without having talked about my actual bicycle, beyond its deliberately ridiculous nickname*.

I’m not going to wax lyrical (or indeed wax at all, except when I maybe start racing) about derailleurs and Campy vs Shimano, mostly because I have at best a vague knowledge of what those words are.  [They’re not even English, for heaven’s sake.] This will probably change one day and I’ll be sure to create a new tag called “Mechanical Shizzle” for interested readers to search for, but you’ll be a long time waiting.

Bit of a segue [not a Segway] - because the underlying topic is really interesting - this side of things comes with experience, and bike knowledge is earned over time, as well as learned. Not to disparage experienced riders knowledge of all things technical about their bikes, but it can sometimes sound a bit clique-y - a bit elitist if you must – and when surveys in most countries and over years of repeated polling show that many people, mostly women, see this knowledge gap as another barrier to riding, you have to ask, what’s really at the root of that? Nothing more than the fear of appearing foolish in front of other people.

But here’s the thing; at the moment, all I know how to do is repair a puncture using a little bottle of tyre sealant and a CO2 canister. You pour one bottle into the tube via the valve, spin the wheel around to coat the inside, jam the CO2 canister on the value and let the pressurised contents re-inflate your inner tube. Man, it was amazingly, forehead-smackingly easy [based on three practice tries in our driveway]. Easier than putting on eyeliner, let me tell you.

When I was out with my commuter group one of the guys got a puncture, and we massed by the side of the road while some helped and the rest of us just waited. A couple of people I’d been chatting with along the way urged me forward to watch, so I’d know what to do – and I asked why they were doing it old-school, i.e. taking the tyre and tube off and sticking little patches on it, then pumping it up manually with a bike pump borrowed from another rider.

According to the riders I was chatting with, the reason was the guys had no experience with the canisters, and were quite bluntly, a bit scared of trying them and looking stupid. Wut !  They were doing it the more time-consuming and fiddly way partly because of a fear of appearing foolish in front of other people?! 

So anyone still dithering over starting to ride or not needs to understand that you ARE going to look foolish; whether it be on day one as you wear your SO’s beloved Mapei jersey, which looks like unicorn vomit; whether you slow down to descend but your entire group accelerates past you whooping with delight, or when a woman on her second-only commute knows a better way to fix a puncture than you do after 30 years of riding.

THIS is a Mapei jersey. I'm sorry ...

THIS is a Mapei jersey. I'm sorry ...

And get this; to some people you will ALWAYS look ridiculous; the good natured cheers from my office colleagues after I change back into high-vis lycra for the ride home is probably nothing to what passing motorists think about my attire or the size of my arse.  Who cares?  <end segue/>

And who amongst you is gonna tell Liz Hatch she looks ridiculous ? Yeah, didn't think so ...

And who amongst you is gonna tell Liz Hatch she looks ridiculous ? Yeah, didn't think so ...

Soooo the thing about my bike is that in many people’s eyes it means I am not now and never will be a “real” cyclist.  I do actually understand that thinking, in fact I often feel that way myself. Until I tell myself to STFU.

I ride a BH E-motion City Commuter. Yes, my bike is electric assisted.  And a commuter, aka a “Step through” or a “Dutch Bike”.

Voila ! A Dutch bike.

Voila ! A Dutch bike.

I sit upright, with my handlebars higher than my seat, and without racing handlebars aka “dropbars” not to be confused with “dropbears”, which are a native Australian mammal.

Awww look, he's smiling. The cuddly dropbear, so beloved of Japanese tourists.

Awww look, he's smiling. The cuddly dropbear, so beloved of Japanese tourists.

An earlier post describes my discomfort with a racing/road bike posture, and the feeling that my face would be ploughing into the tarmac at the slightest rider error. So I went with what I was comfortable with right now. Never let Perfect stand in the way of Progress. Less succinctly expressed as “I’ll do what I want, and you can stick your "Bike Culture" up your derailleur.”

