Ride like the wind

Being somewhat new to Wellington I’d heard all about the wind, but until I experienced my first Spring here last year it hadn’t really sunk it just how powerful it is.

After a mild and reasonably settled winter I’ve already forgotten how bad it can be – until Friday last week.

Glancing out my window at the light drizzle I headed for my default commuting option – my trusty Vitus.

It took me all of 2 seconds in the saddle to realise that the bike may not have been the safest choice. My usual breakneck speed down Hawker Street was forcibly reduced to half of the usual kilometres.

Marjoribanks Street was marginally safer, but as I pulled up to the Taranaki Street/Courtenay place intersection I was hit by the full force of sideways gusts and struggled to stay upright as I waited for a green light. All in all it was a wild ride, and not my usual pleasant commute. Given that I’m about to start riding further in the mornings, moving into the windy season worries me slightly.

Well seasoned Wellingtonians – what do you do to stay safe when the gales start blowing – any top tips for staying on top of the bike?

New year’s resolutions

Pohutukawas on Ira Street

I began 2012 with a list of things I wanted to do, or do more often, helpfully taped to the inside of my wardrobe door in the hope that I wouldn’t completely forget about them. They included ‘Cook a paella’ (not achieved yet, despite a lovely paella pan lurking unused on top of the fridge – but hey, it’s only September), ‘Take my lunch to work’ (yes!), ‘Meditate regularly’ (tick!), ‘Get a bench seat for that sunny spot by the shed’ (done!), ‘Drink delicious wine at weekends, and water the rest of the time’ (mixed results here), and ‘Ride my bike for everyday errands’.

Riding my bike for everyday errands was number two on this list of 30, so it’s fair to say that I was keen. It was also something that I had been trying – nagging, harassing – myself to do for a couple of years, with a marked lack of success. Yes, dear reader, I was a car driver. A driver who would hop in the car for a five-minute trip to the New World in Miramar; who would, more often than not, hop in the car for a two-minute trip down to the nearby Strathmore shops, because walking would take 10 minutes and it was such a hassle coming back up the hill. What a thing to admit on a cycling blog!

I had to make myself. It was just to the New World, for a bottle of wine for Friday night (note resolution four, above). It was quicker than I’d thought, and I put the bottle in my basket and pedalled home, and skited about it on Facebook, and felt pleased with myself.

That weekend, I made myself go to the library by bike.

And bit by bit, something strange started to happen. I found myself enjoying whizzing along the wide and pohutukawa-lined streets of Miramar. Enjoying the exercise and the air in my lungs and on my skin. A woman coming down the hill onto Stone Street on her bike shouted at me, ‘Nice bike!’, and I shouted, ‘Thanks!’

Bit by bit it started to seem not just a desirable thing to do, something I should do, but something I wanted to do. It started to seem normal, just how things were done – we need some apples and some milk? OK, I’ll cycle down. It was almost as fast as driving the car, and quicker to park – hop off, lock it, and off you go. It was definitely more fun, it cost nothing, and it gave me some exercise.

Plus – something I really liked – the bike was, more or less, me-sized. It was light, flexible, able to fit down narrow paths and alleys, easily parked. I had to take the car into town one day, and was dismayed at the size of the thing – all this metal, all this weight, to transport just one person. My little Corolla – cars in general – suddenly struck me as clumsy, impractical and inconvenient, and I realised that I – someone who had owned and driven cars for 30 years – was, perhaps, starting to turn into a cyclist.

Checking Derailleurs

Checking your derailleurs

If you  ride a bike with derailleurs and you’re having trouble shifting or losing  your chain there’s a few checks and adjustments you can do before taking it to your mechanic. Generally if the derailleurs have been set correctly they won’t move out of adjustment and problems changing will be due to a worn chain and/or cassette or stretched cables. Cables can be tensioned via your adjusters. If it’s a new or newish chain/cassette and you’re still having problems there are a few checks to carry out. You may have knocked the rear derailleur and bent the hanger or maybe they just weren’t set up correctly in the first place.

