Category Archives: Cycling

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011

Whilst wandering around Copenhagen last week we came across this very picturesque part of town that looked as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of assorted chocolates. The canal was spannned by a small bridge that had a little alcove poking out from the sidewalk where people were almost lining up to take photos from. One after the other we took our shots from exactly the same spot, to produce almost the same image in a Hockney-esque meditation into how time can divided up into little slices like a speciman being prepared for a microscope slide.

dccb

As I took in the scene I found myself thinking how we as humans like to congregate with other humans. Nyhavn’s picturesque nature attracts many visitors, and I noticed there were quite a few restaurants along the base of the colourful buildings that were full of people eating and drinking. I found it ironic that people wanted to eat in the middle of a “view” because so many people were milling around it, but the diners couldn’t take in the view because they were in the middle of it. Strangely enough, the other side of the canal, where the buildings weren’t so colourful wasn’t crowded at all although it offered a much better veiw of the part of Nyhavn (New Harbour) that was attracting the crowds. Surely it would be better to have the restaurants on the second floor of the buildings on the less crowded street so one could take in the full unobstructed scene.

Copenhagen is quite a small city and it’s mercifully flat which makes it an ideal place to go cycling. Fortunately the civilised and sensible Danes have built cycle lanes on most of the roads, so cycling around town is a real joy. The fact that cycling is encouraged in Copenhagen is lost on many of the tourists who choose to go on guided bus and canal boat tours to places that can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. They can’t have all been infirm, could they?

One of the problems with traveling is that it is very easy to get into the well worn rut that has is used to help separate people from their money and to keep them unfit in the name of comfort and convenience.

Our comfort zones are a death trap.

Melbourne tries harder than Sydney

If I were to compare Sydney and Melbourne to people, I’d say that Sydney is one of those naturally beautiful but vacuous people who just sits there expecting everyone to adore them just for how they look and Melbourne is one of those plain looking people, who has been forced to develop an interesting personality to attract people.
 
I not only live in Sydney, I love Sydney, but I also have to say that during my recent visit to Melbourne, I was left with the feeling that Sydney is somewhat lacking.  Sydney just seems to be relying on its natural beauty, which comes from being located on a spectacular harbour.  Although Sydney has the world-famous Opera house, and the clunky Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s not a particularly nice city, to walk around.  Once one gets away from the harbour, most of Sydney is merely functional rather than beautiful. 
 
There have been articles in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a recent visit by a Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl and his comments about Sydney. Gehl was quoted as saying that Sydney “is a doughnut, because it has nothing in the centre.” I couldn’t agree more.
 
Melbourne on the other hand has instituted changes suggested by Prof  Gehl after studies his team conducted in 1994 and 2004, that have completely transformed that city into a much more liveable place. 
 
Melbourne has many kilometres of cycleways that encourage people to get exercise, and reduce the amount of cars on the road.  There is also much more public art in Melbourne.  I really enjoyed seeing Duncan Stemler’s “Blowhole”,

Blowhole by Duncan Stemler

a 15 metre (50ft) high wind powered sculpture set in a children’s playground, and John Kelly’s joyously quirky  “Cow up a tree”, not only put a smile on my face, it brightened up the rest of my day.

Cow up a Tree by John Kelly

As a matter of fact, many public structures in Melbourne exhibit beauty in their design, more than mere functionality.

Cycle path bridge

When I told my friend that I was going to Melbourne, she recommended that my wife and I take our bicycles.  Luckily, I took that advice and spent a few days cycling around Melbourne’s beautiful art filled streets.  We’ll be going back to Melbourne again, we loved the place.

As for Sydney… get your act together, Melbourne’s kicking our collective butts!

This post was first posted on the 29th of January 2008

21st century travel in Europe. Part 2, bicycles.

My wife and I do a fair bit of travelling and over the years we’ve come to the realisation that most travelling involves sitting around passively in various forms of transportation for long periods of time.

Last year when we went to Europe we thought it would be a good idea to take some folding bicycles with us to extend our range out of the car and to get some exercise. We bought 2 very cheap Chinese folding bikes ($200 AUD each) from Aldi and we found them to be perfect on our trip.

