Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's up with airlines?

Airlines are a little like hotels ... If there is an empty seat on tonight's 6:15 flight from Sydney to Melbourne, once the door is closed and the 'plane has pulled back, that's it. They're not selling that seat to anyone. A bit like an empty hotel room last night - you can't sell it tonight.

Very perishable stock. Strict use by dates.

So why do they go out of their way to make those last unsold tickets as expensive as they can?

I arrived at the airport early and asked if there were seats on the next flight, which was leaving in about 30 minutes. There were, but the airline wanted $140 ($10 more than I paid for the original ticket).

I'm guessing on a Saturday afternoon flight that any seats unsold 30 minutes before departure are going to stay unsold.

Wouldn't it have made sense to put me on that flight, thus filling an empty seat, improving customer satisfaction and maybe giving the airline a better chance of selling my seat on a flight 90 minutes hence?

Nope, that ain't the way it works.

And for $140 I decided to sit in the lounge and send tweets instead of getting home 90 minutes earlier.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I've been riding for maybe 25 years. Well, I've been riding a bike for over 40 years, but I've identified myself as a cyclist for about the last 25. No, I'm not going to reopen that can of worms about who is a cyclist.

In all the time I've been riding, I've only come off now & then. Everyone falls, even pro riders: what do you expect? It's an unstable 2 wheel conveyance, not a bed.

Last time was maybe 4 years ago, I got a mild concussion and was a little dopier than usual for the rest of the day. But no lasting damage (maybe the dopiness).

Until this morning.

Wet roads (quite unusual here in Melbourne the last few years) and I rolled over something extra slippery - bang! - the bike went out from under me and down I went.

My buddy David, riding second wheel, didn't have a choice: he landed on top of me. The other two boys we were with thought it was hysterical and said it was a Tour quality off.

The toll:

  • One cracked rib (David).
  • One broken scafoid (?) bone (mine - could mean 6 weeks in plaster).
  • Bent frame & broken brake/gear assemblies (mine).
  • Lots of pride and assorted road rash.
But like all good knucklehead cyclists, we rode home. It only hurt when I lent on the bars (you try riding up a hill one handed). A quick trip to the hospital, some painkillers and I've got a temp half cast until Monday, then back for a bone test (not really sure what that is, but they said to bring a book), and the doctor will decide if it's two or six weeks of plaster.

I'm just pissed off that I'm going to have to be doing my riding indoors for a week or two .... I've been using the bike for commuting so much I was about to cancel my car spot at the office. I guess that'll have to wait until I'm rolling again.

Huge props to my Twitter buddies for their concern & good wishes!

And a big tip 'o the hat to the great folks at Cabrini Emergency room - very friendly and efficient.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Dutch aren't cyclists

No, I'm not talking about Lars Boom (Dutch cyclo-cross champion every year since he was about 3 years old, and possibly the best named rider at professional levels, ever) or any of the Rabobank squad. I'm talking about your average Hertz Van Rental (sorry, couldn't help myself) in the street in Amsterdam, Rotterdam or The Hague.

If I remember the 5 minutes I was both present & awake (that would be an interesting Venn diagram) when I was supposed to be studying Sociology, we all belong to various sub-cultural groups, depending on things like race, religion, occupation, interests, and so on.

I identify myself, among other things, as being part of the sub cultural group called "cyclists". I'm also part of various minor groups within this very broad categorisation, such as road cyclists, sometimes racers, fixed wheel riders (but I'm not part of the track sub category of fixed wheeler), and so on.

Does it annoy you when someone travels overseas and comes back seeming to know "everything" about the places they've just visited? Drives me mad.

Like the idiot who spends a week in Phuket, can say "please & thank you" in Thai and thinks they know the culture backwards? Just done a fortnight staying at a Villa in the Italian countryside? You might know a bit about the village you spent some time in, but you don't know "everything Italy".

So, I'm not going to pretend that 2 nights in Rotterdam makes me an expert on everything Holland. Far from it, but one thing I can tell you is: the Dutch aren't cyclists.

Oh, they might use their bikes to get places, but they don't see themselves as cyclists. Any more than all those people stuck in traffic tonight on the Ring Road think of themselves as "motorists". OK, they're driving their cars, and some might be interested in "motoring" but the car is just the means of getting to wherever.

As it seems to be with the residents of The Netherlands and their bicycles - they're just using them for nothing more complicated than getting places.

