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August 2013

They should be paying us

270813HeadThis last weekend I was sick. Some sort of virus laid me out, possibly man-flu.
Saturday was a nice day for riding, and I stayed in bed, so it might have been something more serious.
Sunday was marginally better, spent on the couch, sending positive thoughts to the attendees of the opening ride on Te Ara Ahi, the cycleway from Rotorua to points south, held in a what looked, from my spot on the couch, like intermittent rain.

The house has new technology that allows us to see things like this on the jumbotron, so I trawled the interweb for stimulating content. In today's newsletter I was going to have a rant about some of the excellent things I saw, but then back in broadcast tv land on Sunday night we watched a horrifying piece about the state of road cycling in Australia. According to this snippet, it is even worse than New Zealand in terms of safety, with 33 people dying in the last 12 months. All cyclists.

That got me thinking.
Its a researched factoid that carnage per kilometre travelled goes down as the percentage of trips made by bicycle goes up.
Everybody knows big cities have a traffic problem, especially people who live in one.
So far the only idea to get traction besides paying lip service to public transport is to spend inordinate amounts of money building extra lanes on roads, where possible, or burrowing under suburbs where necessary.

There are all sorts of great examples of why the bicycle could be a solution rather than a problem. But we don’t start really winning until there is critical mass.

How about this: designate a set of commuter routes, (the side of the motorway would be the safest and simplest, good luck with that) and pay cyclists to ride them.
Say $5 a trip, redeemable for cash or bike kit at discounted prices, or at macca's.

The economics would arguably still be in the black.

And even if it was only moderately successful, a programme like this would be far cheaper and easier to execute than building more roads, which cost billions and may not be needed when gas is $25 per litre anyway.

I am often wrong (another researched factoid).
What do you think?


build it and they will come

There are trails that would never be found unless somebody told you about them. There are trails made for horses in the 1800s that for some reason flow like butter. There are some with sections that make us stop and look, to work out whether the next bit can be ridden at all, and if so by whom and how. The rideability of a section is a mental equation that contains guesses about width, traction, and momentum and also factors such as consequences (what happens if it turns out to be impossible at the first attempt?), the party (are any of the group medics?) and remoteness (if we get this wrong, how long will it take to get help?). The second set are abstract, but they are the reason I can ride along a white line on the road, but not along the handrail of a bridge.

Sunday’s ride was not one of these.

The Great Lake Trail has been rolling around the north shore of Lake Taupo for quite a few years now, and recently a piece has been finished which will be the western terminus of what will be a multi-day ride. It is called Waihaha: it’s easy to find, well-signposted, and is such a well crafted trail that it could be managed on a zimmer frame. Like the rest of the Great Lake Trail, it also has flow, views, hundreds of corners, and did I mention views? The Waihaha Stream cuts a deep canyon, the trail skirts along the top, and at spots along  the way time must be taken to stand and stare.

From the reasonably deluxe carpark to the end of the trail at present is allegedly 13kms. The return trip didn’t feel like 26kms, but it was a decent ride. When the next section is complete there will be over 30kms of trail out that way, and eventually it will connect with the rest of the GLT.
The best part of the day was the people I met along the way: several large groups had shuttled to the far end by van, allowing some complete beginners to have an achievable introduction to mountainbiking in a remote location, and they ranged from kids of 8 or 9 through to mid-life couch jockeys, all having a great time. There must have been over 50 people out there.

At the top of a long climb I met Mark from Top Gear, with his family. That includes three kids, two on bikes and one little tiny one in a contraption on her mother’s bike. We got to talking about the ability of the kids to tackle these trails - they were only 4 and 6! Mark reckoned they had made it pretty happily to the spot where we met up, considering they are not ‘summer fit’. Hearing a term like that applied to pre-schoolers is great. Makes me feel a lot better about my own winter condition.


Filth! Discomfort! Heckling! Try cyclocross!

130813HeadThe forecast was not great, so a short outing on Friday evening was a sort of pre-disappointment consolation prize for a weekend that looked like it would be spent indoors.

