– Bike recycling envy!

It’s where I’d like to be. Slowly, slowly . . .

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Bike Hoons of the Municipality Unite!

Of course it had to happen. Chaos Theory epitomised – the butterfly wings flapped at BAC Bikes in South Melbourne and a storm erupted over Fitzroy. Someone at the ACCC read my “AntiFix” post and took it seriously, and have now sent out riot squads in Hummers to smash the wheels of every fixie in every bike shop in Melbourne. Trendy boutique bike shops are scared. I’ve been told of certain proprietors quaking in fear as large black-suited men in sunglasses made the rounds, laying down the law. They’ve been hiding the ‘verboten fahrrad’ down storm drains, behind the sofa and in the roof space of every bicycle-sympathetic inner-urban dwelling space until all this unwanted attention blows over.

I’m sorry about this, and I’m trying to think of ways to make amends. I’ve got some old pairs of Mafac centepull and Universal sidepull brakes for period-correct retrofits, if you’d like them. I’ll charge less than they’d go for on Craigslist in SF – that’s fair, isn’t it?

Yet another battle in the ‘War on Bikes’? Was I the unwitting instigator? Oh, the shame. I’ll be shunned in every fixed-gear pub in Melbourne.

Somewhere else I’m shunned is in the canyons of Collins St., around the 400s block, where every cyclist I pass (most of whom are BV employees to or from their flexitimed and shortened {it’s the GFC, you know} hours at the 10th floor office {what a curious place to have an office, of a bicycle advocacy organisation – 10 storeys up in the air with no good bicycle parking, except in the rubbish room} ) stares coldly through me, no mean feat whilst negotiating the short but breath-shortening rise to William St. I’m not a fan of a lot of their public relations efforts (apart from the GVBR), and this one doesn’t sway my opinion:

“Bicycle Victoria’s Garry Brennan said several members had reported sales by bike shops of brakeless fixie bikes. He said would be difficult to stop people modifying their bikes. ”Just as hoons modify cars, similar personalities modify their bikes with unsafe changes and neither are desirable”.”

Things wrong with the above statement:

The sense that we have of a network of informants active who go snooping for bicycle non-conformity, and when found, report it to the appropriate agency, for possible punitive action.

The notion that modifying your technology in a non-conforming way to suit your own requirements is somehow aberrant, and one would like to stop it.

That people who do so have similar ‘hoon’ personalities to people who modify cars to take them out of compliance with vehicle regulations.

Sure, Sasha and Andy have a particular take on the bike industry: the people who frequent their shops like what can these two sell them in order to make a living. They’re in the ‘track bike’ department. Not at all meant to be ridden outside the velodrome, are they? That’s the essence of capitalism, isn’t it? – even when it’s toxic like tobacco or booze, if you like it you can have it. Not everything they are asked to repair or construct (and where does the line fall between the two, exactly?) is as it was when it rolled off the showroom floor of a bike shop that complies with the relevant design regulations in what it sells.

I think brakes are essential for riding safely in city traffic (and in the country too, now that traffic moves much more quickly and more frequently that when fixed-gear road training was more common). In the 2 workshops I co-ordinate that’ll hold sway. Individual volunteers and students choose to ride a fixed gear, and if they end up in the hospital before me, then I’ll deal with that. I agree that fixed-gear riding has inherent risks much greater than the average cyclist can always comprehend or control. I don’t agree with BV’s take on the issue that people who modify their bikes into a non-compliant state should be categorised with the dismissive, brush-off title of ‘bike hoon’. It illustrates most clearly the groupthink and cosying-up-with-the-authorities nature of BV’s publicly expressed attitude towards expressions of bicycling it sees as aberrant. Critical Mass, anyone? What about a criterium on a Sunday morning within coo-ee of Camberwell? No? Awwww!

If certain moderately influential members of BV had their way, helmet mirrors, turn indicator armbands, bike registration plates and the adoption of Captain Safety-Pants as a bike safety mascot would be mandatory. Helmet legislation is in place (they got their way over that one, as well as super-shonky mandatory reflectors and bells), and despite evidence of their overall effectiveness to the contrary, is a non-negotiable feature of the cycling landscape.

Yes, regulations exist to protect people, to an extreme and denial-of-common-sense level in our complex society. Yes, people are capable of making their own decisions about how safe a bike they ride is to ride. No, not everyone who modifies bikes are hoons. Except large manufacturers, when they are trying to venally capitalise on a trend that is essentially a backyard one.

And not everyone who gets into cycling via fixed-gear riding are junkies and graffiti kids in waiting, either, Sasha. Cool if you’ve got tats and noserings and like getting up the nose of the pigs. But I don’t understand the nosepicking reference, Andy. Is this to do with not understanding about degrees of danger, and that a fixie skid in the wet is as life-threatening to a fixie god as cleaning out a bit of snot from the nose canal?

