Friday, 31 August 2012

A Current Affair and cycling with kids

This Australian current affairs shown ran this piece recently. Some random came across a lady on a bike, towing a kid in a trailer. They were so horrified, so they said, that they filmed them and kept calling to them out the window about how dangerous it was. I've seen the footage. No doubt it's out there for anyone who cares to search for it.

This has got a bit of attention recently, at least in the cycling corners of teh internets. The general reaction is along the lines of, "What are these people on about?". My reaction is one of disappointment. I've seen this attitude to cycling with kids, contended with this attitude and I think it could do with some discussion. What ACA ran was sensationalist, one-sided and unhelpful.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I've done similar things. I've ridden with kids in a bike trailer, in traffic, for some value of "traffic". So, insofar as the lady in the clip is irresponsible or stupid or whatever, I guess I am too. As far as I know, no randoms in passing cars have been moved to film me and make it into some sort of cautionary tale, but I don't see any real distinction between what she does and what I do. I don't think what I do is irresponsible or stupid. I understand it might seem that way, but I contend that the risks are overstated and the rewards greater than you might at first imagine.

I'm happy to stipulate that a child is better off in a car than a bike trailer when a car collides. Hey, I'll go further and say *much* better off. That part is certainly true. So I'm exposing my kids to some degree of risk.

Here follows the bit where I justify my knowingly exposing my kids to risk. This argument has several strands.

One, I don't see it as my role as a parent to aggressively eliminate every last risk from my kids' lives. I'd go mad trying. I do not think it's a desirable end, either. Most anything worth bothering with has risks. You look at the risk and you look at the reward.

Two, I think ACA overstates the risk. What I saw actually looked like pretty switched-on cycling. She was positioning herself on the road in such a way that she was easy to spot. This is a big help when cycling in traffic. It's unintuitive, so people tend to get irate, or indignant or whatever. But old mate the "road-safety expert" is right on the money when he says you have to be seen. Cyclists riding down the middle of the road are, believe it or not, easy to spot. So what might look daft (you might get run over!) is actually quite sensible. The risks of riding in heavy traffic are overstated too. The speed difference is lower. That's a big help. I've ridden in Sydney traffic and I didn't find it particularly sinister. That traffic didn't look particularly scary to me.

Three, I think there are risks to not doing it. For one thing, there's an obesity epidemic on. I gather ACA has been most insistent on this point. So avoiding a sedentary lifestyle seems like a bright idea to me. Oh, they start out in a trailer, but shortly after they can walk they've graduated to pushbikes and before you know it they're on bikes and scooters and generally getting exercise. I think that the message that it's respectable and practicable to walk or ride rather than drive is an important one.

Four, they enjoy it, or so they say. Their actions kind of reinforce it too. I guess this comes back to that risk/reward thing. They interact with their environment - exchange greetings with passersby, point out this and that, whatever. That's a good thing, and harder to do in a car.

I also think that their concerns don't make we want to get kid trailers off the road. They make me want to lower speed limits in built-up areas and improve driving standards (including attitudes to cyclists). Better cycling infrastructure wouldn't go astray either.

But, yeah, there's a risk. I'd be a fool to say otherwise. I don't think taking it makes us bad people, though. For one thing, anyone who transports their kid in anything but the very safest car, in the very safest seat required by law, is also taking an unnecessary risk. Taking kids to the park is risky too, and completely unneccessary. I'm sure that ACA (and quite a few of their viewers) regard cycling with a child trailer in Sydney traffic as a risk they wouldn't take. I respect that. It's quite a jump, though, from "something I wouldn't personally do" to "something so pointlessly risky that no reasonable person would do it". I've got a hard time seeing how you can make that contention without a highly exaggerated idea of the risks and absolutely no understanding of the motivation.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Gearing and kids' bikes has been on my mind lately. Our eldest has had a 16" for a while and I've noticed her struggling slightly on uphills. Lower gears are the way to go. It turns out that changing the sprocket on the coaster brake hubs that are on most kids' bikes is easy peasy. No special tools are needed, nor any particular skill (I'm living proof!), Sheldon Brown describes the process much better than me. The hardest part was finding a sprocket. I scavenged one, but they're cheap as chips on eBay or whatever. It works better, so she tells me, and she goes up hills a bit better, to my eye.

I put on a 19T sprocket, replacing an 18T. Not a massive difference, but I wasn't aiming for one. I'm debating doing the opposite for our son; he's undergeared, to my eye.

Rather predictably, bike racers get all bug-eyed about this stuff. The ones who race single-speed bikes (like trackies or BMX racers) do anyway. I reckon it's worth a look for casual cycling as well.

Monday, 25 June 2012


We got the kids pushbikes. Somewhere around age 2 with the middle child, 3 with the eldest.
Oh, by "pushbike", I mean "bike with no pedals". Here in .au "pushbike" often means "pedal cycle" and has faintly condescending overtones. I'm not using it in that sense.