I saw kids on bikes, I saw families on bikes, I saw grandmothers (they looked old enough) doing their Saturday morning shopping on bikes, I saw people dressed up & heading for a night out on their bikes, and I saw them again, later that night & perhaps a little wobbly, heading for home.

But none of them seemed to have that "I'm a cyclist, keep away from me you pedestrian / car / bus" look that we have on our faces when we ride in Melbourne.

I can understand why they ride as much as they do (more on that in a minute) but there were plenty of things I found odd .... like scooters (up to 50cc? anyone want to confirm that?) in the bike lanes, and no helmets; like police on those STUPID Segway things. I hate them, but that's for another post.

Like a country of apparently healthy people (they all ride bikes, don't they?) who all seem to smoke. Smoking aside, lots of bike riding seems to mean lots of well shaped legs.

And the very strange interaction I had at the hotel ... I asked for directions to a restaurant that was "typical of Rotterdam" (not an unusual request, I would have thought). "There is an Italian place on the corner" was the reply. "No, I don't want Italian" "OK, there is a nice French place a few minutes walk from here" was the next suggestion. Realising that I was on the losing side of this conversation, I said that sounded grand and asked how to get there. All I had to do was turn right as I left the hotel, then turn left at "the cubist buildings on the next corner". OK, I'm not a total architectural idiot, but doesn't that imply a level of education that perhaps not everyone has achieved?

I had tapas for dinner. Delicious, thanks for asking.

So early the next morning, with a few hours before the Prologue, I headed to the central train station in Rotterdam to rent a bike and see what riding in Holland was all about.

There was a huge (1,000 bike? more) secure parking facility there, which also has a mechanic, a bike bits & pieces shop, and a bike rental facility. I was lucky enough to get the last rental bike that day. €8 for the day. And they close at 2:30 am.

In a country that is flat as a billiard table, they rented me a 21 speed mountain bike. 21 speed was probably 20 more than it needed, maybe 19. So I chose a gear, and off I went.

In London people use folding bikes so they don't have to park on their bikes on the street, or they use 2 locks and take the saddle with them, to make their bikes less appealing to thieves. More than 700,000 bikes stolen each year in the UK. I don't have the stats for Holland, but I'm guessing the number is a little less. They all had the sort of locks that would take about 4 seconds to snap - if they'd bothered to use them.

It's flat (did I mention that yet?). There are bike lanes all around Rotterdam, and streets that don't have bike lanes are so quiet you could ride up the middle of them and not worry about hitting anything.

This is not the land of carbon fibre seat posts and 72° down tubes.

This is the country of heavy steel tubes & lazy, relaxed geometry. Stable bikes. Easy to ride bikes. Bikes with dynamo lights (haven't seem them for years!).

Bikes with big luggage racks - perfect for transporting beer & groceries, or giving your side saddle sitting girlfriend a lift home after a night of drinking.

But I still don't think they're cyclists.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My little bit of Tour de France

I was lucky enough over the weekend to see two stages – the Prologue & Stage 1 – of the Tour de France. I had to be in London last week for work (not something that happens all that often) and it seemed churlish not to take a couple of days to see some real bike racing.

I arrived in Rotterdam on Friday night, about an hour after Holland had won their Wold Cup match and advanced to the next round, expecting the place to be going off it's head. I don't know if it's not a Rotterdam sort of thing, not a Dutch sort of thing, or I just couldn't find the right bars, but other than a few happy drunks in orange t-shirts the place was as busy as Geelong on a Sunday night in winter.

I was up early Saturday morning – mainly due to lack of alcohol the night before and the Northern European summer sun rising at about 4:30 – and headed out for a wander around the town. Rotterdam seems pleasant enough: a port city of about 550,000 and a nice enough mix of recent low rise residential and some interesting older buildings in the centre.

But this isn't an architecture blog, it's a bike riding blog and I was there for the Tour. So enough background and on with the action.

I'm not going to bother with a detailed report of the two stages, there are plenty of others out there who can do a much better jog of that then I can.

The day started out hot enough, but I ended up standing on the side of the course in Rotterdam for maybe 5 hours, in a mix of light rain, cold wind (it was bloody cold if you were only wearing a rain dampened t-shirt & shorts) and grey skies and watched lone bike riders whizz past every 60 seconds or so. You probably have to be a bit of a cycling tragic, but I had fun. Big fun.

I cheered every rider, but the Aussies – especially Cadel & Mick Rogers, along with Lance, Bert, and Spartacus all got an especially rousing cheer.

