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December 2009

A step in the right direction?

Copenhagen Climate Conference generated enough hot air to have negated any immediate gains in our species' response to climate change, but some side shows were interesting. This product was presented concurrently, and optimistically branded itself as the Copenhagen Wheel. Whether 'green' products associating themselves to Copenhagen is a good idea is anybody's guess, but the product itself is a good idea, as a clever device which could interest people getting on bikes for transport. It is an electric assist wheel that can be easily retrofitted to any bike, and stores energy from braking for future use driving the bike. It is controlled by a smart phone, which doubles as security feature (if you don't have the correct phone, the wheel won't turn at all) and uploads all kinds of data to the phone for your viewing pleasure, until looking at a phone while riding a bicycle becomes illegal. Questions which come to mind: are iPhones and the like waterproof? Is the hub motor/dynamo thingo waterproof? How much oomph does it add, and how much braking does one have to do to charge it? Can it be plugged in to the mains? Are there any plans for an electrified alley cat series? Why did they pick a guy from the Harlem Globetrotters as a demo model?


Annual pilgrimage to melbourne

An annual outing for me is the World Cup Track meeting in Melbourne. Australia's round of the World Cup was held in Sydney a couple of times, but now it is in Melbourne I hope it stays put for a while. Melbourne is perfectly set up for this kind of thing. They have two indoor tracks, and the flash one where they hold big events is right down town. The velodrome in the HiSense Arena is a 10 minute stroll through river side parkland from Flinders St station, the absolute middle of the city. There is a regular tram for the weary or lazy, which comes in handy when it pisses down like it can almost any time in Melbourne.

The racing is spread over three days, with sessions in the afternoon and evening. I have to see all of it, so I only have mornings to roam the city, but some friends who were on hand came along in the evenings and spent the days soaking up Melbourne's vibe.

Track cycling is not everybody's cup of tea, but if there are top-class competitors and a crowd that knows what is going on, it can be very entertaining. Evening session grandstands were fairly full of vocal locals, who understand track racing and like to yell encouragement. The indoor venue makes any excitement feel more intense, so the atmosphere is great. In events where there were no home-grown riders the support went to anybody deserving of it, and of course if there was an Australian going well the racket was impressive. As I expected, my mountain biking mates who came along to see what I was on about are already planning next year's visit, as a short holiday for a bike nut of any stripe this one is a keeper.

An added bonus if you are feeling nationalistic is that right now New Zealand is one the better performing outfits on the track. Melbourne 09 was a standout meet for kiwis with winners, finalists and nobody in the New Zealand team looking out of their depth.


Two Aussie bike rides

Getting in a mountain bike during a short holiday somewhere foreign is always a tricky proposition, but getting in two rides in 5 days, on state of the art rigs, in two great locations, is usually a treat reserved for bike journalists or millionaires.

A stopover in Sydney on my way to the track world cup in Melbourne held two busy days in the office trying to get some work done, but an early morning slot was found for a quick lap of a park out west of the city. A couple of acres of bushland surrounding a sewerage works does not sound very romantic, but an interesting combination of sandy trails and rocky outcrops provided a solid hour of fast trail riding. My ride was a Pivot Mach 5, size small, with a full XT build including wheels.

The bike felt like a hardtail while rolling down the tarmac park entry, solidly planted and very responsive to a couple of hard kicks on the pedals – no flex, no bob, gas it and go. Once on the trail the suspension starts working and the bike transforms. It fairly skims the ground, the rear end eating bumps incredibly well while remaining very active under pedalling and braking. The Fox RLC 120mm fork felt a bit soft to begin with, but that was an illusion created by the stiff feel at the pedals. Once the rear end started working on the rocks, the fork felt nicely balanced and the bike became a keen young trail dog, begging the rest of the team (me) to go as fast as possible. A sidenote: the Pivot frames are quite big, with a large jump in dimensions between the Small and the Medium. In most bikes I would fit a Medium, but a close examination of the chart shows the small is only 15mm shorter in the top tube but a whopping 62mm shorter in the seat tube. That makes me want a Small, which is what I rode in the short sample ride. I could make a medium fit me, but I could happily move into a small and live there fulltime…strokes for folks etc, but the Small gives more setup options I reckon.

The second ride I managed was a big one, three hours plus in the best park local to Melbourne, on a beautiful Trek 9.8EX from My Mouintain in Lygon St. Sparkling in a two tone combo of a ginger beer colour (also described by a riding buddy as “baby poo brown”) and white, the bike’s graphics and finish lead the mass-produced pack in my opinion. Trek have a very cool moto inspired look that says “fast”, with some great colours. The bike had 120mm Fox forks in white with matching Avid Juicy 5s, Bontrager branded stem and other giblets, and an XT drivetrain.

The venue for the ride was the “Youies”, or You Yang State Park in full. This network of dedicated and well marked mountain bike trails occupies an out crop of granite about 40 minutes drive south west of the city, and is the best quick trip away from Melbourne I have found. It is also the best MTB park I have seen in Australia, made even more fun by a very rare rainstorm that came in 24 hours before we were due to ride, and continuing until just after we finished.

Most of the locals that were showing me around reckoned the rain would not make any difference to the ride, and would even improve it because the You Yangs can get dry and sketchy with a lot of sandy dust strewn sections, but nobody counted on standing puddles metres long and trails that could be renamed as streams. Once we were fully wet though, it was game on for some super grippy cornering in sweet hard packed berms and very scary pinball action across slippery and pretty gnarly rock gardens. The occasional traverse of large granite slabs added a completely foreign aspect to a Rotorua rider’s normal trail experience, along with quite a few wooden structures built to negotiate sections that would have been impossible or very difficult to build with rock.

Throw in some awesome views of the country towards Geelong and the far off towers of Melbourne’s CBD and you have a very interesting place to spend a day. We rode for three hours and we seem to have covered most of the trails, but the best three downhill runs were begging to be ridden again, as much fun as anything in the redwoods and over way too soon. The required climbing to get the elevation for the best trails takes the edge off most people after three ascents via different routes, so a three hour ride is probably as much as most will want to do anyway… perfect match of trail supply and rider demand.

The Trek was light and pedalled well, not as racey feeling as the Pivot but immediately comfy and predictable, which was nice in the rocks and slippery granite of the You Yangs.

Try to go with others and take a first aid kit, one of our friends made a small mistake that laid open her knee with surgical precision. Fortunately it was the kind of gash that allowed her to continue the ride, and even join me and a few others in an extra downhill that was the highlight of the day as far as wide eyed terror goes, but it showed how unforgiving rock is compared to drifts of punga leaves, pine needles, and sweet Rotorua dirt when things go wrong.


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