They work pretty well. They're a pretty popular toy (watching a 2yo grab a bike and shoulder it cyclocross-fashion is just priceless too) and really help with balance and steering. As advertised, the transition to pedals is fairly straighforward. Pedalling, you have to deal with that another way. We've gone for bike with training wheels. You prat around a bit with taking pedals off and lowering the saddle and whatnot when you ditch the trainers (which are only good for learning to pedal IMO), but it's doable.

One area where pushbikes win out over pedal cycles with training wheels is in riding over rough terrain, particularly if the pedal cycle has training wheels. Watching a 2yo head for the swampiest patch of ground in sight is also priceless. I think we've got us a cyclocross racer in the making.

The limiting factor, we've found, is saddle height. There's a big difference between different brands. Wierdly, it doesn't seem to be a selling point. Netti make pushbikes in two sizes (the pink one is smaller), but nobody seems to know about it, let alone make an issue of it to consumers.

We've got a Netti (the pink one), featuring wood frame and 12" (I think) pneumatic tyres, no brakes and plastic wheels. We've also got a WeeRide, with a front handbrake (unused, AFAIK), metal frame and 10" solid tyres. I haven't noticed any dramatic solid/pneumatic difference.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

An adventure?

Where I live, taking your kids to school/kindergarten/daycare on a bike is somewhat unusual, so it invites a few comments. Nothing nasty, just ranging from positive to curious to uncomprehending (like people not realising that it's just like riding a bike. Really!). Anyway, one of the comments I heard, second-hand, was that it was like an adventure for the kids.

This was a really interesting comment, I thought. On one level, it doesn't make a lot of sense; it's no more adventurous than getting there in a car or on foot or whatever. You start at point A and get to point B in the exact same way. It's not adventurous in the same way that going somewhere new is - maybe you know where point B is, but you haven't necessarily been there. That kind of adventurous is something I'd like to try with kids one day. Probably not with a one-year-old, though.

On another level, this comment makes a lot of sense; you interact with your environment a lot more. The kids are forever creating wobbles as they point out this fascinating thing or that. It's even rained on us once or twice. Hey, we live in the subtropics; getting rained on in summer is no drama at all. There's a bit more scope for interesting stuff (particularly as toddlers view these things) on the back of a bike that in a car.

It was an interesting comment because, as I've pointed out before, cycling to wherever seems to get their day off to a better start than driving. I guess I never gave too much though to why. I filed it under "things both the kids and I like" and made a point of doing it when possible. Now that I think about it, it being an adventure is a fairly convincing explanation. A recurring theme in childrens' literature is how things that are mundane to adults absolutely fascinate children (one of the things that's great about having kids, for mine). Why should a short ride through suburban streets be any different?

Saturday, 31 December 2011

16 inch kids' bike.

Our eldest daughter just turned 5. She's had a 12-inch BMX-style Giant for a couple of years now. It's been good, apart from being unbelievably heavy. It's getting a bit small, though, so it's time to upgrade. We got her a second-hand one, which I made a couple of upgrades to.

Her requirements:

- a stand
- pink
- streamers on handlebars

Our requirements
- front and rear brakes, one lever-operated and compatible with little hands.
- decent tyres (ie not the ridiculous faux knobblies that seem to come standard round these parts)
- decent rims (not steel)

Light would have been nice, but 99.99% of kids' bikes are BMX-style (complete with stickers warning against riding them offroad or using them for stunts), so not much chance of that.

We picked up a second-hand one off eBay. Luckily enough, it had a front-mounted V-brake (although a cheap and nasty one), so we had a really good base. It even had aluminium rims, so using a hand-operated brake wouldn't be a complete waste of time.

I put a better V-brake on the front (some Tektro thing I had lying around for some reason), tidied up some cosmetic stuff and regreased the bearings. I've not had much truck with cheap cheap V-brakes (these were made of pressed steel(!)), but cheap cheap brakes in general are a no-go area for me anyway. I wanted something easy to adjust that wasn't too grabby. It worked well with the existing lever, which seems to have been aimed at little hands. The good thing about a fork with cantilever mounts is that you have a range of more or less powerful brakes to choose from, from cantilever up to extra-long V-brake.

We picked up some semi-slick tyres for reasonable money too (made by Cheng Shin, as I recall). The theory there is that they should last better than the knobbly kind and roll and grip a bit better. They were also slightly smaller, which means slightly lower stepover (good) and slightly lower gearing (also good).