The great thing about having folding bikes is that they are easily transported on aeroplanes and in cars. The bikes we bought were a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at about 18 kg (40 lbs) each, which used up our luggage allowance on the flight over, but we were able to take enough clothes on board as cabin baggage.

One can spend serious money on a folding bike but we bought cheap ones because we didn’t want to worry about them getting stolen or damaged. Another factor is that we both aren’t serious cyclists and we’re more interesting in just tooltling along at an easy pace, taking in the scenery and chatting.

Europe is a great place for cycling. There are a multitude of very easy long distance paths that follow old disused train tracks in Spain, paths along canals in France and of course there’s cycling along rivers. All the cycle paths I’ve just mentioned are so easy because they travel along fairly flat ground without steep hills.

As with most of the rest of the world, traffic congestion in Europe makes it a bit dangerous and unpleasant to cycle in the major cities. The exception to this general rule is Amsterdam which is a very bicycle friendly city.

Although it is possible to rent bicycles just about anywhere in Europe we were glad to have taken our own as we could just pull them out of the car and use them when and where we liked. It’s a fantastic feeling to park the car and just hop on your bike.

Because cycling is so effortless it greatly increases one’s range and it’s possible to see so much more while getting some exercise instead of getting on and off buses etc. Where bicycles really come into to their own is in medium sized cities where things are a little too far to walk to but too close to drive. Cities like Ljubljana in Slovenia (a really lovely place), Nimes in France, Verona in Italy, Valencia in Spain and Brugge in Belgium are perfect examples of the kind of cities that are great places to explore on a bicycle.

There are two accessories I’d recommend to take with a bike to Europe and they are a cable lock and a rack. The cable lock will stop anyone from just grabbing your bike and scooting off with it but it won’t stop someone who is more determined and better equipped and for that that reason I wouldn’t recommend leaving your chained up bike unattended for too long (this goes for anywhere in the world). The rack is great for strapping on things like shopping, water or raingear.

A nice way to travel, is with a few days clothes in a small bag strapped to your rack, down the paths that follow rivers (we went along the Mosel in Germany), eating the local food that is in season and stopping at little pensions over night.

Bliss! 

Are we having fun yet? Brugge, Belgium. 2009

Segways have never made any sense to me.

Years ago while I was waiting in line at Disneyworld’s (Florida) Space Mountain, I saw a display sponsored by RCA. As we waited on a “peoplemover” (Disneyspeak for conveyor belt) to get on the ride, we passed various windows that showed with the aid of Disney animatronics, RCA’s vision of the future.

It seemed to me that RCA thought that our future would be spent doing nothing but sitting down and pushing buttons. One display showed a housewife of the future sitting down looking at a video screen to see who was at the door that was just behind her. Another widow showed a kid doing some virtual skiing in front of a large TV screen. In short, RCA’s prescient view of the future showed us all using consumer goods to live more sedentary lives. I can remember thinking to myself that the future that the “imagineers” had conjured up for us looked very boring and unhealthy.

Although I’m loathe to say it, RCA was right in a lot ways and many of us can no longer have a good time without first spending some money to buy a device so we can “interface” with the physical world. It would seem that for many of us, if it hasn’t got a motor, lens, screen or wheels we don’t want to know about it. How many people have to buy a powerboat to enjoy the water, or a dirtbike to enjoy the bush?

To me, the product that epitomes this attitude is the Segway, which I’d like to nominate as one of the most pointless transportation devices ever devised.

Even though the streets of Brugge are cobblestoned, I think a much better way to work off all the chocolate that one eats when there, is to cycle.

A silk purse can’t be made from of a pig’s ear, but flammkuchen makes everything seem better. Lösnich & Wolf, Germany. 2009

For our trip to Europe, my wife and I bought two cheap folding bicycles so we could get some exercise and extend our range without using a car all the time.

Before we left, my friend Paul, who knows a fair bit about folding bikes, suggested that we get better tires for our bikes, so I bought some Schwalbe “Marathons”. The Marathons are puncture resistant and can be pumped up harder than the tires that came with our bikes. Hard tires mean less resistance and friction, which in turn means less energy is used whilst cycling.