I deliberately chose an e-bike model which requires me to pedal; so if I don’t pedal, the engine does nothing to help me, and the weight of the bike actually works against me. The last thing I wanted was to lazily putt around on a lightweight motorbike, but some people do want or need that and I throw no shade at them for their decision, because y’know, perhaps people are themselves the best judge of what suits their particular circumstances without complete strangers weighing in with their ill-informed opinion and being all Judgey Judgerson about it.

Actually, not one single person has, to my face, given me shit about not riding a proper bike, or about “cheating” or anything of that nature. I like to think that’s because I ride with some really cool, all-embracing “everyone starts somewhere” kind of people. Certainly there’s always been someone who has mused over my bike, wondering out loud if their partner might like one and subsequently be persuaded to come out cycling and join the cult.

I utterly LOVE that. My bike is a “gateway” bike and I love it.

I’ve noticed I often feel I need to explain, that for me, the need to get started NOW far outweighed the need to get started in a year or so when I was fit, when I had graduated to a proper road bike, when I moved closer to work, in other words when all the planets had aligned and everything about my ride was under control and was perfect.

As I enjoy myself more and more, I find I give zero fucks about any negative comments which may zing my way, and in fact I kind of look forward to them because I am SO ready to defend my choices.

I have rainproof detachable Ortleib panniers which hold my handbag du jour and my work clothes - I usually only need one pannier on a work commute, but there’s a second one for when we go on bike picnics or I decide to get the groceries on my bike – I also have a Reisenthel detachable basket I use instead of the panniers for just popping out for a bottle of wine or loaf of bread or whatever.

Ortleib pannier

Ortleib pannier

Reisenthel detachable &amp; foldable basket

Reisenthel detachable & foldable basket

And finally, I have a parcel from Wiggle en-route, with a selection of tasteful cycling jerseys and bib-shorts designed especially for the laydeeez.

Wiggle.com, let's not do that stupid copyright thing again, eh ?

Wiggle.com, let's not do that stupid copyright thing again, eh ?


*I’m changing my bike’s name from Buttercup to Emmeline, as homage to the suffragettes. Now all I have to do is remember that’s what I’ve done.

The Accidental Hobbit

Well, another 5am start thanks to a nervous sleep. Again the human shield rode with me to Gordon where I introduced myself to the group. A couple of faces were familiar but mostly they were new to me.

Much less of being handled like a precious parcel today; don't get me wrong, they were still giving directions and calling out warnings, and I still felt safer and happier than I'd have been on my own; but it was far more like riding as an equal, albeit one who didn't yet know the way.

I hung on until the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and was dropped just as we entered the CBD; no big deal, I was more than happy to take my time behind some cycling tourists who were excited about the view, and I realised I should be too, rather than keeping up with a group for whom this was an every day event. I found I was smiling as I rode along. Take the time to appreciate the achievement and the sunshine on the harbour.

The return ? Again was at the meeting point in plenty of time and introduced myself to more new (to me) faces, and said G'day to other familiar faces. A few people had questions about my bike, marvelling at the weight, and joking about using it to tow the slower riders up hills.

Although I often feel I need to explain myself for riding with an electric assist amongst them putting in the hard yards, no-one has ever been scornful. Every ride I go out on, someone looks at my bike and sees it as a solution for a less experienced or confident rider they know, there's always something like "Hmm, I'll tell my wife about this, she hates the hills" or something similar. I love the thought that someone else might get a kick out of an e-bike.

  In Chatswood, at the juncture at which the group splits off into the Hobbit run through the national parks, and the regular journey home, I half took a punt on the park, half misheard the directions, and yep, attached myself to the Hobbits.

My journey home. Why wouldn't you ?

My journey home. Why wouldn't you ?

The first major descent freaked me out for a second or two but once I decided I was committed (and gravity was kinda making that decision for me)  I just had to embrace it. And I loved it. Yay !!

Climbing out again on the other side of the park was the biggest effort I've had to make to date, standing climbs and really throwing my full weight into propelling the bike ever upward, but I kept up with the guys and though I arrived at various points after them, puffing audibly, it felt amazingly satisfying to have made it, and to discover that I could make it.

A clearly audible puffin

A clearly audible puffin

After that, the remainder of the journey home through quiet suburban roads was still constantly uphill, but nothing after the Hobbit run.

