Saturday, January 09, 2010

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

If you happen to have stumbled here, you've probably noticed this blog has become rather stale. For whatever reasons, I've stopped blogging even though I'm still obsessed with cycling and more generally thinking about the role of cycling in urban life. Today, however, I don't feel any need to add to the many voices that are already blogging on these topics. In the last year, I've had a lot of big changes in my life. I decided to quit my Phd studies, I've started working full-time in the area of sustainable transport, and I've become a father to baby Eddy. It seems quite funny to look back and think that this blog started four years ago with a canadian flatmate and broken bicycle. Since then, bicycling has become such a big part of my life that I sometimes get introduced as 'that bike guy'. Bike culture (for want of a better term) in Sydney has only got bigger and better in the last few years. Its been an absolute thrill to be involved with the many communities of people who are passionate about cycling.

Happy cycling,


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lost irony

I was recently given a TV (just in time for the Giro and the Tour!). Nevertheless I have been seeing a lot more advertising. One ad that took my attention was BMW's uber-modernist commercial “The art of driving” in which a Z4 Roadster does circle work with painted tyres in a Mondrianian aesthetic. In the commercial we hear the following lyrics:
“Do you believe in love at first sight?
Do you believe in fate?
I believe the good things
Only come to those who wait”
Just another car ad right? Wrong... what was completely lost on me and perhaps many others was the ironic use of this song. Originally written by the UK’s Black Box Recorder, “The art of driving” presents a much more sombre assessment of automobility as the lyrics contain a dialogue between a pushy man and women who cautions him for driving like such a jerk (cue more circle work in the Z4).

"I wish you'd learn to slow down
You might get there at the end
Don't think the accelerating pedal
Is the man's best friend
You don't have to break the speed limit
You don't have to break your neck
Another dead boy-racer
Cut out from the wreak

You've been driving way too fast
You've been pushing way too hard
You've been taking things too far
Who do you think you are?”

Monday, March 30, 2009

David Jones gets onboard

Its not just Woollahra. Check out whats hot in David Jones latest winter fashions. Photo taken from DJ's on Market Street, Sydney.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Children's mobility

I've recently read Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg's (1990) One False Move... A study of children's independent mobility. If I could sum up the book, these two quotations would do it:
Our analysis suggests that the increase in the personal freedom and choice arising from widing car ownership has been gained at the cost of a loss of freedom and choice for children. In our English survey's in 1971, we found that 80 per cent of 7 and 8 year old children where allowed to go to school on their own. By 1990, this figure had dropped to 9 per cent... Our survey suggests that it is principally the increase in motorised traffic that has been responsible for the decrese in children's independence.
Transport policies in all motorised countries have been transforming the world for the benefit of motorists, but at the cost of children's freedom and independence to get about safely on their own - on foot and by the bicycle that most of them own. This change has gone largely unnoticed, unremarked, and unresisted.
Another of Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg's claims is that campaigns to promote traffic safety for children have placed an unfair burden on children and parents to 'wear' the dangers of motorised traffic rather than address the dominance of motorised traffic as the source of danger i.e. by reducing traffic or slowing it down. Traffic was not really a problem in my own childhood. I was lucky to grow up on a street that had very little traffic in a sleepy town in the Blue Mountains. As kids, we felt like the road was ours and it was a place in which we rode our bikes, played cricket, tennis, and soccer late into the afternoon only occasionally having to stop to let cars pass.

By chance, last week I was able to take my nephew Josh our for his first bike ride on his 3rd birthday. A thunderstorm came through so we had to do the ride in the basement of my sisters apartment. I picked up a 12inch Huffy that have been left at the Sydney Community Bike Co-op and attempted to make my own version of a FirstBike by removing the pedals and chainring. The idea behind the first bike is to encourage children to learn to steer and balance before they learn to pedal. Sadly the bike was slightly too large for Josh and he could only just touch the ground when sitting on it. I reckon in a month or two he'll have gained a couple of cms and be ready to roll. At 3 years old, there is plenty of time to learn.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Just came across this not so new blog: Bicyclism. Its a great read.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

