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.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Cycling and the law

Via Rob on FB.

A good investigation into cyclist, motorist and police interactions by FOX (of all networks!). One of the most interesting aspects of the video is the disjuncture between law and norms in terms of traffic behaviour and policing. Irrespective of the traffic laws, many police (and the general public) work within a cultural view that cyclists are less entitled to road space or that cyclists ride at their own peril. It is this out-of-jointness between laws and attitudes that creates so much conflict for cyclists in countries such as Australia and the US. As Tom Vanderbilt explains:
In traffic, norms represent some kind of subtle dance with the law. Either the norms and laws move in time or one partner is out of step… Laws explain what we ought to do; norms explain what we actually do. In that gap dwells a key to understanding why traffic behaves the way it does in different places. (Traffic, 2008, p230)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Penny Farthing Championships, Evandale

Huw Morgan of the Dulwich Hill Bicycle Club has won his second National Penny Farthing Championship in Evandale last weekend. Read all about it here and checkout some photos here. Two days before the race, I learned to ride a penny farthing which much fear. I ended up racing in a few events on the weekend and was pleased to pick up a silver medal in the Penny Biathlon (2 x 400m running, 2 x 400m riding).

The championship weekend came at the conclusion of a wonderful two weeks of cycle touring from Sydney to Tasmania. I was only there for the final week cycling from Evandale to Hobart and back via the east coast. You can read all about it on Lindsay's diary at

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hodological Space

I just came across the concept of 'hodological space' in a reading group discussion. Searching for the term, I found a good definition here.

The term 'hodological space' is derived from the Greek word 'hodos' , path, way. In contrast to the mathematical concept of space as presented on maps, plans, etc. 'hodological space' is based on the factual topological, physical, social, and psychological conditions a person is faced with on the way from point A to point B, whether in an open landscape or within urban or architectural conditions.

The concept of 'hodological space' was invented by the German social psychologist Kurt Lewin. According to Latane and Lui:

Lewin wrote that minimum distances in psychological space cannot be determined by a single metric or axiom as they can in Euclidian space. Psychological distance may be shorter than physical distance, as when travel is easy or pleasurable, or it may be longer, as when the route is unfamilar or frightening.

Hodological space is something all to clear to many cyclists. Selecting cycling routes involves many psychological and physical equations of gradient, scenery, noise, stresses, and safety before distance and directness. When the urban road system prioritises accessibility and directness for faster vechiles, cycling is often experienced through a maze unsignposted paths, alleys, and back-streets. This maze is not only disorientating, it is also stressful in that the new rider never knows when they will end up. It could be a quiet street or a 6 lane arterial road without a crossing? The anxiety generated from not knowing 'the way' is enough to put many people off cycling all together. However, paradoxially it is also a sense of disorientation that can contribute to making cycling such pleasurable experience. It is precisely because the view from the windscreen is so environmentally desensitising that many are attracted to cycling where one has to discover the world anew.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Product review: Gazelle Fuente Plus

I've just written a review of the Gazelle Fuente Plus over at

Following up from my last post, there is a very timely article by Debra Mayrhofer on New Matilda called "Do Cyclists have a death wish?"

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sobering reading

When a car hits a pedestrian or cyclist, conventional wisdom blames the victim. Jaywalking is ingrained in New York culture — it has been called the city’s secular religion — and most cyclists treat red lights as stop signs at best. This rule-breaking is generally attributed to carelessness, if not insanity, and is regarded as the reason for most pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

Yet the police accident reports obtained for this study tell of pedestrians struck down by speeders and red-light runners, or even on sidewalks. At any intersection, motorists can be seen forcing their way through crosswalks or otherwise infringing on walkers’ lawful right-of-way. This behavior impels pedestrians to bend the rules for the sake of self-protection. The chaotic character of traffic at intersections leads many pedestrians to conclude that crossing mid-block is safer, since one only has to look for cars coming in a single direction. Similarly, cyclists “slip through” red lights in order to gain one or two blocks’ respite from threatening motorized traffic; cyclists who wait for the green often find themselves bullied from their lawful place on the road by impatient drivers. If drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all flout the law, should they be held equally culpable in fatalities? No. Pedestrians and cyclists are not equivalent with drivers. Motor vehicle operators are licensed, their vehicles are registered, and insurance is required of them, precisely because of their potential for harm. By virtue of their weight and speed, motor vehicles are immensely dangerous machines, and the human body — even on a bicycle — is not.