Being the slack guy that I am, I left off putting the new tires on our bikes until the day before we left for Europe. The new tires were so tight; I couldn’t get them on my wheels so I took them to a local bicycle sales and repair store to have them fitted. 

As it seems to be usual (in Sydney at least), the bike mechanic was a young guy who exuded more confidence in his skills than he could demonstrate. After wrestling with my tires and rims for about an hour he handed them back to me and said, “this is the best I can do with them”.

I looked at the wheels and they didn’t look as they were seated correctly and I said so. The mechanic said not to worry as I should let the tires down for my upcoming flight anyway and that the tires would re-seat themselves when I pumped them up again.

When we got to Bruges in Belgium we pumped up tires up but they didn’t seat properly on the rims but we rode our bikes anyway. By the time we got to the Mosel in Germany we’d already spent a fair bit of time on our bikes and were putting up with the lumpy ride our badly seated tires were giving.

One of the parts of our trip we were both looking forward to the most, was cycling down the Mosel River. We started off on a Suday near the town of Kues and not long after we left, an irritating squeak started to emanate from my wife’s bike.

Eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh.

We tried everything we could think of. We adjusted her brakes, gears and mudguards but nothing seemed to work. We came to the conclusion that the badly seated tire on the rear wheel was causing the problem by making the spokes rub against each other but we kept cycling.

The constant, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh, eeeh was driving us nuts and totally ruining the whole cycling experience.

After about 10kms we came to the lovely quite town of Erden and I made enquiries as to where the nearest bicycle repair place was. I was told there was a very good one only about 1.5kms away in Lösnich, but because it was Sunday and since the Germans are a civilised bunch who take their day of rest seriously, they were closed.

Both Engogirl and I knew we didn’t want to cycle anymore that day because it was so unaesthetic, so we stayed in Erden overnight.

First thing on Monday morning we rode to Lösnich and had our bikes looked at by Harald Warscheid at his shop and service centre. Harald is a very helpful and nice guy who took us into his immaculate workshop to work on our bikes. I’d never been into such a nice bicycle repair place before. The radio was playing some soft rock and various locals would drop by and shoot the breeze for short periods while Harald worked on seating our tires correctly and adjusting all the various other things that needed to be done.

All very calm, clean, convivial and civilised.

As I watched Harald work, I couldn’t help but think that I was watching a guy who had figured out how to make a living in a very pleasant way.

A bodhisattva of bicycles if you will.

As we chatted with Harald, it became obvious that he wasn’t impressed with the construction of our bikes (we already knew they were cheaply made) and he explained to us that the wheels had been assembled by a machine and machines over tighten the spokes. Our badly seated tires and over tightened spokes had caused our wheels to warp. Engogirl’s squeaky wheel had warped the most. Harald sorted out the tire seating problems and realigned the rims as best as he could, but the damage had already gone too far on the squeaky wheel and it couldn’t be fixed.

I am a mechanic not a magician

A new wheel was needed.

Now I know at this stage, many people might think that a mechanic would say that so they can sell you a new wheel, but Harald didn’t have anything to gain because he didn’t carry such small wheels.

Luckily Germany is the sort place that has bicycle stores in every other town and all the towns are only a few kilometres apart. So we rode up the Mosel a few more kilometres to the town of “Wolf”.

It was about five minutes to noon when we walked into the bicycle store in Wolf to buy a new wheel. We were told it would take an hour and a half to fit the tire onto the rim.

“Why so long”, I asked?

“Vee closs vor vun hour vor luntch” was the answer.

“Gee, I guess that means that we have to find some nice place and have some lunch ourselves?” I thought.

“Fine with me!” was my next thought.

So down the road we walked to a row of lovely little eateries near the river that cater to people cycling down the Mosel and had a delightful lunch of the local seasonal specialty of flammkuchen, washed down with some white wine from the Mosel region.

Thank goodness we needed a new wheel or we might’ve missed having such a nice meal.

Flammkuchen is like a thin crust pizza, topped with onion, crème fraîche and small pieces of bacon. It’s surprisingly tasty and with the cold white wine it was simply divine.

Engogirl in heaven

So simple, yet so perfect!

After lunch we picked up our bikes and set off to Zell.

