Monday, November 30, 2009

Melbourne, cycle city (part 1)

I'm a Sydneysider born and bred, and have grown up with Sydney/Melbourne rivalry, in the matey way Australians do things, as a fact of life. Sydneysiders think Melbourne is stuffy and old-fashioned. Melburnians think Sydney is brash and just a wee bit tarty. Until my stepdaughter moved to Melbourne last year I hadn't visited Melbourne much at all; a few flying business visits which gave me precious little chance to get to know the city.

I've just come back from a long weekend there, and it only reaffirmed what I was already thinking: that Melbourne actually wins over Sydney in many ways. The shopping/Central Business District is well laid out and really, the shops are nicer. The trams are fantastic! Sydney gave up its trams in the 1950s but Melbourne kept them on and they whizz along in traffic snarls with lean efficiency.

But what I noticed most this time was the bicycles - in fact I knew I was in for a treat as the first one I saw was a vintage 70s/80s pale pink lady's bike being pedalled along on a big wide bike lane by a cheerful young woman who was clearly enjoying thumbing her nose at peak hour traffic. This was the first time I'd visited Melbourne since I'd got back into cycling, and boy, does Melbourne do it better than Sydney! Cyclists everywhere in the CBD, lots of women as well as men. There are a few reasons for this:
  • Melbourne is flatter; Sydney is pretty hilly and if you're cycling 10kms or more to work those hills are going to make you pretty sweaty
  • Melbourne's CBD has wide, wide footpaths with plenty of bike parks - several per block usually, and most of them in use
  • Melbourne has easier approaches to the CBD. In Sydney you have to take your chance on the Harbour Bridge (from the North ) and Anzac Bridge (from the west). These are fairly nasty multilane roads driven on by drivers who don't take prisoners when it comes to cyclists
That being said, we saw bikes all throughout the inner suburbs as well, down Chapel Street in Prahran, which is a cool place to wander for a coffee or to check out vintage clothing and other shops. I don't see as many bikes in equivalent Sydney suburbs.

I thought I'd capture some of the more interesting bikes I saw parked in Melbourne's CBD. Apologies for the size of these pics- I processed them fairly small for this blog and then realised some of the details might be a bit hard to spot. The funniest thing was that in taking these photos I felt like a voyeur. It was a little embarrassing taking pics of someone else's bike :-). So I was a bit shy at first and didn't get too close in case someone asked me what I was doing and I blurted out unthinkingly "bike porn!". Some people just mightn't understand...

So let's start with Federation Square. This was around 10pm, and bikes were tethered safely while their owners caroused.
Below.. look at the handlebars on this. I'm not sure what the owner was trying to achieve or indeed how comfortable it is to ride.
Here it is again from the side. Looking at the saddle height and the size of the frame it's not a tall person's bike. And apparently it's a single speed with a coaster brake... those handlebars are devoid of any ornament!
Bikes happily parked in downtown Melbourne. The orange one in the middle caught my eye because of the searing colour.
And here's a closer look at it:
It's wearing a Kronen badge but I wonder if the colour is original; if not, it's thoroughly painted. Even the insides of the mudguards are orange. The owner has chosen to fit a headlight (in this case, spotlight - it's pointing skyward!) on the mudguard and leave the original mount in place.

More on my voyeuristic journeying through Melbourne later.. my cats are both pestering me for dinner :-)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two wheeled weather again and a note about Pashley kickstand

Oh, the bliss of a cool change! Yesterday it topped 40 here. Somewhere over 100 on the Fahrenheit scale. A haze hung over the sky; thankfully as full sunshine would have made it even hotter. We do often get a hot spell in spring, but it typically contains itself to one or two days of about 30 or 32, not a week of temps over 35 with punishing humidity. The only nice thing you can say about yesterday was that it wasn't humid. Anyway, all week it's been too hot to get out and get riding. We've had aims of getting up early and cycling before breakfast, but we've both had horrid broken nights of sleep all week. Despite the ceiling fan, it's been too hot and we've both woken during the night and felt wrecked the next day.

But last night the cool change came. It's 20 degrees cooler today, cloudy and a bit rainy. Penelope and I hit the road for a ride around and then a trip to the shops to pick up some veggies to complement tonight's roast chicken. I bought a lovely free range chicken at the farmers' markets at the weekend but cooking it in that heat was just unimaginable.

