I Am An Important And Influential Blogger

I am always looking for opportunities to overinflate my abilities and the good people at the Australian blog, The RiotACT, have given me that very thing.  They came across my piece on Canberra cycling and did me the favor of informing their readership of it.  I knew something was up when the number of hits on this humble blog tripled its normal daily rate!  You can read the post and the comments it generated here.  Apparently, not everyone in Canberra agrees that all is well in the cycling community in that fair city.

(For those who may not know it, the name RiotACT is a clever play on words.  “ACT” is the acronym for the district in which Canberra sits – the Australian Capital Territory”)

Getting a mention in a big-time blog was quite amusing to me.  Since they were good enough to send huge amounts of traffic in my direction, I encourage my hardy band of readers to visit them.  They probably won’t notice the slight blip on their visit totals, but it’s the principal that counts!

My Sudden Appearance In A Paceline

“It never gets easier.  You just go faster.”  – Greg LeMond

There I was on Sunday morning, minding my own business and raking leaves in my back yard.  I looked up and saw my neighbor, Steve, pedaling up my driveway in full cycling regalia.  This was rather odd in that he has never done this before.  Although we’ve occasionally talked about cycling, Steve is an uber-cyclist and triathlete and thus we’ve never hooked up for a ride on account of the fact that I value the absence of heart attacks, aneurysms and other medical setbacks a ride with Steve would invite.

“Did you get my message?”  asked Steve.

“Nope,” I said.  “I’ve been in my back yard, minding my own business and raking leaves.”

“My friend called and wants to go on a ride,” said Steve.  “We’re leaving in 20 minutes, if you’d like to come.”

Well, I couldn’t very well say no, could I?  I couldn’t withstand the shame such a refusal would incur.  So I quickly bagged my leaves, filled my water bottles, pumped my tires, grabbed my Garmin, jumped into some Fall riding clothes and was off on my first paceline ride.

It turned out that two of Steve’s friends were coming along, making it a group of four.  I felt obligated to give a Public Service Announcement that I had only ridden with other human beings on two occasions (minus some family “neighborhood jaunts”) and neither of these involved significant amounts of teamwork.  I was therefore prone to otherwise inexplicable actions that could create annoyances or far more significant consequences.  This news was greeted with good-natured smiles and assurances that all would be well.  Then we were off.

The paceline moved as advertised.  We were flying.  Whereas I can maintain a 20 mph on flat roads with some effort, we were moving at 23-25 mph with ease.  When I wasn’t in front (or “pulling,” as the cool cyclists say), I found myself coasting as much as pedaling.  My heart rate dropped 40 bpm at times and yet the high speeds continued.  When I was pulling, well that sucked.  These guys were clearly a notch or two beyond me and what they considered a nice, crisp, ride was about all I could handle.  Still, I was fresh and did my fair share at the front.  We easily passed by four or five individual cyclists on our route, who would appear half a mile ahead of us and minutes later would be left behind our group with a friendly hello and a wave.

Fortunately, I didn’t do anything that caused damage to people or property.  I found that paceline riding requires considerable concentration and communication.  Guys in front are constantly pointing out potholes or other problems in the road.  The guy in back is required to monitor the road behind the group and let the gang know of approaching vehicles.  This is especially important as the time draws near for the lead cyclist to pull off.  This maneuver is executed by moving toward the center of the road (and thus into any cars coming from behind) and letting the paceline pass him on the right.  When not in the lead, you must be especially vigilant of the wheel of the bicycle in front of you.  Once or twice, I appreciated the passing scenery a tad too much and almost made contact with the guy in front of me.  That would have been bad.  Very bad.

After 22 miles, we roared into our rest stop – a country store on the corner of Elk Road and Courthouse Road.  Our pace was around 20 mph.  Smoking fast for me.  Two of the guys wanted to continue on, giving them a 65 mile ride for the day.  I was ready to turn back and Steve decided to go with me.  I think he wanted to press on with the group but felt obligated to stay with the guy he invited.  I assured him that I had logged over 1,700 miles by myself this summer and could manage these 22 miles just fine, thank you.  But Steve insisted on staying with me.  Steve’s a good guy.

With only two of us now cycling, our pace slowed a bit.  Also, we often found ourselves cycling side by side so we could more easily carry on a conversation.  As we hit the busy Aden Road at Mile 30, we once again fell into file and the pace picked up a tick.  Six miles later, we hit the hills after the Occoquan River and I was toast.  Steve still had plenty of energy left for the four miles of climbing and I was simply trying to survive.  My turns at pulling the paceline at 23 mph and cycling with Steve at a faster-than-normal-for-me pace left me with nothing.  Steve flew to the top of each hill then puttered along until I could catch up, each time with me announcing my presence with a witticism like, “Hey, remember me?” 