A triumphal turn into the driveway and ... no-one was home, except the cat who was majorly pissed at having been locked outside. Ticker-tape parade another time eh ?

 

 

 

Systems Are Go !

Just checked over my bike for my second ever commute to work tomorrow morning ! 

Weather has been torrential the past few days (cheers to the deluge that came through our roof, through a light fitting (!!)  and all over my study. I am writing this amongst stacks of drying books and artwork ) so I thought I'd miss starting to commute out this week but the forecast is for clear days all this week - and if you wait for everything to be perfect in life, you'll wait a long time.

I'm meeting the rest of the BUG at Gordon, which is 6 or 7 km away via the utterly hated Pacific Highway. There is a cunning back route, which i haven't tried as yet and my memory won't retain the directions until I've ridden it a few times. It'd be ok if i wasn't on a schedule to meet them for a prompt 6.45 depart. So direct route it is.

New lights are charged and can be seen from outer space; tyres are pumped, rider is pumped. Rider's fiancé is again joining me until the meeting point, and then he'll peel off and do a 3 or 4 hours up and down some mountains.

Right on

Right on

Nerves are waaaaaaay in control; nothing like last time's jitters and fears.

Just need to pack an outfit for work, and toddle off to bed for an early night.

D-Day

Yesterday, 14 October 2015, 6am start – although I woke an hour earlier than needed, and was up and about having a cuppa and feeding the wild parrots when Sprocketman woke.

Still a bit chilly in Spring, I was wearing arm warmers and a warm protective jacket. I wore proper riding knicks with padding in the seat and a vintage Mapei shirt from their halcyon pre-drug test (hahahahah) days.   In other words, I went the full lycra.

I did indeed ride Buttercup (my electric assist bike) named after I heard Sprocketman referring fondly to his race bike as “Bluebell”.  Bit of family ribbing : )

I had one pannier with some essentials, wallet and so forth and of course all my toiletries and some clothes were already stashed at work from my old gym days. We’ve got great storage & shower facilities in our office and as a result four of the seven of us ride in.

Sprocketman rode with me along the Pacific Highway to act as my human shield and get me safely to the assembly point, and then he stayed with us for the fun of the ride.

The group I rode with are here http://www.sydney-easy-riders.com.au/    very very funny and lovely accepting people.

I helped myself to a free bacon & egg roll at the 6.45 Grand Depart from Gordon, because it was National Ride to Work Day the local council had a fry up, giveaways, coffee & gelato. Along the way so did Willoughby council and there was another at the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and these guys stopped at each breakfast and refuelled heartily.

I’m guessing there were 25 or 30 riders mustered there, with several newbies like me tacked on.

With a lead rider, and a lanterne rouge * to make sure no-one gets dropped, the communication was fantastic, for directions, upcoming obstacles, traffic warnings (on your left BUUUUUUUUUUUS !!) . Every now and then at designated points we stopped briefly to tighten up the bunch.

So it was a lot of fun riding in, and very scenic as they choose routes with as few cars as possible. I noticed I was so keen not to be dropped that I missed a few stop signs – I need to not rely on herd mentality/safety.

Riding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge was of course a magnificent moment, and one of the group came the extra step with me to Martin Place, to make sure I arrived safely, and when I got to my desk he’d checked in on my Strava to see that I was at work. Thoughtful eh?

All day I was utterly chuffed at having made it all the way without incident, there was one fall and it wasn’t me.

Around 4pm I started to get jittery again about missing the departure of the afternoon group; so I may have got back into my cycling kit around 4pm, and sat at my desk working until it was time to leave, ahem.

Riding back – another story!   Much bigger and tighter group, and loads more traffic, so we left Observatory Hill sharp at 5.15.

I had a designated rider to talk me through directions and what not, this guy was a bit more serious but I couldn’t fault the way he took the responsibility of keeping me a) alive and b) from being a menace to others on the road.  He told me which riders to chase down, and they all made me muscle to the front each time we stopped at lights. They were all very kind, but a lot less joking went on because of the hills, which were pretty much all the way back.

