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Archive for the ‘Casual Cyclist’ Category

Hong Kong Cycling

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 by Mick Allan

Well, it took him long enough! Former Cyclorama colleague Georgey boy eventually got round to writing a report from his new home in Hong Kong.

And I thought it was tough being a cyclist in the UK.

Hong Kong Cycling

It’s been more than a year now since I left the shores of sunny England and moved to Hong Kong. Over the course of my stay here, I’ve ridden a bicycle once.

The one time I went out on a bike was for leisure rather than transportational necessity. I went on a day trip with some friends around the northern part of Hong Kong (the New Territories) on a very rickety hired bike. The route was okay, and there were sections that were dedicated to cyclists, but it was clear that it was predominantly used by people who didn’t ride bikes very often. There are parts of Hong Kong in which you might see a cyclist once in a blue moon. Bike shops/rental outlets exist, but there are very few considering the 7m people that live here.

So why is cycling not popular in Hong Kong?

Riding on Hong Kong Island itself, and Kowloon to the north, is suicidal. These districts are full of hills and labyrinthine roads and highways which are occupied day and night by motor-vehicles driving too quickly. I’ve even heard rumours that the government actively discourages cyclists in these two areas.

Also, there seems to be a dearth of awareness about cycling itself. Most people seem to know what a bike is, but they won’t necessarily know how to ride it, and they almost certainly won’t have any inkling about riding it properly. As you might have guessed, it’s certainly not promoted or endorsed by the government.

It’s difficult to find space to keep a bike, too. Folders would be okay for the much-smaller-than-average abodes in Hong Kong, but they’re more expensive on average. Also, since everyone lives in high-rises, it’s a pain to take big, heavy things like bikes in and out of apartments.

Finally, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of public transport here in Hong Kong. According to Wikipedia, more than 90% of people in Hong Kong use public transport regularly. I use it every day, and am, generally speaking, a very satisified customer.

My favourite is the terrific underground/railway system that covers most of the place that one might want to visit; buses and minibuses service the regions it doesn’t.  (Minibuses have 16 seats and have a fixed start and finish, although you can request specific off-route destinations on the way. If you miss your stop, you’re screwed.) Other alternatives (covering the same routes) are trams, ferries and light rail systems.

However, last night I had a sudden jolting realisation that the many ways of getting round are still not *ideal* if one has to go a medium-long way in the middle of the night, because most of them are unavailable. Not nearly as good as… a bike.

To cut a long story short, I was unable to enter my flat, and had to go halfway across the city to my friend’s house if I was to have any hope of having a good night’s sleep.  The only reasonably-priced way of getting there was by minibus.

Using minibuses to go such a long way is horrible and stressful if the route is unfamiliar and if Cantonese is not your first language*. I had to change, too, which involved a fifteen minute walk and asking people directions multiple times*.

And I realised that in this exact situation, a bicycle would have been the best answer. There have been many times in the UK where I’ve been out late and enjoyed a refreshing/sobering night-time bike home.

If I went past the place I was aiming for, I could’ve easily turned around without having to wait around for half an hour for the right bus to come along.  It wouldn’t have cost money**.  It would have been good exercise.  It wouldn’t have been bad for the environment.

I would’ve been independent. I would’ve been happy.

I would have been free.

* I’m now an English-Cantonese bilingual, but since language ability is inversely proportional to sleepiness, I have slight problems communicating with people if it’s very late.

** Ignoring initial purchase or maintenance costs.

Let’s Get Them Cycling!

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by George Goodwin

I am what you might describe as an amateur cyclist.  I’ve been cycling since I was about five, and have always used a bike as my main means of transport.  It (and Britain’s rail network) have saved me having to learn to drive.  I don’t want to learn to drive.  It is horrendously expensive, enviromentally catastrophic, and… I’d miss the exercise.  I can fix a puncture, put a bike together so it works and adjust the saddle so it’s the right height, but that’s about it as far as maintenance goes.  Mick looks upon my efforts with scorn – but then, perhaps he’s right to. (Not scorn Geo. Pity. Mx)

I do wonder though if this type of vague elitism – of cycling haves and have-nots – works to the detriment of the wider cycling world.  I mean, there’s nothing more intimidating than walking into a bike shop where everyone knows their stuff inside out and you don’t. It’s no good, because it means that people are more likely to pick up derelict wrecks of bikes (thereby avoiding the shop stage), and be forever put off cycling by the sheer crappiness of their ride.