I wandered in and out of a few course-side bars for mid stage refreshments, and discovered Dutch outdoor toilets. Too hard to describe here, you've got to see one to appreciate it.

All in all, a great day.

Another early start on Sunday – for the same reasons as Saturday: I tried to find some trouble to get into, but drinking overpriced stout in a faux Irish pub wasn't really doing it for me – and off to the start village.

I've not been to the start village for a major cycling race before. I'm more used to blokes getting changed out the back of their cars in cold carparks than this. There was a fantastic start of first term atmosphere to the place; I hate to think what they're all going to look like in Paris 3 weeks from now.

I saw press everywhere. Fiddling with their equipment, getting ready and looking for someone to interview.

Rather than stand in the massive crowd around the start line and along the road leading to Paris, I hung out in what was just a huge crowd across the road (bloody barriers & lack of a laminated pass!) from Sky team bus & cars. All shiny & clean, and ready for the big adventure ahead.

About 20 minutes before sign-on time riders started to appear. First the domestiques, blokes who do the heavy lifting for their team captains & stars. I sort of know a few of the names, but I didn't recognise any of the faces. As the riders wandered off the bus and climbed onto their bikes, the very English crown around me erupted: “Wiggins!” “Bradley!” “Cummings!” (who rode over to say hello to someone just nearby) and me with a loud “Onya Gerro!”

I saw Basso. Jens. Bert. Spartacus. McEwan. O'Grady. Lance (who must have forgotten something – he rode back to the bus, and needed a bike police escort to get back to the start in time). Then they were gone, the race started and the busses and team cars started up and began the long chase.

A quick metro back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, local train to the central station, and the intercity to Brussels. It's a great novelty for me to travel from city to city by train. Love it. We have distance and population against us in Australia, but in Europe it's often the easiest and quickest way to get from place to place.

I dumped the bags in the Brussels hotel and headed off to the nearest metro station – the ticket office had very helpful strips of paper printed with directions to the stage finish.

To say there were a shitload of people at the finish is an understatement – 5 or 6 deep around the last few hundred metres, so I joined a smaller crowd near the team busses, just past where the barricades ended.

You've seen those massive crowds on mountain stages with the motorcycles opening a path for the racers to get though? The group I was in was like that – there was a handlebar width space for the exhausted riders to get through. I saw them all again, the same champions I'd seen that morning, just not as many smiling as there had been earlier.

The funny thing about the weekend? I had to look online for the race results both days.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Best ride ever?

Usually when I ride there's lots of trash talk, lots of (good natured) aggression, and lots of trying to be the first to the line, the first to the top of a hill, just the first. We roll big turns into the wind, we turn up the pain, and we complain if someone isn't pulling their weight.

It mightn't sound like fun, but it is. But nothing like the fun I had yesterday. 

Do you remember being 12 or 13 and spending the afternoon just messing about on bikes? Riding aimlessly to nowhere and back, maybe over a trail through the park, or using a bumpy lane as a shortcut to somewhere unimportant? I got to go back there yesterday.

One of the most important races of the European spring season is Paris Roubaix. It's known as the Hell of the North. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, but it's called the Queen of the Classics for a reason. It's long, 260k in a day is long, there are something like 28 sections over cobbles ... real old farm roads ... it breaks bikes & men. One of the toughest sections is the Forrest of Arenberg. And for the sort of reasons that make bike racing bike racing, it finishes each year on the super smooth surface of the Roubaix velodrome.


I didn't ride Paris Roubaix yesterday. I rode Melburn Roobaix instead. (the spelling is correct).

It's certainly not a race, it's more of a 30 or so kilometre scavenger hunt around inner city Melbourne, along bumpy lanes and single track beside the river.

Arranged by the guys at fyxomatosis, it's limited to 400 entrants - I'm guessing any more would mean the need for officialdom, road closures and the like, which would be totally out of character with the event.

Mainly single speeds & fixies - lots of hard looking courier types with scary tattoos (and that was the girls!), but a smattering of bikes with gears, at least one folder, a couple of postie bikes, a unicycle, and one 12 year old on his mountain bike (my Joshua).

All we were told during the week was the start point - a park in Hawthorn. On arrival we were given our maps and questions, eg: for stage one (the Nightmare behind Elm St) "how many power lines overhead?". We started in 4 waves of 100 each. Sure we did.

And it was on. Bumping up the first lane - 200m in length? - with maybe 100 other riders, I just started laughing, and didn't really stop until we got home late that afternoon.

Cobbles are tough, and I'm no single track rider - especially when it's damp and I'm on a single speed with skinny tires - but it was fun all the way.