The short time that we spent on cycling down the Mosel made me really envious of the German people for living in such a nice country.

I could really get used to such a way of living.

Cycling in Amsterdam. The Netherlands. 2009

Anyone who does a little cycling has heard about Amsterdam being where the bicycle rules.

She is travelling faster than you think

Yep, it’s true there are cycle paths next to almost all of the roads and it looks like about at least half of the population is on their bikes. For those of you who have been living under a rock all their lives, Amsterdam is a very flat place. As a matter of fact the only place you will see a rise is when you go over one of the many little bridges that cross the ubiquitous canals.

Due to the flat nature of the city, most people in Amsterdam ride single speed bicycles with back-pedal brakes. Most of the bikes in

Amsterdam are clunky, heavy old fashioned heavy affairs.

There are even special traffic signals for bikes

It would seem that the Dutch aren’t caught up in the need to have the latest and greatest in cycling, unlike many of the clots back home that spent thousands of dollars to have top of the range mountain bikes that they ride once a month around the city. The Dutch bike is an everyday workhorse that is ridden in all weather and left chained up outside all the time. The Dutch actually ride as a method of transportation and not as some kind of shallow statement of consumption.

Interestingly, the bicycle paths are shared with motor-scooters.

Helmets just mess up your hair and try making a telephone call wearing one.

From what I could tell, the motor-scooters didn’t need to be registered and could be driven by children (who looked at least) as young as 12 or 13, without helmets.

On the whole, the Dutch are a tall healthy lot and when you come to think of it, they’ve managed to retain their culture and national identity over the centuries after being attacked by just about everybody in Europe. They ain’t no wimps. It’s easy to tell the difference between the locals and foreigners when they are on bikes. The Dutch lope along effortlessly at quite a clip, dodging the tourists wobbling down the road at half the speed. I guess riding single speed bikes for years toughens one up and makes you fit. 

Just loping along

 

It’s a good thing that the Dutch get so much exercise, as their food is high in carbohydrates ands saturated fats.

She is travelling faster than you think

One of the things that begins to pall when travelling to all these touristy places is that there is always someone with their camera out taking pictures blocking the way. At first, you wait for people to take their shot, but after a while it starts to get annoying, waiting for so many people as they hold up the traffic on the streets. It’s not surprising, and to me completely understandable, that many people in Amsterdam are totally over tourists clogging up their streets and make no effort to to cater to them and their need to be photographed next to everything.

What is it with some people and their need to be photographed in front of things?

It’s true, I’m one of those annoying people taking the photos, and in my defense, I try not to get in the way.

Danny and Angus at the Newcastle Ocean Baths Canoe Pool. NSW, Australia. 2009

My wife (Engogirl) and I went to Newcastle for the long weekend holiday (Queen’s birthday). Although Newcastle is only about 150kms north of Sydney, it was until this weekend, terra incognita to both Engogirl and I, so we thought we’d make ourselves familiar with the city over the holiday period.

Newcastle is the sixth largest city in Australia with a population of just under 290,000 and it is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. The fact that Newcastle is a mining town had put me off going there for so long and I suspect that many other people in Sydney have shared my misgivings about going there. As it turns out, Newcastle is a real gem of a city as it’s very cycle friendly, has excellent beaches that are walking distance from downtown and the people are very friendly.

The funny thing about everyone I met in Newcastle, who I told that I thought they lived in a beautiful place, is that they all said the same thing; “shhh! Don’t tell anyone”.

As the sun was going down while we were walking around the city, we came across the old Newcastle Oceans Baths Pool and this is where we met Danny and Angus.

Danny and Angus

Danny was out walking Angus, a friendly English Staffordshire terrier (not to be confused with American Stafforshire terriers also known as pitbulls). Like the rest of the people in Newcastle we met, Danny was very affable and easy to talk to and he told us about how the pool had a mosaic of the world under the sand that had filled the pool during a large storm years ago.

The light was turning that magic gold that advertisers love to use to sell cars, life insurance or superanuation plans, so I asked to take a few shots. Afterwards, Danny said that if I liked this pool, I should check the next one nearby as it was a beauty. So I did and I’ll put my shot of it in my next post.