Gearing is an interesting one. I took up track cycling about a year ago and this may have coloured my perspective a bit, because track cyclists talk an awful lot about gearing. Talking about what gear you're on is the rough equivalent of talking about the weather or something. I'm leaning to the view that it's important for kids too. In particular, I think lower gearing is a good thing for little kids (they'll struggle less on hills at the cost of going slightly slower on the flat). It's easy peasy to change the sprocket on a coaster brake hub too (although has a couple of helpful hints I wasn't aware of), so I think I'll scare up a bigger rear sprocket and see how it goes.

It's been a good step up; our daughter's done pretty well picking up some new skills (like dealing with a higher saddle and using a hand-operated brake). In some ways I'd rather do away with the coaster brake (it makes starting off harder than it has to be) but it's what she's familiar with from her old bike, so it's a good transition. She's ridden it to school, both solo (and supervised) and attached to mum's bike (in which capacity it works better than her old 12"). Her little brother insisted on riding it back home. Who said pink's only for girls?

Bobike mini - headrest and windscreen

So we decided to get some accessories for the BoBike Mini. We got a handlebar, which is really a headrest and a windscreen. I think they are popular; it's hard to tell, cause the young 'un thought the old getup was just great:

Here's a photo of the new gear. It makes the bike look even more, um, distinctive:

The black bit is a kind of curtain which hangs over the child's legs.
The headrest has been road-tested (sleep-tested?) and did pretty well. She fell asleep without it, so I assume that comfort wasn't an issue, but if nothing else I like her having somewhere to rest her head. I like the way the windscreen fends off low-hanging plants and (I assume) insects. Overall, we're very pleased with it.

We got the accessories from, who seem to be running them out at about half price for some reason - a good time to pick up a bargain.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Rudy Project Zyon Review

Every so often, I have some random thing bounce off my head, much closer to my eyeballs that I'd really like. Generally it's suicidal insects or angry (I'm assuming) birds. I've worn the odd insect in my eye, which a fairly unpleasant sensation, never mind the bad things it does to your concentration. I'm totally sold on protective eyewear for cycling. This probably sounds all wowserish or something. Well, maybe, but even the merely annoying insect-in-the-eyeball stuff was no fun at all. Avoiding that is reason enough for me, never mind the really nasty stuff. I've seen enough of opthalmologists to last me quite a while. I used to have a pair of sunglasses for daytime and a pair of sunglasses for nighttime. Nowadays I have a pair of photochromic sunglasses, which are way better.

Photochromic lenses seem to be quite popular with people who need prescription lenses. I can understand why; two sets of eyewear is a drag. I think they have a lot going for them even if you don't need prescription lenses; a set of safety glasses that automatically darken when it's bright is actually really really handy.

I have a pair of Rudy Project Zyons, which are hands-down the best, most comfortable sunglasses I have owned. Mine have a clear frame and photochromic lenses that fade to (more or less) clear. Aesthetically, they're like most technical eyewear, which is to say that the best you can hope for is looking like some Germanic killer robot (think: original Terminator movie). The clear lenses do not enhance the aesthetic experience; you move down the from pitiless cyborg to someone fresh from some eye-threatening process in some lab or Satanic mill. So they're probably not the sunglasses you want if you're all about looking cool.

For me, the fact that they actually fit more than makes up for their limitations as a fashion item. I have no end of trouble finding sunglasses that fit. The ones that do tend to be fashion sunglasses, with things like glass lenses, so-so eye protection and less-than-stellar durability. The Zyons have an adjustable nosepiece (which seems to be critical to getting sunglasses to fit me) and arms that can be bent into place. I can make them sit just right on my face and stay there. Considering that most sunglasses I try on annoy me in about 30 seconds flat, this is pretty impressive. They can be moved as close, or as far away from your face as you want, within reason.

The lenses are good too. They don't seem especially prone to scratches. I ride around with them on at night and it works fine. Maybe it's the placebo effect, but I find they aren't bad at cutting down the glare from fluorescent lights either. They get dark enough during the day. I wouldn't mind if they got a bit darker on really really bright days, but I'll gladly trade that off for the fade-to-clear thing.

They're tough; I trod on them (gulp) without any ill-effects apart from having to pop a lens back in.

One drawback is that wearing them in the rain drives me *nuts*. I suspect this would be the case with most any eye protection. Oh, and they fog up if I exhale on them, but I've hit on a solution to that problem: don't do it! The other thing, which is in the nature of most photochromic sunglasses, is that they work off UV light and so fade to clear if you're behind glass. This means they're no good as sunglasses for driving, but that's a minor thing when their role in life is as eye protection.

AFAIK they don't meet any of the common safety-glasses standards, nor do they do anything exciting with blue light. Me, I'm more worried about the flora and fauna that barrels towards my eyeballs every so often. A physical barrier that blocks UV light is fine with me.

They aren't cheap; RRP is (from memory) about $400AUD. I got mine for about $160 delivered from, who often have specials on this kind of thing. That's not cheap, to my way of thinking, but it's well and truly worth it. These are hands-down the best sunglasses I've ever owned.