Category Archives: Obstacles to Human Powered Transport

User Review: Bike Route Planning – Google Maps & Ride the City

One of the main challenges of using a bicycle for transport in a city with limited bicycle infrastructure is route planning. These are the tools which are meant to help. Being a low-density city Perth has the advantage of having a good network of quiet backstreets. The problem with backstreets are that you have to zigzag often to go where you need to while cars get to drive straight to their destinations. If you are making a transition from driving to cycling, it may take a bit of getting used to, as you might take driving down Whatever Highway for granted.

I will have to admit, I was a little bit excited when I saw that Google has activated their bicycle direction function. It is still in beta mode though, so I expected some hiccups. I also discovered ‘Ride the City’ from someone who commented on my ‘About’ page on this blog, and I’ve used it a couple of times, with mixed results.

So for the purposes of this review I decided to issue a challenge to both websites – to get me from my neighbourhood, Bayswater, to a bar in Leederville to meet my friends for an after work dinner and drink (Kitsch Bar, which is on Oxford Street).

The challenge is that the area is filled with some fairly major roads that I didn’t want to use, as it was a wet evening and as I was heading out there would have still been a bit of traffic heading home from work.

Google Maps

The first thing I did was enter the from and to addresses and hope for a miracle when I pressed the little bike button.

This was Google’s suggestion.

Google as usual offered 3 alternative options. The best, and closest to the route I used was the third and most direction option, which Google had measured at 8.3 kilometres, and estimated it would take 35 minutes which was remarkably accurate.

I took some different streets around Walcott Street to avoid riding down it for any length but really the google route was very close to what I actually did.

Ride the City

I had problems with Ride the City this afternoon. It has a handy ‘print’ option but it kept hanging and wouldn’t print. It was also stalling when I wanted to zoom in. To be fair this could be because I have an outdated browser at work, but Google worked, so it wins in the reliability stakes.

Ride the City offers ‘Safe’, ‘Safer’ and ‘Direct Route’ options.

The ‘Direct Route’ was pretty much identical to google’s route. The ‘Safe’ and ‘Safer’ routes were remarkably similar, and were 11.1 km instead of 8.3 km as they stuck to the principle shared path network and took you right in to the city and out of the city again to Leederville. I think the Safe/Safer options are far too conservative when the route that Google chose was really quite pleasant to ride along and very quiet. They might even put people off riding when they are a few kilometres longer.

What I did

Here is the route I actually took on Bikely.

Chelmsford Ave has crazy double parking almost the entire length of the street, I guess the houses there don’t have enough parking spaces. It makes it a little narrow for cars to squeeze through, effectively making a two way road into a one way road. This is OK on a bike because cars go slowly and it’s pretty easy to duck out of the way if there happens to be an oncoming car.

The crossings over the main roads are a bit of a problem though as there are no pedestrian refuges, I am not sure I would be able to get across if it was busy. Fortunately it was not as busy as I expected on the way out, and on the way back at 9:40pm on a weeknight there was barely any traffic!

Also, Oxford Street Leederville has great bike parking, there are U-rails bolted into the sidewalks everywhere, so I got to park directly outside of Kitsch. Big props to Leedy!


Both Google Maps and Ride the City – Perth are really useful tools for plotting routes. I probably wouldn’t bother with the ‘safe’ options on Ride the City though.

Ride the City seems less reliable than Google, but that is to be expected, but I think I will always visit RtC first just to support the new guy.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Once you start riding you will never be ‘normal’ again…

Ah Facebook! A couple of weeks ago I saw that a friend-of-a-friend had posted “yay, I got a new job, bye bye stinky public transport, hello 3 minute drive to work”

I don’t know this person, and their security settings only allowed me to read their post but not reply, but I was thinking “WHAT THE? WHY BOTHER DRIVING 3 MINUTES!!!!”

There was a time in my life where I did drive 10 minutes to work. I would not even give it a second thought now. Say if you drive 3 minutes, and the average speed you are travelling at is 40 km per hour (which is pretty standard for urban/suburban areas when you take into account roundabouts, stop signs, traffic lights etc), then in 3 minutes you are going about 2 kilometres. That might be a bit far to walk, but you would barely notice it on a bike. Say you are a newbie, or have a cruiser bike and are riding very slowly at 15 km per hour, then it would only take you 8 minutes, and you aren’t going to need a shower, so it doesn’t matter if the employer doesn’t provide lockers/showers. No need to spend much on the bike either, so you don’t have to worry much about secure parking for it.

The bad news is the commute, only being 16 minutes a day isn’t going to quite get you up to the 30 minutes a day of exercise that is the BARE MINIMUM everyone should be doing. You will need to go for a walk at lunch time.