I flatted on the 4th stage, but manage to keep enough air in it to complete the next stage and ride to Smith St for a coffee while I changed it. We sat at a table with some other guys doing the ride, chatted, and I worked on changing the tube. No tire levers, so I used a spoon - it ended up looking like Uri Geller had been there - while I was struggling with the tire, I asked the guys at the table if they had any tire levers. When they handed one to me Josh said "I've got some of those dad" "Why didn't you say?" "You never asked" Can't beat 12 year old logic, can you. 

In a classic act of stupidity, I pinched the spare as I was refitting the tire, so now I two stuffed tubes.

A quick ride to Cecil Walker on Brunswick St and we were on our way again, $20 lighter ($11 for the tube, $9 for fitting - you didn't think I was going to do it did you?).

As usually happens on a mass ride, we fell in with a group of guys and rode with them for most of the rest of the day. Josh was wearing a Livestrong jersey, so they called him Lance, and I was Eddy because of the Molteni strip I was wearing. Look it up if you're not sure.

We cruised through Carlton, past the Zoo and then along the creek beside the Tullamarine Fwy (HUGE fun) to the only real challenge of the day: Melbourne's Koppenberg. The real Koppenberg is a feature of theRonde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flaners) and is a very steep section of cobbles (there's that word again) know for it's difficulty and the screaming fans lining the road.

Not quite the same thing, but we rode up a steep cobbled laneway in Ascot Vale, with 20 or so guys about halfway up yelling encouragement and giving those struggling a helping push. In the tradition of Belgian cycling fans worldwide, I think they'd been in the beer tent for most of the day. 

I passed "the fans"  - thanks for the push Andy! - with Josh maybe 50 metres behind me, and struggling on the hill, when I heard one of the guys yell "come on little one, you can do it!"

With huge grins on our faces, we were met at the top by the Red Bull girls - maybe next you year could be at the BOTTOM of the climb.

A few more cobbled sections, a couple of 'transport' stages, and two quick laps of Brunswick Velodrome and on to the official finish line, the Lomond hotel in East Brunswick for some proper refreshment. 

We both had a great day, Josh put in a big effort and was the prefect company for 400 "grown ups" enjoying being kids for the day.

Ever wondered what a couple of hundred bikes parked outside a pub looks like?

You know what, a pub full of 300 smiling cyclists (and they were all smiling) doesn't smell that bad. Maybe that's a bit of a lie, but I'd be very happy to be 12 again.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Learning (I hope)

When you learn to drive - my 16 year old niece is learning, that's scary - you display "L" plates front and rear.

When you first start motor racing, you have to do the same thing.

It's so other drivers know you're new.

In bike racing, we don't have L plates, we have D grade. D grade is where you race if you're old, slow or new. I probably qualify for at least two of those descriptors.

The little bit of crit racing I did over summer was in D grade.

The winter road racing season is upon us, and I'm racing in D grade.

It's probably where I'll start & finish my racing, um, career. But I'm out there to have some fun, not to try to win trophies, so I'm happy hacking around with the other old blokes in D grade.

Last weekend was my first race for the road season. Phillip Island Grand Prix track. Yes, the one were they race the motorbikes, and the V8s. Yes, the place where I destroyed the Porsche's engine last year (still not fixed, but that's a subject for another post) No, there weren't any race cars out when we were racing.

There was an Elite level race in the morning - Elite is where you race if you're trying to get picked up by a pro team, or you've gotten a little slow to remain on that pro team. The fast guys. Very serious racing. They did 25 laps, 111km. There's really only one climb at Phillip Island, and it's not that big, but see how you're enjoying it the 24th time you go over it (or the 10th in my case). 160 or so starters, 60 finished. 42kph average speed.

I, of course, wasn't there to race with the Elite boys, I was there to race D grade. We only had to do 13 laps, about 60km. Maybe 30 lined up for the start. Lots of nervous chatter before we rolled out for a couple of controlled laps.

A controlled lap (aka neutral lap) is when you're not allowed to race - a little like the GP cars behind the safety car - it's there so you can settle in, get your pace sorted out, get a little comfortable before the hurt starts.

The controlled laps were like a Sunday morning cruise ride ... easy pace, a bit of chit chat, nothing too hard. I was thinking "I could do this all day, easy". And then it go a little quicker.

I was holding on, near the back of the group, and still enjoying myself.