(Charles Komanoff "Killed by Automobile: Death in the Streets in New York City 1994-1999", March 1999)

What has come to light may be summarised as follows. Drivers who kill 'merely' through carelessness are regarded by the judiciary as unlucky but often blameless: an implicit empathy – “There, but for the Grace of God, go I” – is evident. However, driving offenders who are also implicated in vehicle theft or drink and drug abuse are likely to be condemned by judges and magistrates as 'real' criminals, even if their standard of driving was no lower. Meanwhile Vulnerable Road Users may be held unfairly responsible for their fate: cyclists have been blamed for wearing dark clothing or no helmet despite it being the car and not the cycle which creates the danger, just as rape victims are blamed for wearing revealing clothing despite it being the attacker and not the victim who commits the assault.
The final research question regarded the ideologies and power relations behind the regulation of Britain's roads. Is it simply a coincidence that the vast majority of police officers, magistrates, judges and lawyers are drivers? And that those most likely to be killed by drivers, and least likely to be drivers themselves – the very young, the elderly, the poor – are also least likely to be policy makers and legal officials? And (perhaps running alongside or perhaps cutting across these themes) is there not a link between the fact that almost all drivers who are convicted of killing are male, and that almost three quarters of all magistrates and judges are men? The evidence indicates that this is no coincidence. Those policy makers and legal officials who are in a position to change matters are mostly drivers and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

(Jake Voelcker, Review of the Legal Penalties for Drivers Who Kill Cyclists or Pedestrians, 2007)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Woollahra Bike

Riding down Queen Street Woollahra on Sunday I was shocked to see this amongst the displays of high-end fashion shops.

The bike is being sold at RG Madden: The Design Store. Follow the links through the website and the bicycle is listed under "Whats Hot this season".

ABICI Bicycle

The ABICI is a bicycle handmade in Italy; a beautiful hybrid product of old Italian hand crafting traditions teamed with modern design. Not only are they an object of beauty, but the craftsmanship and materials used in production are of superior quality ensuring that ABICI bicycles enjoy a long life.
ABICI bicycles are not for sale in traditional cycling shops – exclusive to RG Madden.

From AUS$2150


Pale blue, ivory, red, black, olive green and pale greyMaterials

18/10 stainless steel frame, leather saddle

Its easy to laugh at the idea of people actually buying these bikes and one wonders if they'd ever come out of the garage and actually get used. However, I think this display is a positive thing. The high-end bicycle market has for a long time been dominated by ultra-lightweight racing bikes and the blokey competitiveness over the latest wizbang technological gizmos. If the bicycle market is expanding to meet other desires, say something with a bit more style and fashion sense, then I think its ultimately a good thing.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Attitudes to cycling

I just read the research study Attitudes to Cycling: a qualitative study and conceptual framework (1997) by DG Davies, ME Halliday, M Mays and RL Pocock published by the Transport Research Laboratory in the UK. One of the most striking features of the the paper was its ability to distinguish between given "rationalisations" (rain, hills, traffic) for not cycling and some more latent reasons for not cycling. For what appeared as a rather mainstream scientific study, I was amazed that it looked at issues such as social status, gender norms, sexuality, and control of ones environment (spatial mastery). Check out some of these conceptual diagrams (click on the pics to view properly).


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stop me

Via Copenhagenize

I'd never seen the original film clip to this Smiths classic. How could you not love Morrissey on a bicycle? It contains one of my all time favourite Morrissey lyrics:

An emergency stop
I smelt the last ten seconds of life
I crashed down on the crossbar
And the pain was enough to make
A shy, bald, buddhist reflect
And plan a mass murder
Who said lied I'd to her ?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bicycles for Humanity

I've been rattling the can for the last few days in support of Bicycles For Humanity. The organisation collects and repairs old bikes and sends them to developing countries. They are currently half way to raising $10000 to send a shipping container with 400 bikes to Namibia. The container will then be transformed into a bicycle workshop and an opportunity for employment.

I'm hoping to raise $1000 by swimming the 2km Cole Classic at Manly Beach in three weeks. If you'd like to sponsor me and support Bicycles for Humanity, please go to my page at I'm grateful to see so many friends have already kicked in and I'm almost a third of the way there.

Now, I better head off to the pool!!!