But seriously, why not ride?


Tags: , ,

Stolen Bike Stories

These are cautionary tales. Bikes are highly transportable and can be quite profitable to steal for that shady character who wants to buy a few cartons of beer, or whatever other substance they are addicted to.

We shall start with my story.


Kermit – my first vintage bike

My (now retired) boss gave me this bike. He had stripped it, had it powdercoated, and put it all back together. I foolishly was keeping it in our car port unsecured. One Saturday night I got home at about 3am, noted the bike was there as I made my way to bed. When I next went outside at 7am it was gone. It was never to be seen again. Easy come, easy go, I guess.

Now for some friend’s stories. The first one involves a Schwinn Le Tour Legacy and an old Giant ATX. They were stolen from a car port one night. They were locked to each other, I think, and someone would have had to pick them up and carry them away.


The beloved Mr. Le Tour

Both bikes had been gone for months when, by chance, I got a lead. I had been googling at work, looking for a road bike that had rack mounts. The Schwinn Le Tour series of bikes have rack mounts, so I started looking for second hand ones. By chance I stumbled across a Schwinn Le Tour Legacy listed for sale at a Cash Converters store.

I sent the link to my friend and he went to check it out. It was his bike. It had quite a few distinguishing features; upgraded brake pads, better tyres, certain scratches, stickers that had been removed. He knew it was his.

I celebrated too soon though. He called the cops, and the cops interviewed the guy who sold the bike to Cashies. The guy admitted to buying the bike from a guy at a market stall for a suspiciously low price (I think it was $200). The problem was that even though the bike had many distinguishing features, my friend didn’t have the serial number of the frame. The cops wouldn’t seize it because they were not convinced that he could prove ownership to a Magistrate.

He couldn’t bare to see his bike languishing in a hock shop, so he bought it back from them for a fairly low price. It was just so crap that he had to buy his own bike back!


A well loved Giant ATX

The ATX has not been recovered. I figure it is sitting in someone’s shed somewhere. We will keep looking though, it was quite distinctive because of the way the paint had faded to an awesome burnt orange.

The lesson here is always record your serial numbers, and always report your stolen bikes to the Police. Even if the Police seem uninterested, if you find your bike later (even months later) the Police will investigate. Just make sure you have that magic number written down somewhere.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Opinion: eight reasons not to buy a cheap Huffy bike

OK, so don’t buy a cheap bike. Why not? Every day it is the same, I am riding home in peak hour and there is a long stream of people overtaking one very slow cyclist. As it’s my turn to overtake, I can see why this person is having so much trouble propelling themselves along a perfectly flat path. They are riding a horrible bicycle. Usually I see this person once or twice, and then they vanish, never to be seen on the bike path again.

1. It’s HEAVY

The worst type of Big W or K-mart bike is the type with suspension, but the others aren’t much better. I didn’t realise how much heavier these bikes are until my dad showed me one that he had gotten from the tip shop. I tried to lift it and I almost couldn’t! His was a dual suspension Huffy model. Then I was given a couple of old Cyclops bikes that were in someone’s backyard for parts. I usually salvage them for brake levers, and that’s about it. They are all heavy.

Now imagine that you have to push this heavy bike along with the power of your legs alone. The dual suspension Huffy my dad had in his backyard was close to 25 kilos. An entry level Giant bike from a bike shop might weigh 15 kgs, or even a little less these days. That 10 kilograms makes a huge difference, especially if you hit anything that looks like a hill.

2. You have to put it together yourself

The Big W bike comes in a box and is usually partially assembled. The problem is that you need to put it together. Even if you have experience assembling bikes it can be a frustrating experience. If you don’t know what you are doing then you could assemble yourself quite a dangerous contraption. For example, when I was staying with friends in Byron Bay I noticed that there was a Huffy bike sitting at the back of their house, leaning against the wall. The fork was on backwards. I asked who the bike outside belonged to, and they said their housemate, who wasn’t around at the time. I asked them if it rode OK. They said that he didn’t ride it much and said it felt like it was going to fall apart. Hm. I wonder why.

3. It’s got the worst tyres on it imaginable

When you first start out riding, you may just think that the road is bumpy. I’ve got news for you, it’s not the road that is causing those uncomfortable vibrations – it is the cheap, heavy, knobbly tyres on the bike. Not only do they slow you down due to their weight and rolling resistance, but they will also still pick up glass and you will still get punctures. If that is not a lose-lose situation, I don’t know what is.

4. You’ve ridden it twice and it’s already falling apart

For a bike to be that cheap, it has to have cheap components. It may say ‘Shimano’ but that could relate to only one part of the gears. There are a lot of horrible cheap gear components out there that Shimano wouldn’t even spit on. Those will be on your bike from Big W or K-mart.