(I find that my ability to make good jokes decreases markedly when I am in Heart Zone 5)

Steve stuck with me all the way home.  He really is a good guy.  Despite my severe bonking and the 10-minute break at the country store, this ride was still the fastest pace I have ever gone for such a distance.  As we neared his house, we exchanged fist bumps and I thanked him very much for the invitation.  Then we split up and went to our homes to shower and watch NFL football.

So do I like pacelines?  I dunno.  Going fast was fun and I believe I got an excellent workout, primarily because the guys I was with were in better shape than me.  But it was VERY hard to carry on a conversation and the concentration required to avoid other cyclists and be aware of traffic and road hazards meant casual sight-seeing was out of the question.  I guess the enjoyment of a paceline all depends what your ride objectives are.  I think I’ll be up for the occasional paceline, but I’ve grown to enjoy solo rides a great deal and I’ll probably stick with those for the most part.

And I’m returning to that country store.  There’s a historical marker there!

Australian Historical Marker Segment

click for details

This marker is typical of a series emplaced all over Canberra.  They all contain the slogan, “Canberra Tracks: See How Far We’ve Travelled.”  This marker is at the top of Mount Pleasant at Royal Military College – Duntroon and details the history of one of the area’s oldest settlements.  I was left wondering what, exactly, is a “pastoralist”…

Impressions of the Canberra Cycling Life

I was only in Canberra for four days and sampled only a portion of the city, but I see no reason why that should keep me from making broad general conclusions about the state of cycling there! 

Apart from my 31 mile ride around Lake Burley Griffin, I spent most of my time north of the lake.  My hotel was in the City Centre district, directly north of the lake on Northbourne Avenue – a major North-South thoroughfare.  My business was largely in the Reid and Russell districts, east of City Centre but still north of the lake.  As I puttered about Northbourne Avenue, I was immediately struck by the steady stream of cyclists.  It was hardly a tidal wave, but a constant flow of bicycles.  During the course of the day, I rarely went a minute or two without seeing a cyclist.  During rush hour (or at least what passes for rush hour in this relatively small capital), the number picked up and it was common to see groups of two or three cyclists traveling together and as many as five waiting at red lights.  Northbourne Avenue and several other streets have dedicated bike lanes.  Drivers seemed to be very aware of the cyclists and I didn’t observe any collisions, near misses, honking horns, curses, or gesticulating arms.  The cyclists seemed to be an integrated part of the traffic flow and it was refreshing to see.

The rider pictured above is atypical in that he is decked out in full roadie garb.  I was struck by the lack of lycra and jerseys.  Most people were dressed in “relaxed” street wear – shorts, sneakers, shirt/wind breaker, etc…  Helmet use was universal.  I don’t know if that is due to the legal code or simply convention.  Many cyclists had stay-ties protruding from their helmets to ward off the magpies.  Others had lights strapped to their helmets.  The quality of the bicycles were decidedly low-end, as one might expect from the commuter crowd.  You don’t want to leave your $10,000 road machine in a public bike lock!

While looking for breakfast in a pedestrian shopping area in Reid, I came across the Onya Bike Shop.  The shop was closed when I passed (stores in Canberra generally don’t open until 9:00AM and close around 5:00PM, except for Fridays when they stay open late).  I resolved to return later in the day and say hello.  When I made it back, I was amazed to see a substantial bicycle display in front of their store.  First, I couldn’t believe how many bikes fit into that tiny shop (there were still a great many bikes on display inside the store) and second, I couldn’t believe these bikes weren’t immediately stolen by the passers-by.  Canberra is definitely a kinder place than what I am used to.

The inside of the shop was devoted almost exclusively to Giant mountain bikes and hybrids.  There were about five high-end Giant road bikes for sale.  The three 20-somethings manning the shop confirmed that mountain bikes were very popular in the area and the store sponsors/hosts a series of local mountain bike rides every Thursday evening in the Spring/Summer.  As with most bicycle shops, the back end was devoted to a bicycle repair section.  The space devoted to accessories and clothing was extremely limited.  There were about 15 jerseys for sale, a couple types of gloves, a handful of tire pumps, and so on.  I found this to be a bit odd as the business model of the American shops I have been to is largely the reverse.  I’m not sure where the cyclists of Canberra get their energy foods, water bottles, helmets, and other gear, but I don’t think the Onya Bike Shop is a major source of supply.

And thus concludes my extensive review of the Canberra bicycling scene.  It was great to see a place where cyclists are woven into the traffic environment, with wide streets, bicycle lanes, drivers who acknowledge the existence of cyclists and pedestrians, and ample amounts of mixed-use pathways.  Cyclists are hardly the novelty they are on America’s roads.  The mountain bike and hybrid communities are doing quite well, though I wonder about the road cyclists.  On the whole, I was very impressed and American city planners could do a lot worse than copying the Canberra model.