The wind was cool, the rain on and off but gentle and reviving. I usually hate riding or walking in the rain. I wear glasses and it's infuriating when they get covered in raindrops and I can't see properly. After the last week it was a delight to be out there with the cool rain caressing me. It was invigorating; I whizzed up hills with an energy I hadn't had for days.

I must make the most of it because we're flying to Melbourne on Thursday for a long weekend to visit my stepdaughter and her baby. I joke to my husband that I'm married to a grandfather. :-) His daughter is nearly twenty, and the baby coming up for 10 months, so we don't feel too ancient. There's a lot of cycle hire in Melbourne but I don't know that I'll get the opportunity to do it. Worth packing a helmet? Maybe. Whatever, the bikes and I will be taking to the road every day between then and now, revelling in the gentle, mild weather.

Having had Penelope now for a couple of months there's one thing about her that's a little annoying. The kickstand. It works fine, don't get me wrong. It does its job and holds the bike upright when it's asked to. But... the arrangement of cable along the frame above the kickstand means that unless you're careful you catch your toe in the cable when you deploy the kickstand. This is not an ideal arrangement and I'm going to drop the people at Pashley a note about it. Having tweaked the cable several times at first I'm now a lot more careful but I could see this becoming a safety issue for the unwary.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sweltering in sweaty Sydney - a shoes and marmalade diversion's about 35 outside and humid. I was going to cycle down to the shops but having gone outside for a few minutes to pour some water on my wilting garden, I decided to be a wimp and drive my husband's car. At least the aircon works in his. It's broken in mine and I can't afford to fix it at the moment. Isn't that always the way, you save up to fix something non-urgent and then something urgent, like medical bills, takes it all. Sigh.

Anyway because it's too hot and steamy to cycle, my post today is a diversion on my new pair of shoes...

...and my latest batch of marmalade.

The shoes are super for cycling in. I bought them last week, when we had some milder days, and tested them out riding Penelope. The little straps keep them firmly in place. They are lovely soft patent leather. The flower appliqued on there is suede. Nice.

The marmalade I made last Sunday - just the thing you want to do when the mercury is soaring towards 38 celsius or 100 on the Fahrenheit scale. Stick yourself in the kitchen hovering over a bubbling pan. No wonder I look hot in the face! This batch had two nips of scotch added just before adding the sugar for the final twenty minutes simmering. Taste? Divine!

I have enough oranges in the fridge to make one more batch. That should keep Himself going until next seville orange season and allow for sending bottles to friends and family around the world.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Government-sponsored bike hire in Australia

Filigree, in her fantastic Lovely Bicycle! blog, has posted about hiring - or in this case choosing not to hire - a bike from the Citybike system in Vienna. This very European idea is introducing itself to Australia. You can already hire bikes in central Adelaide, which from memory are mercifully without adverts plastered all over them.
Brisbane City Council, however, is being very 'Viennese', and its planned bike hire system will offer advertising opportunities for sponsors and identify bike hirers very easily with brightly coloured and labelled coat guards. See here...
Sydney City Council has also been considering the idea of government-run bike hire. You'll note this linked post was two years ago. Being Sydney, nothing has happened since then.It's all too hard. And that whiney bloke Scruby from The Pedestrian Council hates bikes and wails regularly at the idea that cyclists might hit pedestrians. (As an aside, Sydney City Council last year raised the suggestion of widening footpaths in the City central business district, to make them foot and cycle paths. It got howled down by Harold Scruby of The Pedestrian Council. I thought it a brilliant idea, as drivers in the CBD can be awful to cyclists and it might encourage more people to cycle as they'd feel safer.)
Obviously there are lots of private rentals available already in our major cities. Having cheap, government-run rentals with high visibility in obvious downtown locations would be fantastic for tourism and for people like me who'd prefer to bike around rather than bus or walk in Adelaide or Melbourne. But...
They've all hit a snag. The old helmet problem. Helmets are compulsory here in all States, and there is debate at the moment about the wisdom of offering hired helmets from a health and hygiene point of view. If you want to hire a bike will you have to bring your own? Or will you be made to purchase one? It'll be interesting to see what the outcomes are as Brisbane introduces its system next year. There is nothing obvious on the linked page about helmet hire, only that wearing one is the law. The helmet issue may mean that these bike-hire schemes won't be the success they deserve to be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I've been having a health scare over the last couple of months. In a nutshell my doctor was concerned I could have a tumour on my left kidney. A rather unpleasant day of tests at the hospital yesterday gave me the all clear however. Yay!!!!!! Thankfully I was knocked out for the cystostomy et al, but as I don't like anaesthetics much I was stressing about that too. There's something rather creepy about being unconscious while other people are poking and prodding at you. I guess I have to take the view that it's better to be unconscious than feeling the pain!

