Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Calming tunes

(Big Jim)

Sometimes I don't know how I got here, why I'm here, what I'm supposed to be doing here, who I'm supposed to be doing it with, what the hell everyone else thinks I'm supposed to be or why I even care... (what the think I mean)!
Actually it's not sometimes... it's most of the time. My wife laughs with me when I confess these things and she gets that it's got nothing to do with herself or anything like that...
How have I managed to be at this for so long without the slightest idea of what it even is?
Sometimes it's just like that Talking Heads song "Once in a lifetime" and just the '...Same as it ever was'. So why should I be worried? Actually I'm not! and now is not one of those times. I am feeling totally comfortable and contented in this life that's wrapped itself around me. Whatever it is!

Leo Tolstoy packed up his kit and walked away from what most of us would expect to call 'his life' at the age of 82... apparently he died a few days later. He must have woken up a few times in that life and wondered '...How did I get here?' Why not? (I still haven't read the great book by the way)

Anyway I know these feelings very well but I'm not there right now. I've just been listening to one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs and it's kind of all about that, or maybe it's in reverse or something which is exactly what that feelings like anyway.
So how did I get here? Well it could be this is all just a world of my own making... "How did I get here?" Maybe back there somewhere I wished my way here.

(Apologies to The Boss)
It's not so bad you know... And this song was always one of my personal favorites... Actually I've never shared that.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

He who hesitates is LOST!

Ezee Cadence (Image courtesy of Ezee_Bike)

I know it's a cliche line and there have, and will be, innumerable times in my life when more will have been lost due to my hesitation to act, and would probably make far more worthy content for a blog post but this one is still stinging so I'm gonna use it up while I'm still so darn annoyed with myself!

Yesterday I ventured out to my favorite store, (The local recycle and Dump Shop) where I often find some great bargains, (Most of the bikes I own came from there).

I hadn't been for a while so I was kind of hopeful there'd be some treasure...
Well there certainly was some treasure! The first thing that caught my eye as I entered were some very wide alloy handle bars, cruiser style! Just what I need for my Xtracycle... Of course the bars were attached to a bike, but not just any bike... It was an electric bike... But not just any electric bike... It was an Ezee Cadence.... (Click here for images)

See the Ezee Web Page

Until now I had been fairly committed to cycling without any motorized assistance but I've often wondered if an electric assist bike would enable me to reduce my car miles even further... It's pretty hot where I live and cycling always means that I turn up to places hot and sweaty! I am also having to cart two kids and their various paraphernalia along.... So 'why look a gift horse in the mouth?' An electric assist bike could be just what I need.

Of course I had no idea what an 'Ezee Cadence' was until I eventually looked it up on the internet at the end of the day, having already returned to the Tip Shop three times to admire the bike! It turned out that this is a high level electric bike with the best of bicycle components! Not just some battery operated imitation of a bicycle. The rear hub has an internal 7 speed gearbox and internal brakes! The front wheel contains a ' 250W Brushless DC hub motor with planetary gears'! This bike had so much gear on it I that I could use it wouldn't matter if the battery and electric motor were stuffed I would still have a bunch of really useful stuff that would be ideal for building my Xtracycle into a really nice ride! To quote the Police mechanic from Mad Max "... She's The Ducks Nuts!"

On the second visit I asked how much and not yet having any knowledge of the value of the bike I was dismayed to find that they wanted $200! I never have that much money lying around and I've just returned from a very expensive trip away, but I really wanted that bike! At the time I didn't realize what a bargain this was and could only feel bad about wanting to spend so much money when we are struggling to pay our bills! I spent the whole rest of the day deliberating about getting some money from somewhere (Our rainy day savings...The car Rego money actually)

It usually takes me a very long time to decide to buy something. I have waited years before purchasing something new (Like the bike I purchased two years ago, which never lived up to my expectations) and I normally don't have any trouble waiting for the desire to pass rather than spend money that I technically don't really have. In the long run I rarely feel as though I've missed out on anything at all. To be honest once the hype has subsided, most of the time the product I want fails to meet my expectation or even satisfy the original, desire so I'm generally pretty happy going without. Since I'm willing to wait a while the consumer society usually takes care of supply. I remember when animal liberation made fur coats very un-popular. The Opp Shops were struggling to sell them for years! If a fur coat was something you really wanted you could have had a choice from half a dozen or so at about $20 each. Of course people weren't buying them because it had become very unpopular to be seen wearing endangered species. Fur had gone out of fashion.
I remember when our family made the big decision to buy a VCR player/recorder. We had to pay $300 for a years membership at the video library and then pay for the videos on top of that! And there was only a selection of about 15 or so films to choose from! I can't remember how many times we watched Cabaret! Now people can't give them away!
It happens with just about everything! Because I'm willing to wait, things usually turn up eventually and I always seem to have what I need. However, when that special thing I've been waiting for appears I must be prepared to act. Seize the opportunity and act decisively!

