Friday, 19 November 2010

Against Compulsion For Bicycle Helmets

There is a growing movement in Australia against the laws here compelling cyclists to wear helmets. The movement is coming from various subcultures, too, cyclestylists and fashionistas lead the charge, but fixies, transport cyclists and curmudgeons are also starting to demand the right to choose when "the lid" is right.

There is the argument that, like the seatbelt, the bicycle helmet is for the protection of cyclists - protection from the unexpected. This seems like a reasonable argument, and there are many tales of mountain bikers and BMXers "having their lives saved" by their helmets. Lets also say here that wearing a helmet in heavy traffic is a pretty smart choice to make in Australia, because Australian drivers have an almost sociopathic attitude to non-motorised road users.

The question of helmet compulsion isn't a safety issue, though. Not one study has been done to control out demographic groups who are more likely to ride in a risky manner. Not one study has conclusively determined how many cycle journeys take place in Australia, nor how many actually result in crashes. The case for helmet compulsion is based solely on Police and emergency ward surgeons' experiences of cycling.

In the UK it has been found that most cycling crashes, even when the cyclist was taking risks, were legally the motorists' fault. In the Netherlands they have way higher cycling rates than Australia and lower crash rates and no compulsory helmet laws. Even in car-mad USA they only have helmet compulsion in some isolated localities and it's done little to increase cyclist safety.

Australia made bicycle helmets compulsory purely because motorcycle helmets were compulsory and we had a helmet manufacturing industry exporting to the world. It seemed like a good idea to the non-cyclists in Canberra, and certainly seems logically sound, but it's not socially just, it erodes everybody's rights, even those of non-cyclists.

Obesity is one of the most serious health issues facing the community. Fast food franchises are one of the biggest contributors to it, or rather, the choice of the obese to eat it to excess is the biggest contributor to obesity. More people die from diseases of obesity each year than are killed by head injury in any sort of road accident. Diabetic complications, heart disease and stroke all cause death at alarming rates in Australia.

Smoking is a legal drug which causes lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Alcohol is legal and it causes death all the usual ways. Yet alcohol, tobacco and junk food are not banned, we allow people to choose whether they endanger themselves with these things or not. We recognise that there is responsible use of alcohol or junk food and that exceeding those bounds is a personal choice only a minority choose.

There are very good studies from all over the world, including Australia, that time and time again prove the benefits of cycling vastly increase life expectency compared to any reduction caused by the dangers. The most recent, from Holland, says for every year of life expectancy lost due to crashes, 14 years are gained from the health benefits of exercise. Cycling is a responsible lifestyle choice with some minor risk. What we eat or drink is a lifestyle choice, no government bans us from eating bad food or drinking too much alcohol. It's left to us, informed adults to choose when a beer and a burger is good for us and when we've had too many.

So, there you have it, we can eat all the Maccas we like and not have a word said against us, but if we choose to go without a helmet on a quiet, Sunday morning country lane bike ride. Compulsory helmet laws are social engineering. It is a law designed to discourage cycling and appease the motoring lobby and nothing more. If it were a public safety policy, then smoking, drinking and eating bad food would be illegal, too. Cyclists are a soft target for cynical governments more interested in selling Holdens than making our cities livable. More interested in selling Maccas, VB and smokes than encouraging people to live simply and healthily.

A helmet is not like a seatbelt or an air bag. Helmets don't prevent crashes. Helmets are compulsory in very few countries and Australia's head injury rate for cyclists is higher than most of the countries without compulsory helmets. It's time to stop the social engineering.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vale the Ranchslider

Since 1996 or thereabouts, I've been a big fan of Groundeffect cycling gear. They're a little pricey, but they're bombproof.

My faces have always been the daddylonglegs leggings and the ranchslider cargos. I've ridden 2 pairs of rancheis into the ground, 5 years out of my old first edition cordura ones and 10 years out of the second edition microfibre pair.

Sadly, Groundeffect don't do the cycling pad in them anymore. This makes then into an overpant only, requiring bike shorts under for riding. My $30 cargo pants from Costco can do that job with a pair of reflective ankle wraps to keep them out of the chain. $30 v. $130 is no contest.

I'll probably still buy my next pair of daddylonglegs from them if my current 12 year old pair ever wear out, but ranchies without the padding? Too expensive.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

One less Holden ute!

While riding home recently, I discovered treasure on somebody's hard rubbish pile. Amid a pile of old glass televisions, broken garden furniture and a badly stained cot matress, was a Burley "buggy" bicycle trailer. Apart from flat tyres, there was nothing wrong with it, the owners had just outgrown it - well, their kids had, apparently.

Now, I don't need a kiddy trailer, but a load hauler is a very useful gadget indeed. Panniers only carry about 10 to 15kg and there's no room for a decent water supply for cooking and washing at the end of a day's touring. All that was needed was a plywood floor and a rainproof, polytarp tonneau cover to replace the "flymesh" one. Et voila! A hauler for 40kg camping and shopping loads. Now all it needs is a clamp-on jockey wheel at the front and a push handle at the back, and it'll be ready for a trip to Costco :-)

In my previous trailer-towing life, I used a steel-framed Winchester 2-seater to take my kids to daycare. Trailer plus kids and daycare bags was close to 60kg, and even on Hobart's hilly terrain, was rarely more than a gear lower for any given climb, compared to no trailer. The only time I ever struggled with it was a camping trip to Bruny Island with a climb over Mt Cook on a badly eroded, steep fire road. So, in Victoria, with an alloy frame, the sum total of my camping gear and 10 litres of drinking water, hauled over mostly level ground (by Tassy standards) should be easy.

