老马识途

bike tethered

I have been on a bit of a health kick lately.

Last November, I gave up smoking (again).  I still yearn for a drag on a fag now and again, but have mostly kept this under control.  Until D gave up in January, I snuck the odd surreptitious cigarette, and there was the moment where he was cleaning out his room and found half a packet squirreled away, but over all I have been fairly “compliant.”  The ties are not physical by now, just psychological.  For example, the other night, after a tasty pasta whipped up by yours truly, D said that he felt like a ciggie, and, yes, at least in theory, it would have been nice.

In the past few weeks I have taken up cycling to work again.  I used to do this for many years.  Unfortunately, after I returned to Sydney in 2002 after 2 years living elsewhere (by which time I had a car and foolishly drove around in it when I found my present rented house), I lost the habit.  It didn’t help that the office I was in lacked a shower and that changing was awkward.  But to tell the truth the real problem was that the trip was that little bit longer than I was accustomed to.

So gradually, cycling became intermittent and then (Browning) all cycling stopped together.

My return has been aided by a fine spell.  But it has revealed that I have neglected the maintenance of my bike: the free wheel mechanism is sticking; the front brakes’ spring is broken; the brake pads need replacing; the chain is worn; the chain rings are worn to match it and will need replacing together; to fix the free wheel may or may not entail replacing the entire rear wheel.  Various bike shops have assembled elaborate quotes which tend to show that $250 or $300 of work will be needed.  And even that would not be fixing all the little things which irritate me (eg, the seat post requires lubrication almost every second day).  A new bike can be bought for $400 – $500 which would be comparable to my bike, if not even better in some respects (aside from the question that all its parts will of course be new).  Naturally, they all want to sell me a new bike, though not necessarily so cheaply as that.

Of course, I have been in this position with cars: I sent to the wreckers 2 cars (and sold as not worth keeping a third) in my time.  But I am shocked that it has come to this.   I still think of this bike (which I have had since 1999) as my new bike.   This bike is the first to reach this stage – mainly because all the others were stolen, but in part because I have not maintained this bike at all well.  If I had cleaned the chain, for example, the chain and chain sets would not have worn as they have.   And a lot of it is to do with parts which must be replaced as a set because they can’t be repaired separately – our disposable way of living.

The above picture shows my trusty (if knackers-bound) steed tethered outside my place of work.  The pannier (which I obviously do not leave on the bike) travelled with my younger sister round the world on her bike in the 1980s.  Though used on a rear rack, it is really a front pannier.  It is the last of four, all the others having been stolen or lost at one time or the other. I bought the little blue pneumatic horn (on the right hand side of the handlebars) for 1 RMB (1 Chinese”dollar”) at a 1 RMB shop just south of Qianmen in Beijing in 1998. Note also the lone vestigial public phone in the JCDecaux booth.

I’ve started looking at a few bikes, but I can’t make up my mind.   Indecision, says D, is my fatal flaw.  I am deterred from spending too much by the risk of theft; but at the same time if you ride a bike much at all you do want to feel happy with it.  There is a fairly intimate relationship going on.  In the meantime, I had the front bakes fixed and the gears adjusted, so this one will manage for a little while yet, or until it starts raining again.

In the meantime, here is one of my favourite spots on the ride into work (1), and two (2) (3) of my least favourite.

1.Albany Road, Stanmore

Albany Road

2. Pyrmont Bridge Road, just past Fish Markets

Near Fish Markets

3. Foot of King Street

King St

As you may have guessed, it is mostly to do with the gradient, but also to do with traffic.   (1) is the high point of of my ride, almost literally (the absolute high point is probably the intersection next to the Petersham water tower). It is the beginning of a long downhill on a quiet and attractive street.  For those with less local knowledge, it takes me from (roughly) Crystal St down to Bridge Road, which is the street which comes out on Parramatta Road next to the famous Mcdonald’s Stanmore (first McDonald’s on the road west out of Sydney).  There I turn right into Parramatta Road for a moment before continuing down Bridge Rd/Pyrmont Bridge Road through Forest Lodge and Glebe.

(2) and (3) are the low points, coupled in each case with traffic lights which force one to start a climb from a stop.  In each case, you also have to contend with traffic which keeps squeezing you off the road. Apparently there is a plan to instal “Parisian style” bike lanes on King St at (3) which will use up one vehicle land on the left hand side of this picture up as far as Clarence St, and I am really looking forward to that, though disappointed it’s not planned to take it further.

Ironically, in these pictures, the grades up both look far less than the grade down in (1).  That’s mainly because I used the zoom for (1), but it is also the inevitable psychology.  (3) is a short steep pinch, but (2) is quite mild.

In about 1979, my friend Si and I, riding our bikes somewhere in the city on the way home after church, were given (to be precise, sold for about 20c) a poem by a hippyish street poet which (to my best recollection) began:

Gee it’s tough to ride a bike
Up East Crescent Street.

(I’m worried about the “Gee” – that could be my own addition for a more vulgar rhythm.)

You can google the street or take my word for it that it is in Lavender Bay/McMahon’s Point or, more approximately, North Sydney.  Desite his appearance, our poet had obviously strayed north of the Harbour Bridge from time to time, though that was less of a social dividing line than it has become.  But he was definitely onto a universal truth about that gradient thing.

In Chinese, a bicycle is called a 自行车 – literally, a “self-powered vehicle.” 

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