Some are just swayed by fashion. They’ll grow out of it eventually and get bikes that work, not just to pose in the inner urbs with. Maybe after they’ve hurt themselves a little, and learnt by it. Seems to work for most baby animals with a brain that functions.

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Hah! Ours are waaay better!

Not a patch on BAC Bikes clown bikes. Ours are based around the stable and time-proven 16″ wheel format, have pedals, brakes and a drivetrain, and are Critical Mass (TM) capable. Pics coming soon.

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The Dickensian tragedy of bike theft

This video link was sent to me recently – it reinforces my hatred of bike thieves, especially cunning ones:

Poor guy. Not the thief – but he has some chutzpah to ask for a ladder to remove the sign. All the more reason to lock your bike to a bike hoop. Notice how he does a ‘walk-by’ before he makes a decision to take the bike.

Hell’s 422nd level is reserved for bike thieves. Room 422/42 is the chain-cleaning hell, where a trillion Huffy Gila bikes that have been ridden through tar-pits and dairy cattle dung for an eon by a tribe of evil 130kg sprites with one leg 6 inches longer than the other, are sent to have their drivetrains cleaned. The chainbreakers in the toolbox are made out of plastic by Hasbro, and the toothbrush supplied has three bristles, and the solvent is rancid yak’s butter and skunk urine mixed with Jaegermeister. That should keep them busy for a while. As my grandma used to say: “The devil makes work for idle hands”. Rooms 43 and 44 are freewheel dismantling and servicing rooms, where the ceiling is a gigantic electromagnet. If you drop just one 1/8″ ball bearing, you are tipped back down a coarse-aggregate-floored chute to room 422/3 where the resident overdemon rubs salt into the newly-acquired gravel rash. No-one has got past Room 44 yet. They just keep on turning the magnet up.


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The AntiFix

What is this animus I bear against fixed-gear riders, I hear you ask? Why won’t BAC build fixed gear bikes, in defiance of a trend that encompasses and insinuates itself throughout the cycling community at the moment? Is it just that Mark is turning into a bitter old man? Is he a natural contrarian? That is a point I may concede, but it goes A Lot Deeper than that. It goes right to the heart of what I love about cycling, about the qualities it has to improve almost anyone’s life and free them a little from the constraints that our over-elaborate and etoilated culture places on us.

I suppose I could call this post the “Anti-Pose”, because that is what raises my ire the most. This is not to say that poseurs do not exist in other cycling subcultures (a warm hello to all you chubby middle-managers squeezed into Assos ensembles astride Colnago EPSs ) and all of us pose a little bit, some of the time. I may be unrighteously casting the first stone, but I believe I have a valid point – that of utility. I have been a techie or a tradie most of my working life , and what annoys me the most is a designed artefact that is taken out of context and fetished, as tho’ designing a cargo cult ( my arse, they’re not a cycling ‘club’ (.cc) and never will be – what a pernicious mercenary lie) around Eddie Merckx, 1974-model Campagnolo Super Record, Reynolds 531 or Brooks saddles is a healthy expression of a general good regard for the activity you purport to love. “Form follows function” indicates that design comes first in order to make the form perform the task for which it is intended, not to conform to some twitchy ‘aesthetic’ that someone (a vapid and whimsically-inclined design and marketing exec, usually) who does not truly understand the activity (yet reflexively checks their new cycling ‘look’ in the shop window or mirror every time they walk or ride past) seeks to foist on the rest of us, for the spurious reason that it looks ‘cool’, according to them, and not even because they really believe in what they have designed, but because they think it will sell. Change of look, to something more ‘authentic’, more ‘real’ – that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it? We better go ‘cool hunting’ then, they say. So a ‘look’ is adopted, unconsciously, without most of the newish adherents really understanding what they have adopted – the fashion formula. Let me unpack it for you a little, in the hope that these scenester vultures will flap off to shit their digested pickings of the actual thing onto some other pursuit, and put it in the way of ruinative, mercenary self-absorption.

The most glaring problem I see with fixed gear bikes is that they are fashionable, not because they are a simple expression of the pursuit, and a genuine attempt to get away from the oft-bruited needless marketing-driven model-upgrade complexity (however genuine this ends up being). I am anti-fashion, on the aforementioned basis that following someone elses’s lead means that you have not thought for yourself. We have a backyard full of bikes that were marketed on the basis of their fashionableness, and now they sit there: unloved, unlovely, gathering rust and spiders. Most of them are no use in their current form. People who buy such bikes bought them because they were what everyone else was buying at the time, and not because of the freedom and simplicity that is the core of cycling. Marketing replaces savoir-faire, and a square object is mashed into a round hole of need.
Another problem is their lack of functionality, outside of a narrow range of uses. Track bikes are made the way they are for a reason – they are designed to travel in approximately concentric circles around a banked track at constant or accelerating speeds, and to only decelerate slowly. This is directly opposite to what goes on on the road, even within a road race. There are sudden and large changes in speed and direction you have to make, both up and down. To use the wrong tool for such a job is to make you appear an idiot – lack of ability to assess and analyse appropriate equipment for you own needs, from the total of that available to you.