At the point the groups separate, with “the Hobbits” going the rest of the way via the National Park, I stuck with a different guide for the North Shore Leg known as “the Back Door”. These guys were more relaxed, by then we were in the backstreets more scenic and loads more direction changes, but hardly any cars. Plus because the hills were bigger than the inward journey, and I was keeping up no problem, they seemed pleased with my progress, like a somewhat unpromising child winning a spelling bee. My bike got a bit of attention and I think more than a couple of riders were going home to tell their spouses about a way they could join in and keep up.

Buses are scary, they just don’t seem to see you and lane change anyway, and the loooong bendy buses are not fun. So these guys became chattier, one of them is often on a tandem with his wife, and they keep up with the group.

Sprocketman met me again at Gordon station and we rode back together along the Pacific Highway again – next time I know to stay with the ER group and go the backstreets home instead – or next time I might go with the Hobbit sub-group who turn off and take Lane Cove National Park, which would see me basically pop up in my own backyard.

But they all said they hoped to see me again, so I can’t have been too bad a newbie. They all kept saying everyone has to start somewhere, and told me encouraging stories of new riders who broke their arms on their first days with the group.

I’ll apply for membership and see if I get accepted, otherwise they have their route maps on the website, and I’d be sort of confident with those - just SO many twists & turns to remember.

I have maybe two muscle groups making their presence known today – but mildly so. And I feel really good, like I have conquered a fear or a longterm goal – which in fact I have.

I’d like to do it again, but the early starts are horrendous – but you gotta do it to avoid the cars sadly;  North Sydney was a bit of a sensory overload in that way.

I haven’t done it because I’ve been SO scared of traffic, but this group really fixed that : )

Looking forward to the next time.

*The Lanterne Rouge – literally the Red Lamp - is the competitor in last place in a cycling race such as the Tour de France.  In some races the Lanterne Rouge is an official rider, and if he overtakes you, you must drop out of the race. Booo ! The phrase refers to the red lantern hung on the rear carriage of a train, which ye olde-timey conductors would look for in order to make sure none of the couplings had become disconnected. You may think it a bit pretentious to call a non-racing rider this; similar to calling your morning commute group a ‘peloton’, but I like it as a title and Ima gonna keep using it.

A Bicycle Built for Two ... Rugged Individuals with a Need For Their Own Space

There are plenty of articles and blog posts about riding together as a couple. And there are plenty of couples who enjoy riding together, and have a great day out every time, sitting in cafes in their lycra, toned and fit and laughing over a coffee and planning their next riding holiday through the Pyrenees. I have ridden with one half of a couple who emerged on the right side of a two-week tandem-bike camping holiday. Good luck to them I say !

Who  are  these people ?

Who are these people ?

What there’s not a lot written about is couples who are compete mismatches. Cycling couples who have wildly differing degrees of experience and confidence and fitness, and even couples where (usually but not always) the guy has the top of the line carbon beauty, and the wife or girlfriend is determinedly trying to keep up on a heavier hybrid or god help her, an older steel frame beast.

These are not riding partnerships which are going to end in cycling nirvana.

More than twenty years of road cycling experience has made Sprocketman a super confident, ‘take your lane’ * racer and regular commuter. He has no fear. Two shattered collarbones before we met, one concussion that I was actually around for (and is blogworthy all on its own) and the odd fall and who knows what else that he generally ignores, Sprocketman currently rides a BH and enjoys long walks along the beach.

I was on a borrowed mountain bike, which kept losing its chain and I was muttering the rules to using gears under my breath as I cycled behind Sprocketman. Nothing of what he had airily explained to me made the slightest bit of sense. Still doesn't, I figure it out as I'm going along.

He wanted me to cycle companionably alongside him, I wanted him to go in front so I knew where we were going, and because the traffic was far too close for my happiness – we were being overtaken by motorists for who the “a metre matters” guideline was a mere suggestion, and a laughable one at that.

Struggling to get the gear right for an uphill section, the chain came off again and I could not get the bugger to flick back on. This cycling gig was seriously giving me the shits.