KMX riders waiting for the off at a Get Cycling Festival
KMX riders waiting for the off at a Get Cycling Festival

And cycling for a beginner is a difficult enough as it is.  Some people have never even pedalled a bike before.  For people that haven’t done any exercise for years, getting (back) on a bike must initially be torturous – especially if it’s anything like starting running again.  Your body just does not want to co-operate.  Not to mention the fact that exercise like running and cycling is something you just have to do outside, in front of strangers – it’s not like a language or musical instrument where you can make all your mistakes in front of a select few people.

It’s a shame that there’s this unaviodable ritual humiliation for people trying to get fit again (and perhaps shake off the shackles of the car commute to work), and so the added psychological barrier of actually going into a bike shop and getting a ride is icing on the cake.

There are several remedies to this sordid state of affairs that I can think of off the top of my head.  For starters, cycle maintenance should be a school subject, and cycling should form a part of school sports.  After all, schools are obliged to provide technology subjects like woodwork, cookery and textiles; why not bike skills?  Incorporating cycling into sports classes would get everyone riding (and having fun).  This would make walking into a cycle shop so much easier, since there would no longer be the knowledge disparity between shop and customer.  The awkwardness would just dissipate.

Secondly, (and until such time as “bike-time” becomes part of the National Curriculum), a message to existing cyclists – organise a bike ride with your cycling-averse friends.  Show them the fun side (cycling along car-free routes); let them gently acclimatise to the bike, and then later introduce them to roads.  Cycling, like so many things in life, is much more fun when done with other people.  (Thinking about it, this is exactly how I’ve got my own friends on bikes.)

If we really want to get more people cycling (and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t – less road noise/pollution and more smiling faces), we’re all going to have to go out and be fishers of men, women, children and anyone capable of pushing two pedals in a circle.  I can think of far worse ways of spending a weekend ;)

Incidentally (and I wasn’t out to cross-sell this when I started writing, promise), Get Cycling do a lot of fine work in introducing school children to bikes.  If only the schools themselves had the finances to take the initiative…

Test Ride of Mick’s Africa Bike

Monday, September 13th, 2010 by George Goodwin

I borrowed Mick’s Africa Bike over the weekend (without asking, I am ashamed to add – humble and heartfelt apologies to the owner), and I thought I’d write about what it was like to ride.

The 3-speed hub gears were fine.  Perhaps they limited the top speed (quite severely), but when I had the bike full loaded there wasn’t a need to go fast.  They were fit for purpose.

The coaster brake threw me (quite literally) – I kept instinctively trying to back-pedal at traffic lights to get the pedals in the right place for moving off, only for the cranks not to move and me to fall off.  It was otherwise quite fun to back-pedal to brake, even if over-doing it led to the back wheel skittering, bouncing up and down.  Mick reliably informs me this a quirk unique to his particular bike.

The load-carrying capacity was amazing – on the Sunday I was tasking with locating and obtaining “lots of water”.  The newly-mounted front basket easily took 9 litres and I strapped a further 9 to the rack at the back using a bungee strap – it was amazing how little difference it made to the handling.  On another occasion, I used the basket to carry my heavy backpack – it was much more pleasant to place the load on the bike rather than my back.

One of these days I'll buy myself a camera, and then won't have to resort to drawing crapping pictures in Paint...

One of these days I'll buy myself a camera, and then won't have to resort to drawing "impressions" in Paint...

I have a fresh scar by my knee where it crashed into the low child seat – it was quite a challenge to widen my knees to accomodate it, since it’s by no means a natural position.  Frankly I’m not quite sure how Rufus (Mick’s usual passenger) doesn’t wind up being persistently kneed.

The swept-back handlebars also took some getting used to – they required a quite different body position to my own Kona’s straighter bars.  Again though, it’s not like I was trying to race it, so the more upright position required was fine.

The hardest part was locking his bike up.  The various attachments made it difficult to park it sufficiently closely to a bike rack – to do so required a fair amount of subtle manouvering.

All told though, I’m amazed at just how useful his Really Useful Bike is.  I might commandeer it next time I need to move house.  It’s a different beast entirely to my Kona Dew, but then again, it’s built to a completely different specification.  All I’m wondering is if a second trailer can be attached…

Puncture

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by George Goodwin

I was out a-riding on my bicycle on Friday night and foolishly picked up a puncture on my back tyre.  This was triply unfortunate because 1) I was nowhere near home 2) it was practically a monsoon and 3) I hadn’t had the foresight to pack a pump, even though I had a puncture repair kit on me.

And so began my mission to find a place to repair the puncture before getting absolutely drenched – all I had to do was find a pump and the day would be saved.  I’ve rated the various places I tried out of five, so that if on some rainy autumn night find yourself up the proverbial creek without a proverbial paddle, you too can get yourself home safe and dry…

Halfords York

Five stars for the Halfords crew – even though it was minutes from closing time, they kindly let me in and even went so far as to do most of the fixing gratis!  (They were making noises about wanting to go home on time though…)  Much appreciated.