On dromocracy

(MacNamara Ave, Concord)
If you stand in a room with 10 bicycle advocates and ask them what are their three greatest demands, chances are: infrastructure, driver education, and lower speed limits will probably rate highly. The final demand for lower speed limits is often stated but also resisted as 'pie in the sky' thinking amongst policy makers. Culturally, we hold onto a belief in 'the inalienable right to speed’ not matter what the consequences may be in terms of deaths on the road, the environment, transport ineffectiveness, and the impoverishment of urban street space. There are resistances to speed in places such as ‘school zones’, but by and large these are exceptions to the rule that speed dominates. The French philosopher and urbanist, Paul Virilio, coined a term “dromocracy” which describes this relationship between power and speed. ‘Dromos’ come from the Greek word for race (hence we have velodromes). ‘Dromocracy’ therefore is the power to rule by speed. According to Virilio:
Every society is founded on a relation of speed. Every society is dromocratic. If you take Athenian society, you’ll notice that at the top there’s the hierarch, in other words the one who can charter a trireme. Then there’s the horseman—the one who can charter a horse, to use naval language. After that, there’s the hoplite, who can get ready for war, “arm himself”—in the odd sense that the word armament has both a naval and a martial connotation—with his spears and his shield as a vector of combat. And finally, there’s the free man and the slave who only have the possibilities of hiring themselves out or being enlisted as energy in the war-machine—the rowers. In this system (which also existed in Rome with the cavalry), he who has the speed has the power. (Virilio and Lotringer, Pure War. Translated by M. Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext(e). 1997, pp. 49-50) (qtd at Theosblog)
Jason Adams also writes in his MA thesis on Virilio:
Speed has never been distributed evenly, but has always functioned in the form of a hierarchy, such that the more powerful sectors of society are those that move at faster speeds, while the less powerful sectors are those that move at slower speeds, an observable phenomena from the Concorde Jet of the elite to the Greyhound Bus of the poor… Virilio contends that, as is also the case with wealth, the essence of speed is power; as he elaborates, "power and speed are inseparable ...”.
I think Virilio’s concept of ‘dromocracy’ is really helpful in thinking about the ways in which speed is directly related to social divisions and power relations, however this phenomena is rarely acknowledged in transport policy speak. It is a particular pressing issue for those advocating for more bicycle friendly cities in which cars slow down allowing for other forms of street life to take place. However, if ‘power and speed are inseparable’, there does seem to be a sort of fatalism in Virilio that no-one can put the brakes on. Then again, the relationship between speed and the bicycle is less than clear. The Slow Bicycle Movement celebrates a resistance against the desire to speed. In contrast, the concept of ‘effective speed’ indicates that bicycles are effectively much faster than most other modes of transport.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reading and riding

I love to read, I love to ride.

This week I’ve been reading Paul Fournel’s Need for the bike. Fournel is a member of the Oulipo collective of avant-guard French writers and he brings a literary panache to writing about cycling. Here is an extract from the novel:
“And then one morning I know longer heard the sound of someone running behind me, the sound of rhythmic breathing at my back. The miracle had taken place. I was riding. I never wanted to put my feet back down for fear that the miracle wouldn’t happen again. I was in seventh heaven.
I did a tour around the house, proving to myself that I could do four right turns (for a number of weeks I preferred turning right). I was no longer afraid of anything. I rocketed past the clump of nettles that usually scared me; I rode panic-free down the long lonely road behind the house and came out in front again, in triumph, but still unable to raise my hand in a victory salute.
I’ve never gotten over this miracle.
Learning to swim didn’t move me like this, and it was really only learning to read that equalled the intensity of learning to ride. Within a few months, then, I learned, in that order, riding and reading. At the age of five, that Christmas, I had arrived: I knew what my work would be, and my leisure”
In a similar vein, I’ve been listening to podcasts of the UK’s BikeShow on the best of cycling writing. The program discusses the development of a new magazine called The Ride Journal that works to publish such writing. Rather than getting fixated over cycling products, the journal aims to focus on the experiences of the rider. You can also hear about some haute √©crit velo in the magazine Rouleur. If only I could read the original in French.