There are all sorts of things you can read about racing. Lessons on when to attack, when to hide, where to try to position yourself in a bunch, and so on. But I think the most important thing I realised on Saturday was .... there is NO SUBSTITUTE  for race experience.

How do I know this? Because when the hammer went down, in the middle of lap 4, where was I? At the back of the bunch, chattering with the guy next to me. We missed the move. All of a sudden we were alone with everyone else rapidly getting away from us.

We rode a few laps, then he dropped out, leaving me on my own.

According to the weather forecast, there was a "light" wind. It might have been light if you were in the midst of a bunch of 25 or so bike riders, but on your own, as you came around Siberia and started the climb towards Lukey Hights, it didn't feel light. All I could think of was what Inigo Montoya said in the Princess Bride, as the Dread Pirate Roberts' boat got closer and closer "I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using?"

I struggled on until lap 10 of 13 and realised I wasn't going to catch anyone (I'd probably realised it 4 laps earlier), so I turned off the track, rolled up pit lane, handed in my race number and was marked as DNF. Better or worse than SML (Stone Motherless Last)? Ask me in June after the next race.

My race face:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Off on a tangent ... a testing time

For a change from my usual bike blogging, I'm going to bang on a bit about one of my other interests / passions, watches, and more specifically, accuracy of watches.

I have a number, which I'm not disclosing, of watches ranging from a Timex Ironman (a plastic cased, quartz watch I wear when cycling - lots & lots of useful functions), through an assortment of Seiko chronographs from the 70's, a few Omegas, a Longines, a Rolex, a Graham, a Maurice Lacroix, and a few others. I'm not going to declare the total number, and i'm not going to list the entire collection here. Hey, someone from might be reading this.

Inspired by a recent post by The Sydney Tarts, I asked myself "which is the most accurate?", along with "how accurate is accurate?" and "what level of inaccuracy am I prepared to put up with?"

Let's start with "how accurate is accurate?". To be a COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètre Certified Chronometer (watch latin for "an expensive watch that should keep time") a mechanical watch must be accurate, over a period of days, in a variety of positions, to plus or minus 3 seconds.

24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute equals 86,400 seconds in a day, so we're aiming for 0.003% (or better).

What am I prepared to put up with? Well, that's a good question. I tend to change my watch on at least a daily basis (yes, sometimes more than once a day), and any given watch is typically in 'rotation' for about a week at a time. By which I mean, I've got three or four that I'm wearing "this week" and each will be worn three or four times in a fortnight then put away. Some (favourites or new watches) last longer in rotation, some head back to the cupboard a little quicker (I'm fickle).

While a watch is in rotation, if it's not being worn, and an automatic (most are) I'll manually give it a few winds or shakes - to keep it going - at least daily. I had a winder but it broke, can't be fixed, and I've not got around to replacing it.

I set my watches to the speaking clock, and check them against the time pips on ABC radio.

After that LONG WINDED preamble, I'd say that plus or minus 10 seconds against the time pips is accurate enough. Any less, I'm happy; any more, I'll mutter under my breath about inaccurate watches and then reset it.

Which is the most accurate? I've devised a round robin elimination process to try to work out which is the most accurate of my time keepers:

  1. Set to the speaking clock on 5 minute intervals, i.e.: it's easier to set on a 'full' 5 minute mark than it is to set to say 8:57 pm.
  2. No more than three in rotation at any one time (quartz excluded).
  3. Not on the wrist for less than 4 hours, or more than a day at a time.
  4. When not being worn, must be wound (manual watches) or wound/shaken (gently please) once a day
  5. At the end of seven days (168 hours, 10,080 minutes or 604,800 seconds - give or take), whoever is closest to the pin, wins.
  6. Repeat for another week with three more, and for a third week with the last three.
  7. Don't bother with pieces like that Seiko I know keeps crap time.
  8. In the event of a tie, I'll come up with some sort of arbitrary way of assessing, like "which looks best with a pair of jeans?"
Having set the rules (and I'd welcome any input), heading to the starting gates for the first week are ...... The big guns of my collection: Early 90's Rolex GMT Master II (movement? anyone?) 2009 Graham Chronofighter GMT Big Date Oversize (inhouse - I think - movement: G1733) and my new Longines Master triple date moon chrono (inhouse movement L678).

And of course I'll be twittering observations and updates, using the hashtag #watchtest

Quick update - thanks to the encyclopaedic knowledge stored in @twinck's head, I can advise the Rolex has a 3185 movement, the Graham is running a valjoux 7750, my longines is keeping time with the mightly valjoux 7753.