I had to stop on the hill (the humiliation) and drag the bike over to a level area of dirt away from traffic to try and sort this chain business out. Sprocketman cycled back a tad impatiently and shouted out “Come on, what are you doing?”

My never far from the surface temper boiled over.  "What am I doing ?" I shouted back, utterly furious, " I’m doing my best you fucking arsehole.” The joys of dating eh !?

I'm doing this for you, you bastard !

I'm doing this for you, you bastard !

After a proper inspection of the bike it became clear there was something wrong with the bike, and not (so much) the cyclist. I felt somewhat vindicated, but not enough to offset the hours of frustration that had built up.

We carried on around the bay, reaching the section where the bike track disappears altogether and carried the bikes up a flight of fifty stairs - and then the already narrow road became ridiculously so. I stopped in a small layby area to take a breather. The SO has the emotional resilience of a bouncy rubber ball, and pulled up beside me to give me a lecture on my improper gear usage.  I lost it. “You do know I’m doing this mostly for you, you bastard ?” and I shoved him hard away from me.

Unfortunately he was showing off and doing a track stand** and was therefore still clipped in, while talking to me. Even more unfortunately, I'd never heard of a human being doing such a thing, and had no idea he was clipped in. He fell over hard; he hit the ground like a sack of spuds, his head narrowly missing the busy road and being squashed like a melon by the passing 501 bus.

Whups !

On the ground he started laughing uncontrollably, and when I saw he was alright I started to laugh as well, although I was still mortified at the fall. We finished that ride and went to the pub, probably. I can’t really remember the aftermath except that we still didn’t have a compatible riding style. Work in progress.

* This is one of those sayings like "play the man". What does it actually mean ? Take your lane is essentially a declaration that you have the same rights (and abide by the same rules) as any other user of the roads.  In many ways this is a defensive act - take up an entire lane like a car would, and all attentive drivers will see you. Skulk on the shoulder weaving in and out of parked cars, and many drivers won't see you or allow you to re-join traffic when you need to.

** A track stand is where the cyclist stops and balances on their pedals without unclipping/putting a foot on the ground to steady themselves. It's the mark of a true athlete, with mind/body in superb balance. Originally a tool of the velodrome racer, it's just another one of those seemingly effortless things which pisses me off.

My Chemical Romance

So liking bikes in the abstract, I met a guy who was (and still is) a keen road cyclist. And a cycling fan.

Things happened quickly, within 5 months we were engaged, bought a house and moved in together.  I left my beloved inner-city hobbit house, and moved to the leafy North Shore.

It's a beautiful part of Sydney, and Sprocketman does a lot of training rides through the national parks in the area, and up towards the central coast - in the dopamine rush of our new relationship Sprocketman encourages me to come along on his rides !

I enthusiastically agree ! Madness !

The SO is a pretty decent bike mechanic, and has a spare parts collection which enables him to build me a lovely road bike - perfect for my size. We even took the frame along to a car detailer and had it sprayed a pearlescent white - and with the pale green handlebar tape and brackets for lights it was very pretty. The seat was unfortunately a product of the "shrink it and pink it" ideology, but good enough for a start. I didn't even mind the lycra riding kit he bought me as a surprise present (Full length, bright blue, for the Aussie's reading this, I looked like the iconic AGL ad from the 80s). How thoughtful he was, I said to myself. What a sweetheart. 

I hopped on for a test ride - and I didn't love it.  I went for longer rides, and I started to really dislike it. Fuck. All that anticipation, and Sprocketman's hard work. I felt ungrateful, and a bit confused. Why wasn't I having fun ?

This is not what the majority of our rides looked like.

This is not what the majority of our rides looked like.

The SO didn't understand and pushed me to ride further and more aggressively on our long rides. And I still wasn't enjoying myself.

Riding sucked.

 

 

 

 

Way Back When

When I was a kid growing up in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, I'd say 99% of kids had a bike. My family travelled and moved around a lot, and kept household possessions light, so as a result of that plus an overprotective Dad,  I got my bike a year or two later than everyone else in my age group.

We lived further away from school than a lot of kids, and in the opposite direction to most of them so I loved the independence of having my own wheels, although as a kid you're not introspective enough to realise that's what's going on !