★★★★★

I love helping!

Police Station

You’d have thought with all those bobbies on the beat riding bikes that a police station would have adequate provision for deflated police-bike tyres.  Not so.  The chap at the police station made a vague and unconvincing apology, and said that if I’d turned up before 4pm (!), I could’ve gone to the cycle recovery part of the police station and borrowed a pump there.

Two stars for the police station – they could have helped, but only if I’d had the foresight to disable my bike between the limited opening hours.

★★

No pumps here!

Random Cyclist Wheeling His Bike

Really, I should have guessed before asking that any other cyclist wheeling his bicycle whilst it was raining torrentially was unlikely to have the requisite items on him for puncture repair – as it happened, he also had a flat tyre.  It was a long shot.  Whilst thoroughly unhelpful to my cause, he gets bonus stars on compassionate grounds.  He was walking all the way to Naburn (four miles away).

★★★

I have the same problem :(

Barracks

“What the bloody hell made you think that an army base would have a bicycle pump?!  Bikes are for sissies – man up and drive a tank.”… was what I was expecting to hear if I asked the TA for a bike pump at 8pm.  The army’s reputation does not serve it well in this particular instance.

It would also have been a further diversion from the route home, so I’m only awarding them one star.

WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!

Conclusion

As you might have expected, it’s the bike shop that emerges the clear winner here.

The moral of the story though is clearly this: don’t cycle without adequate kit to repair your bike, should the need arise.  It might save you a very, very long walk.

Read More on Punctures

Foiling the Flat (Bike Culture article)

Criminal Re-Cycling

Saturday, July 24th, 2010 by George Goodwin

You might already have seen this story from last week – a man (in York) was arrested for taking a pair of bicycle frames out of a skip.  Apparently, the frames still belonged to the people who threw them away (the National Railway Museum).

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but usually skips aren’t used for storage of items people want.  Usually the items therein are taken to the dump, to rot or rust as appropriate.  Usually, what happens to them afterwards is pretty academic – person doesn’t want something, public services get rid of said thing.  End of.

And this is what I find so strange. What does it matter to the museum, or indeed the police, what happened to the bicycle frames in question?  The museum certainly didn’t want the frames, otherwise they wouldn’t have put them in the skip.  Wasn’t it enterprising of the defendent to try to make a little money whilst recycling?  Y’know, recycling – that thing that every government and their proverbial dogs are bending over backwards to promote.

Yes, he should certainly have asked permission before taking – but as a general principle, we surely should be lauding those who take to heart the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” – not taking them to court.

What a strange world we live in.

P.S. Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to leave a comment!

Of Car-Washes and Common Sense

Monday, July 19th, 2010 by George Goodwin

I was doing a little bit of grocery shopping at the local Tesco’s (not by choice by the way – just happens to be the only place to buy food on the way home from our chicken-shed office), and noticed for the first time the car wash there at the edge of the gargantuan car-park.

The building in question proudly proclaimed “This car-wash collects rainwater to wash cars with.  Tesco.  Caring for our environment”.  Great, eh?  Where will the eco-warrior-ism end?  “We stone our adulterers with locally sourced stones.”  “We use only organic maidens to feed our dragons.”  “We use the sun to dry out our clothes.”

Frivolity aside, the text misses the point completely – washing oversized machines with even bigger ones is never going to be a good thing, regardless of where the water came from.  This kind of “we’re socially responsible” diversion is shabby and misleading, and (I hope) it fools no-one.  A car-wash is fundamentally a needlessly wasteful way of cleaning a car.  Compare it with a bucket of water, sponge and half an hour’s work in the sun, and the common sense winner is obvious.  In fact, the two are analogous to a car and a bike – the former, a polluting and dangerous way of getting from A to B, the latter slower, but ultimately sustainable.

This brings us round neatly to what Tesco should be doing, which is to turn swathes of the car-park space into bike stands.  If you’ve been following Mick’s posts on The Ultimate Utility BikeTM, you’ll know just how much stuff you can carry around with the right bike – easily a week’s shopping, and perhaps more. 

Conservatively assuming each car-space can take on average two bike stands (and hence four bikes), the supermarket would only need a quarter of the space for its pedalling customers than it does for its petrol-driven ones.  The more bike space there is, the more likely it is people will cycle to the shops.  The more people cycling, the happier and fitter we’ll all be.

Then Tesco could claim legitimately that they care for the environment.  Let’s hope we live to see the day.