The ride was great, and featured a sunset which would look silly on a postcard but amazing in real life, and was the kind that happens just before rain.

Saturday did as it was instructed: wet, grey, dismal, but Sunday looked more promising. The inaugural CycleZone Mud Warrior cyclocross race was on the programme, and as we were only spectating we had sort of looked forward to a wet day. As it turned out it looked pleasant enough to pack a bike along with the umbrellas. But not a cyclocross bike, obviously. See below.

In case you haven’t seen a cyclocross, it is worth describing the course. A start on a flat paddock is rendered awkward by knee high obstacles made of planks standing edgewise: an enforced dismount, hurdle, remount exercise repeated three or four times in a hundred metres. Then a quick sprint to obstacle two, which is a knee deep mud bog too long to surf through, probably requiring a high-stepping gallop carrying the bike.

But at least its not far to the next thing: a flight of stairs, leading steeply to a 180 degree turn and the descent of the bank just climbed. And repeat, without stairs.

Then, a 20 metre sandpit, followed by a fast piece of gravelled trail, to the water-crossing immortalised by the World Singlespeed Champs. Except, this time the crossing deposits riders at the foot of a greasy clay incline too steep to be climbed in a straight line.

Riders could then relax for perhaps fifteen seconds, before a difficult little section of creekside trail brought them back to the start, and that paddock full of hurdles.

The lap is like the life of a caveman: brutal and short. The duration of the race is an hour, which means a lot of laps must be ridden. As far as the spectators were concerned it was over in no time, but for the competitors who were deep in the hurt-box the first time though the sandpit it must have seemed an eternity. There was nowhere to hide, and if you don’t like people ringing bells and yelling in your ear, don’t enter.

There wasn’t a huge field, but there were enough riders on hand to make it look like a race, and there were hard-fought slugfests at the pointy end of both the mens and womens events. The lack of rain was the only aspect of the event that made life easier for the racers, and at the end Carl Jones and Jenna Makgill took out their respective races.

All my preconceptions about cyclocross were confirmed, and I had a happy ride in the forest, rolling for hours without having to carry my bike at all, or even try very hard because nobody was watching.


Cleanliness is next to godlikeness

Head060813The business of buying bicycles and bits for bicycles has changed a lot in the last ten years, and these days a cold wind is blowing through the old supply chain. You can buy just about anything online, and some of the deals seem ridiculous.

Nzo is part of this new picture, having moved on to the interweb some years ago. But just because we couldn’t thrive in other people’s shops, doesn’t mean we don’t like them. The local bike shop  could be an endangered species, but good ones won’t have to worry.

When I go into the woods I occasionally get both wheels off the ground at the same time. In my local patch new trails are rolling out that practically beg riders to jump, so these occasions for levitation are getting closer together, and it is fun.

My landings are varied. Some are so dialled I can’t really feel the touchdown, a great many more are not. Good distance, wrong angle of descent. Good attitude, too short. Or long. Sweet as, but heading in a different direction to the trail.

One landing recently featured a combo of several of these faults, and a spoke in the rear wheel snapped. Fair enough really. A quick stop to wrap the spoke ends around their neighhbours, and a check to see that the wheel (built by my local bike shop) was straight enough to continue. It was.

When I got home I set about dismantling for repair. The large cogs would not come off the freewheel, a gentle push from the back removed the entire assembly, not my goal at all. So, a quick reassembly, and visit to the doctor.

The bike was in the clinic overnight, which always makes home feel a little odd. When I collected it the wheel was back to normal, as expected. Unexpectedly, the cassette and chain had been cleaned to a new-looking freshness, the derailleur hanger had been straightened, and there was a new gear cable. The bike felt slicker than it had for a long time, quiet and smooth, like a new one. This is quality you can’t get freight-free, in a cardboard box. You have to find some skilled people with a passion for bikes, and it helps if they are local. Look after yours. Buy them a coffee, or a coke. Or both.


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