That bike lasted until we moved countries, and in rural NZ I had a new and bigger bike befitting my status as a high school kid, and partially as consolation for being DRAGGED AWAY FROM EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING I KNEW. That bike was more of a method of transport than a loved possession as the first had been, I can't even remember what colour or style frame it was and i think it was pretty well trashed and then ditched in another household move towards the end of high school - by then i lived in town and so close to school my cousins and i didn't need bikes to get anywhere.

And then I didn't have a bike for another 15 years.

By then I was back in Oz, I lived in charming, inner-west Balmain in the 90s and early 2000s -  it was an hour walk into work, and the buses were bloody awful, because the traffic was bloody awful. It was the perfect location for a bike commute into work, and i wish i had then the bike that i have today - this blog would have been writing itself for the past 10 years.

Through Balmain's winding Victorian terrace streets I walked everywhere I went, because everything was so close and so picturesque. So I was walking past the local second hand shop - the last of it's kind on the peninsular that hadn't been replaced by expensive boutiques and trendy cafes - and there was a mountain bike, and I bought it for $50. Rusty piece of crap that it already was, and heavy - I instantly wanted it and rode around Balmain as it was, with no idea about bike fittings to make the ride more comfortable, or maintenance - like checking my gears or brakes for example.

Probably because it weighed 2 tonnes, was in hindsight the wrong size for me, and the brakes were a bit haphazard, I rarely felt the joy of cycling that I do today - it was all hard work, and I was nowhere near fit enough to propel this behemoth uphill - but I decided to start riding to work.

I didn't wear lycra, there were no swanky end of trip facilities - not even any bike storage - I have no memory of where I locked the beast that day - but I do remember that was the day the optional brakes decided to show their utter contempt for gravity or my continued existence, and let me hurtle down a highway off-ramp with no stopping power. My main memory of that ride was the prodigious amount of swearing I indulged in and the ride wasn't repeated - it was just too shitty an experience to start the day.

I didn't understand anything about bikes and thought this heavy bastard was just what a bike was like, and I was more disappointed by the whole experience than anything. Given that I had to lug the bugger up a narrow flight of stairs from my yard to the street, it rarely went anywhere major after that, and languished further into a state of rust until went in a household clean-up, left out on the street with broken lamps and household detritus for the council to cart off to the tip.

So you can see, at no point was I ever bike obsessed or a cycling fanatic. I think they're great fun to get around on - and to paraphrase someone whose name I can't think of right now - they're the simple answer to a lot of complicated problems.

A Brand New Blog

I'm about to push myself to achieve a long held goal; to use my bike for more than just pootling along to the shops; and start commuting the ~30 kilometres (18+ miles) each way to work.

I nearly started in 2014 on the annual Ride to Work Day - it utterly bucketed down overnight and that morning I strategically reassessed my options/chickened out.

Brand new rider + busy Sydney highway + rain = disaster in the making. I was massively disappointed and hugely relieved at the same time.

Riding on busy main roads with my other half is for me at least a fairly traumatic event, so last week when I read about a local Bicycle User Group (BUG) who were offering to guide new riders into the city on Ride to Work Day 2015, I jumped on that idea as my solution.

With 2 or 3 days to go, I have checked my bike, checked the route maps, checked my helmet, checked my bike, checked the route maps somewhat more obsessively and checked the time as I lie awake every night beforehand from sheer nervousness.

My big fear is crashing and dying, being crashed into and dying, touching the wheels of a fellow cyclist and bringing them and an entire passing peloton down, probably into the path of a large truck. And them all dying, or worse, shouting at me.

I don't have a drivers licence, so perhaps I have a skewed view of Sydney roads, but on the other hand perhaps I don't because everything I read proclaims Sydney roads and motorists to be the least cycle-friendly in the world.

Awesome ! Let's do this !

So I plan to write about my personal journey to become a cycling commuter, along with some other related topics which I think are interesting enough to share. If anything I write helps just one other person gain the confidence to try it too, well then that's a lot of effort for not much result isn't it ?

Nah ! j/k !