Australian Historical Marker Segment!

 

click for details

It is my pleasure to bring to you this outstanding (and first non-Virginian) addition to my collection of historical markers.  This marker can be found on the London Circuit Road in City Centre, just beyond the traffic light in the first picture of this post.  In it we are reminded that Queen Elizabeth II has been sovereign for a very long time and that somehow Australia avoided a visit from the monarch for the first 166 years of its existence.

Cycling In Canberra

My apologies for not posting in a while.  As I mentioned, my work was keeping me away from my computer for the past few days – 11,000 miles away, to be more precise.  I was in Australia.

Canberra, Australia.

After a short 29-hour trip, in which I completely lost the day of November 6th due to the quirkiness of the international dateline, I found myself in Australia’s capital city for a conference and a series of meetings with the Australian Defence Force.  The meetings weren’t until Tuesday and it was only Sunday afternoon.  So I had made other plans, among them: cycling.

Mr. Spokes, prior to opening

Canberra is situated around the man-made Lake Burley Griffin, named after the American who designed the plan for the city in 1910.  Oddly, his first name was Walter, but they decided to use his middle and last names when naming the lake after him.  I haven’t found a satisfactory explanation for that, but I have come to find that there are all sorts of small oddities like this in Australia.  In any event, the name of the lake is incidental to this story.  What is important is that there are a series of cycling paths which almost completely encircle the lake.  Additionally, there is a bike rental shop right on one of these paths.

Perfect!

"The Map," on a sign outside Mr. Spokes

I read on the internet, that Mr. Spokes opened at 9:00 AM and I therefore walked the two miles from my hotel to the lake and presented myself shortly after that time.  The shop’s website mentioned that they don’t open on days of inclement weather, so I was mildly concerned about the torrential thunderstorm that blew through the city in the early morning hours and the forecast for showers later in the day.  This concern was elevated after my arrival, when I saw the shop was closed.  Two other hopeful patrons were waiting and one of them even tried to call the shop to figure out if they would open.  In a few minutes, we were all relieved to see the shop’s proprietor, Martin, pedal up on his bike to open for the day.  We were literally in business!

I'm getting better at these self-portraits

After filling out a short form, Martin provided me with an Avanti Mountain Bike with an eight-speed internal hub (all the shifting occurs inside a hub on the rear wheel – you don’t see the gears).  He provided a helmet, a lock, a map, and some water to boot.  All of this came with a fee of $25 for a four-hour rental.  In a land where a medium soda costs $3.80, I considered this to be quite a bargain.  After a brief orientation from Martin, I was off.

Then I came back.  The gears weren’t working after 4th gear.

The Shogun Metro

I guess this is to be expected in a rental bike, which assuredly aren’t treated with the same love and care by the general populace as one would treat their own bike.  Martin seemed surprised that I was having difficulty but quickly agreed to swap the bikes out.  He provided me a Shogun Metro with a “traditional” derailleur and I immediately knew this would work out very well for me.  The gears worked great and the Shimano shifters were identical to the ones on Old Ironsides.

No kangaroos, but plenty of beautiful birds

Confident that I was finally ready to go, I set off with the sense of exhilaration you get when you are at large in an unfamiliar place.  My plan was to circumnavigate Lake Burley Griffin in a counter-clockwise manner with some detours to see various attractions along the way.  I expected the ride to be about 25 miles.  As it turned out, it was closer to 31 miles.  You can follow the twists and turns of my trip by clicking on the Garmin link above.

Back on the path after ANU

My first stop was outside the National Museum, which sits on a small peninsula on the north side of the lake.  After pausing to take some pics, I pedaled alongside the waterfront and rejoined the bike path, at which point I immediately became lost.  I found myself on the campus of Australian National University, and doubled back on my track until I found the right pathway.  It should be noted here that although I had a map with me, the word “map” is used in a very generous manner in this context.  A more appropriate wording for the document would be “Helpful Guide That Generally Keeps You Pointed In The Right Direction.”  The major streets were named and little else.  A great many minor streets were not even depicted.  No worries, as the Aussies, would say.  I would quickly figure out my missteps and then everything would be “right as apples!”

Lakeside of the National Museum

After a short while, I came across the Black Mountain Peninsula, another small outcrop upon which is situated a very nice park.  After some more obligatory pics, I rejoined the path and headed to the west (or most rural) portion of the lake.  The path followed the lakefront, with small twists and hills.  It was a very nice day, though the clouds were threatening and a breeze was kicking up.  I passed several cyclists who were enjoying the path.  Interestingly, it seems the American practice of waving at a fellow cyclist is not largely followed here.  I suspect it’s because cyclists aren’t quite the novelty in Australia that they are in America.  Thus, coming across one is not an event worth noting with a hand wave.