So, no cycling until tomorrow night they tell me, but I think champagne is on the cards for tonight.

When I bought Penelope it was with the view that if there was something seriously wrong with me, I'd at least have had my dream bike if only for a while. Looks like I'll be enjoying her for a long time yet, fingers crossed.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Marathon Man still didn't get it right

My other half bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathons this week for his road bike. Like me he got them mail order and then took them down to the bike shop for fitting.
Now they were replacing fairly new tyres which weren't puncture-resistant. In fact their puncture-resistantness was so that they were both dead flat. There's a certain element of human out our way which thinks it funny to smash beer bottles at the side of the road; we spend much of our rides weaving through and around broken glass, which is how both his tyres got punctured.
But, back at the bike shop...t'other half didn't tell chappy at the bike shop to change the tubes as well.
So now he has beautiful new Schwalbe Marathons.
And they're flat.
He's OK with fixing front tyre punctures but doesn't like messing around with hubs and rear wheels. Nonetheless he'll have to unless he wants to stop in the middle of long rides and pump the tyres up.
Men. You gotta love 'em but sometimes they just don't think -!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bah, humbug!

Today is the 7th of November... and already all the shopping malls have their Christmas decorations in place. T'other half and I aren't great on retail therapy; I do enjoy it more than he does, but neither of us is enamoured of big shopping malls. We prefer streets lined with shops, or markets. Anyhoo, this morning we had to hit the enormous Castle Towers shopping centre, as himself needed new boat shoes and chinos. I needed a fix from L'Occitane.

Castle Towers was glittering with tinsel and Christmas trees. To our astonishment a Christmas parade complete with brass band was noisily winding its way through the shops. We scratched our heads. We don't do anything about Christmas cheer and decorations until December in our house. Both of us have fond memories of prettily-decorated shops in December from earlier years, but the decorating and celebrating seems to be getting earlier and earlier each year in a quest to snaffle the retail dollar. By 25 December most people are heartily sick of Christmas. Especially when parades start in November.

I pity the parents who put up with pester power from now till Christmas Eve, with every Ho Ho HO and piped Christmas carol reminding the kids that Santa will be here soon - or rather, in several weeks. I do wonder whether the magic gets a bit dulled a month from now!

The Christmas spirit isn't just about retail. But after almost two months of tinselly shops and giant Christmas trees, you tend to forget the real meaning of the event, and fighting off shoppers, hostesses in fur and Santa hats (and remember we're coming into summer here!) and larger-than-life cartoon characters left right and centre is not conducive of goodwill towards all men.

Christmas happens in December. Not November. There. Grumpy Old Woman has spoken.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Having a growly day. Thank technology.

Gosh I've been grumpy today. PMT? Possibly. But it's the sheer amount of interruptions and 'urgent's that has done me in and given me a headache. While I love my computer for the pleasure it gives me in my leisure time - surfing the net, catching up with friends on Facebook and email, reading other people's blogs - I'm finding technology increasingly annoying during work time.

The bloody phone hardly stopped today. It seems that in my role as admin/marketing/events/chief cat herder for a large Chamber of Commerce I have to be accessible at all times of the day. Of course everything is urgent. From having a great day yesterday where I actually got things done, the General Public has bounced back from Melbourne Cup day in a frantic, nagging mood. I've been lucky to get to the loo without the phone bleating.

If I turn the phone off for a bit to get some work completed, then I get emails which tell me about the phone message they've just left. One guy left three messages asking me to call the other day. I politely told him leaving one would do in the future, as I do get back to people as soon as practicably possible. I think I'm too polite sometimes. I refrained from saying I actually have a life, and two of those messages were out of business hours. I'm stupid enough to reply to emails out of hours if I check the inbox; my own fault for creating a rod for my own back.

