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.