Black Mountain Peninsula, with Mt. Ainslie in the background

Cork Oak Grove

I passed under tunnels and through groves of Cork Oak Trees.  I saw any number of exotic birds including magpies, which are in the habit of dive-bombing unsuspecting pedestrians and cyclists in an attempt to grab some hair for their nests.  Cyclists discourage this practice by attaching snap-ties to their helmets, with the pointy ends facing the sky.  I noted that my helmet did not have any such modification and hoped for the best.

One of the tunnels

Stirling Park

The pathway eventually took me along the south side of the lake, where I passed the zoo and a marina.  I came across Stirling Park, a nice setting  with many small monuments and sculptures.  Several of these had an oriental style that seemed a little out of place without any sort of explanation.  It was still quite pretty, though.  I hopped off the path to pedal on a broad sidewalk which was right next to the lake.  Very nice.  In a short while, I found myself in the vicinity of Parliament.

Stirling Park

Old Parliament Building

There are actually two parliament buildings in Canberra.  The Old Parliament, which is now a museum, was built in 1913 and remarkably lasted only 70-odd years before the Aussies felt the need to build a new one.  I pedaled around the grounds, which featured gardens for the Senators and Congressmen, a statue in honor of King George V, and a ramshackle tent city erected by Aborigines in what appeared to be some sort of protest.

The view from New Parliament, looking toward Mt. Ainslie

New Parliament Building

I made my way to the new Parliament building, a modern-looking structure featuring a massive (83 meter) flag pole flying an Australian flag larger than a city bus.  The views from this location were fantastic.  There is a very long axis of buildings and parks extending from Parliament across the lake to the Australian War Memorial and Mount Ainslie.  It is an impressive vista.

The path in front of Old Parliament

National Carillon with the Australian-American Memorial in the background

I then rejoined the path at the National Portrait Gallery and was pleased to hear the bells from the National Carillon playing a pretty tune on the other side of the lake.  At this point, I reached my most difficult navigational challenge.  I needed to ride on city streets until I found the entrance to the delightfully named Jerrabomberra Wetlands Nature Reserve, where I would ride on a series of trails before rejoining the path on the north side of the lake.  To do this, I needed to find Newcastle Street.  Sadly, my “map” did not name the two streets which I had to find before reaching Newcastle.  It helpfully told me I would be in the vicinity of the National Train Museum and a Fish Market.  I found both of these landmarks, but couldn’t locate Newcastle Street.  You can see my failed attempts on my Garmin page.  I actually came quite close!

There were plenty of swans around the lake

The Wetlands

I was now very much improvising as I went.  With only a basic understanding of the city’s roads and a marginally-useful map, I tried to make my way to the north side of the lake.  Fortunately, there are several prominent landmarks such as Ainslee Mountain and the Telstra Tower on top of Black Mountain, that helped me keep my bearings.  I eventually found the northern end of the wetlands, where I decided to simply rejoin the path and continue around the lake.

Cadet Barracks

In short order, I happened across Royal Military College – Duntroon, where the Australian Army trains its officer corps.  I stopped by for a visit and searched for a way to the top of a hill which featured the grave of Brigadier General Bridges, Australia’s first-ever general officer, who died at Gallipoli in 1915.  Bridges also founded the RMC, so his resting place makes perfect sense.  Climbing further uphill, I came upon a very pleasant scenic overlook.  Again, you can see my probing attempts to find my way up the hillside over unfamiliar roads on my Garmin. 

Scenic Overlook - RMC Duntroon

Along the lake's north side, near Russell

I drank the last of my water and headed downhill and back to the cycle path.  After a few miles of pleasant pedaling along the lake front, I found myself back at Mr. Spokes.  Martin welcomed me back and informed me the Avanti hub was indeed shot.  We then chatted about his shop and cycling in Canberra.  He told me there were a lot of mountain biking enthusiasts in the city and Canberra hosted some sort of world championships just last year in the mountains south of town.  He also mentioned that November was one of his slowest times of year, which I thought odd as it was springtime and the weather was fantastic.  Martin said that things really pick up for him around Christmas.  I told him of my mild disappointment at not seeing a kangaroo, and he said they are best found in the mornings or early evenings slightly further out of town.  Mount Ainslee is a great place for “kangaroo hunting.”

And with that, I bade Martin “g’day” and headed back to the hotel.  I thus concluded one of my slowest-paced and yet one of my most enjoyable rides ever.  Canberra is a very scenic city, full of parks and interesting diversions.  Seeing it by bicycle was a fantastic way to take it all in!

Cool Cycling Photos

The Australian blog, Cycling Tips, has conducted an international cycling photo contest.  To view the entrants, go here.  The photos are great, but you can also read about the ensuing controversy over the winner here.  Seems there was some skullduggery with the computer vote tabulation.

All the photos are great, but this one by Michael Tabtabai is my favorite, if only because I can easily imagine this very thing happening to me!