The cogs on the back and the chain are made of such low-grade steel that they just have to see moisture a kilometre away and they will start to rust. A rusty chain will cease up, and you won’t be able to change gears well. It will make a lot of noise. People will look at you funny as they ride past you.

5. There’s no post sales support

If your cheap bike breaks, then you will be lucky if you can get a refund from Big W/K-mart. At least if you buy something from a bike shop they will fix any problems that come up when you start using the bike.

6. No bike shops will work on it

You realise that there are problems with your new $100 Huffy the second time you ride it. The problem is you aren’t sure about how to fix it (and K-mart/Big W certainly aren’t going to fix it for you). You take it to your local bike shop for some help, and they prod it a little and say “well I could try, but it really isn’t worth working on, it will cost more than you paid for it in the first place.”

You better get handy with youtube and some tools.

7. The whole ownership experience is horrible and you decide riding is not for you, or that you hate bikes!

Please, please don’t let this happen. Cycling is an awesome, cheap way to get around and you can get your exercise at the same time. If you mistakenly purchased a Huffy/Cyclops/Repco/Kent bike and you are not enjoying cycling, think for a minute – is it just the bike that is making this experience such a bad one? Go and test ride some nicer bikes at a bike shop.

8. In order to get some money back on your mistake you try to sell your $100 bike on gumtree or craigslist and end up accruing a lot of bad karma

Please, don’t do this either. Don’t inflict it on anyone else, it was bad enough when it was new, imagine how unridable it will be when it’s been left unused in the shed for a year or two.

Also, please don’t try to list it for it’s original purchase price because its ‘never been ridden’ – it was never ridden because it was a crap bike, just face up to it and move on.

A cheap department store bike might be useful in certain situations but there are a lot of qualifications:

IF you ALREADY HAVE A GOOD BIKE, IF you have an interest in doing your own maintenance, IF you are only riding a short distance, IF the bike is cheap, IF it is not too heavy for you to handle, IF it has no suspension, and IF you only intend on riding it to some high-risk location where it might be stolen, then yes it may be acceptable to buy a cheap bike from Big W/K-mart.

Though your purposes may be better suited by getting a second hand ‘good’ bike, at the right price.


Tags: , , , , ,

Human Powered Transport: Sydney Northern Beaches School Bans Scooters, Skateboards

If you live near a school, you have probably noticed that very few Australian kids ride bicycles. Many of them are ferried by their parents in their cars, causing frustrating traffic jams. There are still some children who ride skateboards, scooters and even some who walk, but they seem to be an endangered species.

There are a lot of factors involved in this, sure, but a big one is ‘safety’. Riding a bicycle to school is now considered by many parents as ‘unsafe’ because of all the traffic (ironic, much?)

Scooters and skateboards still seem to be popular amongst kids though. A school in Sydney is now attempting to snuff this out as well. 

NORTHERN Beaches Secondary College Cromer Campus has come under fire from parents after it banned students from riding skateboards and scooters to school.

Last week parents were sent a text message announcing that “Due to a number of serious incidents, including a collision with a car, students will no longer be allowed to ride skateboards or scooters to school.”

The ban is also included on the school’s website under its code of conduct.

The response is somewhat mixed – the Manly Daily article states that parents are outraged, but Channel 10 reported on the story this evening, and some of the parents, interviewed vox-pop style while sitting in their SUVs, inarticulately stated their support for the ban. There was a lot of ‘well they should stay off the roads and out of the way of cars.’ It’s hardly fair since these kids are just trying to get to school.

When we talk about cyclist safety on the roads, comments about ‘lycra loonies’ abound. What about the kids, though? When I was in the Netherlands I often had instinctive reactions to sweep children and pet dogs off the street. There was no need for it, if cars were allowed, they were only travelling at 30kph – plenty of time to stop.

As long as we steadfastly stick to the ‘cars always have right of way, and should be impeded as little as possible’ philosophy of road planning, it will come down to a trade-off between the risks of getting hit by a car and the risks of physical inactivity and obesity in our kids.

In fact, according to David Hembrow, cycling was resurrected in the Netherlands in part because people were concerned about children being injured and killed by cars. In 1973 a group called Stop de Kindermoord was formed and started lobbying for changes to traffic and road planning. You can read David’s version of history here.

Also thanks to David Hembrow – this is how Dutch children get to school. Watch the video – it shows massive mobs of kids riding to school on separated bicycle infrastructure. If we had this in Australian cities it would go a long way to helping them get their daily exercise, and helping their parents save a lot of cash on running multiple cars.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,