Being naturally hesitant to spend money (OK I'm pretty tight!) my frugality occasionally causes me to miss out on the deal of a lifetime... Sadly I believe this was such an occasion!

Last night, after reading up on the Ezee bikes and being very impressed with what I discovered about the Cadence model I had resolved that this was a great deal! First thing in the morning I would go and I would purchase this bike... My head filled with all the potential it had for improving my mobility... and introducing me into the world of electronic transportation and power generation. (It occurred to me that I should find ways of charging the battery using solar or wind... That would be cool!) I had switched, as usual, from hesitant and guarded to completely obsessed in just a few ambivalent hours! This is very familiar territory for me.

This morning just after the Tip Shop had opened I was there! Cash in hand, ready and totally committed to buying the bike of my very recent dreams.

Just as I could have predicted and every other occasion where I had failed to act decisively had proven to me. The Bike was gone! It was SOLD in the half hour between closing time and when I'd been there the night before!

Carpe Dium!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A wedding and a Melbourne bicycle explosion!!

Wow... The fixie culture I'd previously only read about on the Internet is well and truly alive in Melbourne!

Yesterday I played chauffeur at my Sisters wedding, I haven't driven in the City for several years and had no idea where I was going! Actually I don't get to see my family much so getting lost on the way to dropping the newly weds off at their Hotel was an unexpected opportunity to catch up... (Sorry guys!)
The wedding took place at about 4:30pm in a park down in Fitzroy. The park was absolutely pumped full of people having a good time, throwing Frisbees, having picnics, walking their dogs riding bikes and Showing off their latest fashion accessories including odd piercings, tattoos and really cool BIKES! (I wanted to take photos of all the action and the hardware but I was otherwise engaged)It was a great day and we are all very happy to have a new member of the family! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for including us in your plans! (Anyway that's their story so I'll stick to the bikes)

(Wedding in the Park)

There were fixies all over the place! They were all flash looking new bikes but all different. Every one that I saw close up had those two way hubs... (Plenty of people know all about these things but it's all new to me.. One way is a fixed wheel but if you flip the wheel over it is a single speed freewheel. How cool!) While in the inner suburbs of Melbourne I noticed heaps of young guys and girls riding fixies which was a bit of a worry. Having never come across them before I didn't know what to expect but after just an hour of watching them riding around I realized just how damaging the apparently mandatory bad attitude could prove to be for cyclists. A lot of the people I saw riding them had endangered themselves or other cyclists and pedestrians by riding into oncoming traffic (bicycle, motorized and pedestrian), through a bunch of other cyclists, or generally disregarding basic courtesies that are supposed to ensure the safety of road users... What a shame the fastest growing subculture among the cycling world of inner Melbourne has the potential to trash any good will that may have been developing there. (Of course I don't know that it is but have a hunch it could)
I wonder will this new fixie culture last or will the dangerous nature of the bikes and the lifestyle take it's toll?
I have to admit a couple of years ago I did want one but now they're so cool I doubt I'd pass the audition...

An old single at the zoo...
(Old fixie from long, long ago)

There were also heaps of 1960s - 80s ladies style bikes, which I am really into at the moment...!
Hey they're comfortable to ride, have great handle bar positioning and are really good for carrying children with because you can easily throw your leg over the centre bar. Oh Yeh and I saw a Christiania bike and one of those really long ones with the barrow at the front... I can't remember what theyre called right now.

Now I have to admit 20 years ago I would have really gone for the exhilleration and high paced action of a fixie... I would have been darting in and out of traffic just like the rest of them but as I get older I'm tending toward the slower laid back style of an old ladies bike... Or the upright sitting possition of the European cargo bikes that are getting around now. Basically I'm beyond caring about looking tough or cool or fast, I just want something that feels good! Damn there's a lot of feel good stuff around the inner suburbs of Melbourne right now!