Again on functionality: chopped bars. I was riding home from shopping on my town bike (to be smug; an old 1940s single-speed road frame, 71 degree seat angle, 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub gear, flat bars, modern long reach dual-pivot brakes) and a guy passed me pulling away from traffic lights on a tall road bike (he would have been 190+cm tall) with riser bars chopped down to about 350mm wide. They did have funky coloured keirin grips on though, so at least he had some hand contact with the bars (Grips! For a reason!). I had a sterling opportunity to watch his riding style from behind, and he looked like he was trying to squeeze through a very narrow doorway as he rode – uncomfortable, awkward and inefficient as all get-out. Of course, that’s Melbourne’s contribution to fixie scenesterism – the old courier practice of “splitting trams” – riding down the middle of two old W-class trams as they pass one another, extra points if one or both of them are moving (You get bored doing courier work – I know). You need narrow bars to do this – again, an adopted mark of the “hard man”. So we’ve got an aggregation of signature marks of ‘done it all, seen it all’: the track bike (copied from failed, and broke, trackies who got jobs as couriers because that’s all they were good at, after they retired); associated NJS bling from keirin racing, double toestraps, very thin grips (if any) on track racing bars; the fixed gear (contrary to accepted wisdom, you can put a freewheel clutch onto a a singlespeed wheel, and even better if it is a flip-flop hub, as many of them were, back in the day), or borrowing from the myth of the ‘hard man’ who trained on the road with one (usually a track rider who didn’t understand gears); veneration of old Italian road frames and ‘vintage Campy’ components (you don’t abbreviate Campagnolo into ‘Campy’ if you are Australian, it’s ‘Campag’ – get it right! Just like they are ‘singles’, not ‘tubs’ – preserve our cycling heritage!) and venal attempts to cash in on some ‘golden age’ of cycling by recycling old stuff (or facsimilies of the same, including staging stylish retro-themed events) back to impressionable wannabes who really need to know better. Hence the ‘.cc’ appellated clothing company. There’d be no-one around here who pandered to this market, would there? Would there?

I really like old high-quality road (and even nice old light chrome-molybdenum steel MTB) frames, because they were designed as well as the technology available at the time could make them. Good ones in good condition ride really well, and are still a good choice for tootling around town or gentle touring. I get sad when people try to bolt a fixed wheel into one, unless it was designed for it. If they don’t know how to do it, they stress the welds on the rear triangle to a point where fatigue starts, or the bike tracks sideways. I like my old 1940s road frame, the 3-speed hub fits it really well, because the two were designed to work together, back then. Or you could set up a single-speed wheel for it. It’s not a modern track bike, nor is it a Klein with 75 degree seat angles. It rides well. It may one day crack due to internal rusting, but at the mo we’re happy. My point is, if you want to ride something, make sure it works, and is not just what is popular at any one time. Some old stuff is great, but some other old stuff is crap. Singles? Very limited application nowadays. Old Campag? Clunky, compared to modern stuff – it’s not used for racing any more, is it? The reason to race is to find out what works, at the outer limits of performance. The reason for durable stuff is to get you to and fro with the least hassle. The reason for light stuff is to get up hills quickly. Pick a point in the middle somewhere, and forget style. The end. Oh, and if you’ve got all the hallmarks of a scenester (I’ll prepare a checklist shortly) and roll up at BAC Bikes, don’t, after all this explaining, expect me to take the blindest bit of notice of you until you prove that you actually want to find out how bikes work, how to make them work, and not how to make them look pretty and conform to some perverted halcyon ideal, except as a secondary pursuit.


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I didn’t think I’d say this this soon, but we need more bikes!

. . . quality ones, mind you, We’ve just thrown out (sent to the big scrapyard in the sky) a whole lot of BSOs (Bicycle Shaped Objects) and there is space for more bikes.

Ones we like particularly, because they can be turned readily into decent rideable machines:

27″ wheel 10 speed mens and womens bikes from the 80s and 90s (drop bar or not)

Slightly stuffed hybrids (700c bikes of whatever vintage and quality),

Non-rusty MTBs of less than 18kg gross weight.

Old bikes (but these are popular, so we’re seeing fewer of them). We can fix these up for you better and more cheaply than the average bike shop, because we use more recycled parts. Ask us for an idea about polishing your ancient velo to a high gloss.

We do servicing as well. We’re better at fixing old bikes than most.

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. . . well, maybe only a little bit . . .

We’re running some CoPP (City of Port Phillip) bike classes here today and two Sundays away. The second one will start at 12, not 11.30 as originally stated. They’re quite popular, and we may be running some more in the future that we haven’t told anyone about yet. So if you’re keen, let me know, and we’ll see if we can fit you in. It’s looking like August-September as a date – two days: one intermediate and one ‘advanced’.

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