And the logo on the back? If a bicycle is one less car, with a trailer, it's one less Holden ute on the road ;-) It's also a reference to my next project, a pedal powered utility with the capacity of a Suzuki MightBoy and full fabric weather-proof skin: the "One Less White Van" project. (This one may take a few years...)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Electric v. Human Powered Bicycles

I've often been vehement in my condemnation of electrically assisted bicycles. I've called them a pox on cycling, in fact. You might well wonder why?

I dislike them for a number of reasons, but lets look at the simple practicalities. Electric bicycles offer the illusion of an easier ride, and make no bones, it's an illusion. There are a number of factors which come into play, but first and most important is build quality.

If you're considering an electric bike, you're probably new to adult cycling. You probably haven't ridden since you were a kid and don't believe yourself fit enough to ride far under your own power, so I'll compare the typical electric with the typical entry level department store hybrid bike.

At K-Mart, a hybrid won't set you back much more than $400 including helmet, gloves, pump, spare inner tube and plastic tyre levers, plus maybe a saddle bag to carry the last items. The average, rechargeable, electric-assist bicycle will cost between $1000 and $2000 depending on the model.

The K-Mart bike (probably a huffy) will have lightweight 700c wheels that glide over bumps but spin up easily. The overall weight will be no more than 13kg and the frame will be a tig welded alloy model with forged dropouts for the axles and rack mounts. The build quality isn't brilliant, but it's good enough to get 5 years of good leisure cycling, even with a bit of commuting. It will feel fast and easy to ride for at least half of that (or all of it if you have it regularly serviced.)

The basic electric bike, without its battery, will come in at 20kg, 25kg with the battery. It will have small, 20" wheels, a heavy, motorised hub in the rear, and this wheel will be hard to spin up without using the battery.

The build quality will be a roughly welded high-tensile steel frame with cheap brakes. There will be extra tubing required to hold the battery, and the steering geometry will be for lower speeds than the hybrid mentioned above.

At this point, the k-mart cheapy wins out already.

OK, you say, but there's an electric motor to accelerate the heavier machine. Yes, if you call that acceleration. You're still going to have to pedal to keep up with even quite sedate cyclists. You've got 10 or more extra kilos to get moving than they do, on smaller, softer wheels than theirs and a 200watt motor (the legal maximum for an electric bicycle) is barely giving you enough to pull the extra weight. You will have to pedal to get moving, probably as hard as any other cyclist.

The elctric bike has an "optimum design speed" which is chosen for a compromise between best torque at take-off and reasonable cruising speed. Above this speed you start to work against the motor as it becomes a "generator" and starts producing electricity. So, while your cycling friends are coasting downhill at 30, you're effectively speed limited to lower/mid 20s, and with that steering geometry, you're not going to want to keep up with them anyway. (Speed wobbles are not fun!)

Now, I'm not going to lie and say you won't enjoy a good ride on one of these. They are making some aspects of cycling easier. Light hills with electric assist are easier than a conventional bike, although not really any faster, and cycling is fun on a nice day over a nice course. The trouble is, how far can you go?

On a conventional bike, a beginner's range over easy terrain is 50km, say 25km out and 25 back with lunch in the middle. That's nearly twice the range of cheaper electric cycles. Maybe you don't believe you could ride that far without the electricals. On a "golden ride", where you're having a good time, you won't feel that 50km until you get home.

If you find you've gone 25km with your friends, you're going to be riding 10km without electric assistance. The last 10km, when you're on your "last legs." Your friends conventional bikes are probably also tired, but their bikes are no harder to pedal than when they set out. Yours now feels like it weighs twice as much as it did at the start and you have not much left in your legs - remember, you still have to pedal an electric bicycle to get the 40km range and that last 10 will be harder work than your friends have put in for the whole trip.

Now, what if you go to a specialty bike shop and buy a $1000 hybrid bicycle rather than the K-Mart conventional or your electric bike? The bike will be fitted to you, it will be the right size to get the most speed and range out of your legs. It will have better componentry, especially brakes and gears. It will be lighter than the K-Mart bicycle and way, way lighter than the electric bicycle, especially the wheels, the most important area to save weight. Best of all, keep it maintained, it will last you maybe 12 to 15 years and it will feel twice as fast as the K-Mart bike.

Trust me, I've had a lot of cycling experience, and I have an electrical engineering background. I've looked into electric bikes because I love gadgets, but none of them match up to the simple pleasure of the human-powered machine. Spend your money wisely, buy a quality bicycle from your local retailer, it will serve you better than any gimmicky battery-powered thing.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Out and about when attacked by a lout?

While I'm writing this on the train home from work (it's a miserable, rotten night), it's relevant becaus of a recent discussion on Melbourne Cyclist the last few days.

What should a rider do if hassled, bothered or otherwise threatened by a motorist? Obviously avoid any sort of collision first, but get there rego number asap!

Of course you do, but do you shout it to potential witnesses? Do you holler what the feral motorist has done or threatened?

Doing this then asking for a witness to corroborate your report to police makes for more likely success in getting police to prosecute. Keeping up with Luther riders makes for potential favourable witnesses, too.

"Help! Help! I'm being repressed! Look a' the violence inherent in the system!" Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

- Posted by "Crunchy" Steve from BlogPress for iPhone

Location:Gilmour Rd,Bentleigh,Australia

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Corcumcyclogation Is Reborn

Originally Circumcyclogation was going to be a blog for two Tassy cycling buddies to report on planning and adventure on a cycle trip around Tasmania. Life got in the way and the trip never happened but the cobweb blog remains.

Now one of the pair lives in Melbourne and is car-free and riding his way around the "Paris of the southern hemisphere." The key phrase, "riding around," hence Circumcyclogation. Instead of circumcyclogating Tasmania, I'm just generally circumcyclogating.

- Posted by "Crunchy" Steve from BlogPress for iPhone