But...has technology created rods for backs for most of us? Thanks to the wonders of the mobile phone and the internet, we are now contactable just about all the time. Who hasn't seen someone texting on the train (or, God help us, driving a car!), or even (rudely) at the cinema? Sit at a cafe and you'll be guaranteed people yakking away as they walk by or sit at the next table. We have made ourselves too available. If you want to 'get off the world' for a day, you face a deluge of messages, a flood of 'where are you?s' which induce annoyance in this little black duck.

Life was so easy when I was younger. The pre-computer days (yes, Virginia, they DID exist). The pre mobile-phone days. We didn't have an answering machine at home then. If you were out, you missed a call. Tough. I think it gave me a lot more freedom. If I was out and about and had to phone someone, I used a callbox. The postman came once a day with letters. Things took longer to happen; life was more relaxed. More frustrating admittedly if you wanted to research anything compared to the Internet Joy we have at our fingertips, but I didn't feel the pressures I feel now, this sense of people crowding me into a corner, with demands coming thicker and faster by the day.

Now there's social media to blend into the mix. I've organised a breakfast workshop for later this month with a speaker who'll be explaining how social media works and how you can use it to promote your business. Bookings are coming out of the woodwork. I think about Twitter and sigh that if I go onto it that's one more bloody thing I have to do on a regular if not daily basis; another 15 - 30 minutes a day to put aside for a task. I'm just a bit over it all at the moment.

Am I alone in getting annoyed with the expectancy that I have to be constantly available?


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The race that stops a nation

Sweltering at the moment in Sydney - in our part of town it's going to get pretty close to the hundred on the old scale before a cool change tonight. I went outside for a few minutes and decided it was really too hot, humid and revolting to get the bike out. I'm a wimp; fact is I'm not a summer person, and our winters here are so glorious for riding. I loathe exercising in summer, so it'll be rides in the evening from now on. But I digress. This post isn't about bikes, it's about the Melbourne Cup.

Back in my misspent youth I was a horseracing tragic. I memorised the names of every single Melbourne Cup winner as a teen - at the time I would have been able to recite more than 110 winners. I couldn't do algebra to save my life, but I could explain the difference between 6/4 and 5/2 in terms of betting odds, and work out how much I'd have to spend at different odds to win $20. Melbourne Cup day was the best day of the year behind Christmas Day. It was my own joyous holiday, my celebration of horses and racing, and my high school knew there was no chance of me being at school that day. My poor mother... writing excuse notes year after year.

I grew out of all that gradually as left school and got a job, but The First Tuesday In November is still a special, exciting day for me. I've done the form guide and picked my horses. I used to have an excellent system that meant while I'd be backing between three and seven horses, I could just about be guaranteed the winner; and for many years happily made a profit on the Cup. Now with the influx of international horses it's harder to maintain that system and some of the leadup races have changed a little too, so now I'm like any other mug punter with the Cup.

This year I'm backing three horses trained by Bart Cummings. He's won 12 Melbourne Cups and at 81 will be thinking of retiring soon and will be doing his best to make it 13. I'm also backing a rank outsider for very sentimental reasons.

I've mentioned in a previous post my teen lust for jockeys. My first jockey crush was on a New Zealand guy called Noel Harris, who came second in the Cup in 1973 on the short favourite, Glengowan. Many saw it as a boy being sent on a man's errand. Noel was 18 and real eye candy. Yum yum yum. I had posters of him torn from racing magazines on my bedroom wall. I was 11 at the time.

Noel is still riding at the age of 54. Like Bart Cummings, he'll be desperate for a Cup win before he retires. He's ridden more than 2000 winners in his career, but never the pinnacle of Australasian racing, The Melbourne Cup. He's on a rank outsider, 100/1, this year.

Above is Noel's backside. This was taken for a charity race celebrating Jockey underwear; the riders did it Superman-style with their underwear on the outside. And here's a pic of him taken last year. He's pretty fit for a guy in his 50s. (Blimey... where has the time gone? I only feel 21 still.)

I thought I'd do a wee bit of research on Noel this morning... I wonder whether he's riding every year when Cup time comes around and like my other old jockey flame he's fairly recently hooked up with a woman thirty years younger than himself. Heh heh, I can pick 'em, can't I?

Anyway, good luck to "Harry" - I hope he can finally achieve a dream and win the Cup this afternoon. Come 2.30 pm I'll be in front of the telly with a glass of champagne cheering him on.