Friday, April 16, 2010

On the road... (yes again)

There's a thousand stories I'd love to write and so many tales I'd tell if I had a moment or two to spare!

(I certainly do not have two moments... not even one. but I'm sneeking this post in between moments.... I’ve got to leave something here on this blog even if it’s jumbled and messy.)

The first great thing I’d talk about if I had time would be that I’ve finally made it back to New Zealand for the first time since I visited there and vowed to stay about 13 years ago. It was always my intention to move back there to but of course life has a way of delivering fate in unexpected ways.As it turned out for me I have spent all those years living in the Northern Territory of Australia.

13 years later I finally managed to return but this time with a wife and kids… I was really hoping that everyone would like it there as much as me. They did! For some reason I feel a very strong pull toward NZ as a potential home. There are plenty of reasons why it appeals to me, here are just a few:

Fresh air, Fresh fish, Fresh fruit and vegetables, Fresh water, Less people, Nuclear Free!, Treaty of Waitangi, Great bush walking, Sea Kayaking, Reasonable rainfall, It’s cooler than Darwin, good soil for growing food, Cycling… / Marked Bicycle Lanes on roads…

(Wood Carving @ Ship's Cove)

(Sheep... Of course)

We only had a week there and spent it touring around the Top of the South Island. First stop was Hanmer Where we spent a whole afternoon just lounging about in the hot pools. Next we wound our way up to Kaikura, where the views of the mountains are spectacular, the coastline craggy and we saw our first seals for the trip. The road north of Kaikura was narrow but smooth and criss crossed the railway line between steep hills and the rugged east coast. There were small caravans selling fresh crayfish all the way along. There was very little native vegetation until Picton (my wife’s favorite spot). From Picton we took the Mail boat out on a tour of the Marlborough Sound… This was a most awesome tour! Both Captain/Guides were really great giving us a very informative commentary and revealing their love for this very special place. On the cruise we visited an Island full of rare native birds… (quite unafraid of humans), saw penguins, Bottle-nosed dolphins and Blue Cod.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Little Blue Penguins
(Little Blue Penguins)

I finally made it back to Nelson a place that I fell in love when I first visited. It had changed a fair bit in 13 years but I still found it quite special, actually having a little more time to look around I found it even better than I remember it. They have bike lanes all over the place, the beach is really nice, the children’s playground was just like the ones we had when I was a kid and there was a real sense of easy living.

Bike lane Nelson NZ
(Bike lanes in Nelson)
From there we headed out to Greymouth and stopped at heaps of great spots along the way. Finally returning to Christchurch in time to catch the tourist trams around the town, visit the Arts Centre and Museum before riding the Gondola to the top of the hills behind the city!

For one day between landing in Melbourne and heading out to NZ we stayed with family and I visited some of those old places from my past I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been absorbed with thoughts about my youth (again) and wondering about places, things, people and everything else that occupies the space where and when I spent my youth. I wandered around my parents garden and was impressed with the water tanks they’d installed and the amazing amount of fruit their citrus trees were producing in a tiny sliver of soil only a foot and a half wide between a paved path at the side of their house and their neighbors fence.

(Citrus Trees at my folks place)

water tank
(Wize water use)

I took a ride down to Wastonia and visited an old apple tree that is still surviving quite nicely between the main road and the railway line. I noticed that a really old Pampas Grass that had some how taken root in the steel fence of a railway bridge had managed to survive at least 20 years of rough treatment and I wandered down Wattle Drive which is an old street that has never been paved in all the time that the suburbs of Watsonia and McLeod have been developed. As I rode along the old streets I spied out all the old fruit trees that had been planted 40 years ago and were still holding on quite nicely. There were pears, apples and plum trees in many of the yards. A particularly old part of the Neighborhood had several fig trees, which must have been popular when the suburb was first established and the trees have endured along with their now elderly gardeners.

Apple Tree (Residual resillient plant)
(Apple tree surviving against the odds)

Pampas Grass, against all odds
(Pampas Grass holding on)
The times are changing and gradually the old people are moving on or dying. I’ve been told that it is becoming a real-estate hotspot and younger people are starting to move in, properties are being subdivided and one by one the old fruit trees are being removed. It’s a little bit sad really but who knows maybe in another 20 years I’ll be able to go back and find one or two of those old fig trees standing in a forgotten corner.