So firstly just take a look from out back and make sure the derailleur hanger is straight and inline with the cogs. A special tool is used to check and adjust this but it’s expensive and unless your knocking the derailleur all the time it isn’t justifiable.

If  your chain is slipping off either end you’ll need to adjust the H or L (or both) stop screws.








Different models will have the screws in different places but it’s the same adjustment. It’s easier to do it with the chain removed, so hopefully  you’ve got a quick link or similar. In 1st gear adjust the L screw so that the derailleur pulley and big cog line up. In top gear adjust the H screw so that the pulley is in line with the small cog. This will ensure the chain does not over travel and come off the cogs and damage the spokes etc.

Now that everything is straight and lined up you can adjust cable tension. This is done at either the shifter end or the derailleur end(or on some models both ends). When in top gear the cable should be just a little loose so as not to be under tension but still tight enough to shift into the next gear. Change up and down the gears a few times to check operation. Well that’s about it for the rear.

The front is very similar. Adjust the stops so that the guide is over the chain ring but not so far to the outer edge that the chain will come off when changing gear. Again the cable should not have tension on it when on the small chainring but enough tension to shift to the next chainring. Tension is usually adjusted at the shifter end.

Lastly check the height of the front derailleur. When the guide is over the middle ring the edge of the guide should be 2-3mm above the large chainring at the closest point.


Now, all this  assumes that your cables, cable housings,cassette and chain are all in good order. If after you’ve done your checks and adjustments, things still aren’t right it’s probably time for new parts. Chains can easily be checked for wear with a chain checker mentioned in the previous post.


New Urban Bicycle Accessories Online Store!

There’s a great new online accessories store, Bells and Whistles, – and they’re having a sale on lights and mudguards! Even better, the lights sale includes MONKEYLECTRIC LIGHTS!!!!!!!!!


Monkeylectrics are cool. I can assure you I never have visibility problems with these things on the front wheel. If you happen to see a Gazelle step-through pimped out with flashing patterns, say hi!


My new bike

I bought a new bike today. I’ve wanted this one for years and finally saved enough (and found a good enough excuse to spend the $$) to get it. I moved to Miramar late last year and, while I love my little Bianchi mixte, she’s just a bit small to be comfortable for the entire 10km commute. Plus a mixte has similar geometry to a road bike, and I find them a hard on my neck. So I haven’t been riding for a while and, surprise surprise, I got sick this winter for the first time in years.

Comfort won’t be an issue with the new bike. It’s a couch with pedals. And it’s huge. I rode it home from Burkes and I could see over the top of most of the traffic.

It wasn’t cheap – $2,300 on the ticket but Ben at Burkes gave it to me for $2,000. Considering what I spend on bus fares I’ve worked out that it will pay for itself in a year – or a little more cos I’ll still be on the bus on the super windy days!

So what do I get for my money? Heaps. 28 inch wheels, dynamo lighting front & rear, fully enclosed chain case, coat guard, 8 internal gears (no more derailleur!) Axa lock, parcel rack, Brooks saddle, leather grips, mudguards with front mudflap, and an awesome ding-dong bell.

It’s not light, and getting it in my slightly tricky front door takes a bit of effort, but the weight makes it very stable.

On the way home from the bike shop I ran into a friend who took it for a spin. He commented that riding it is an entirely different mindset than riding a mountain or road bike, even one set up as a commuter. He’s right. Somehow – and this is a bit odd – it doesn’t feel like ‘riding a bike’. It just feels like transport. I can’t quite explain it, except to say that I now totally get the European bemusement with ‘bike riding’. It is an entirely different experience.

Heaven, thy name is Gazelle.


Belated-Monday cycling fun

I was home sick yesterday, but now I’m back in action (and avoiding work), here’s some wacky bike pics to take your mind off the start of the week…

There I fixed it have regular bike posts – something about the beauty and simplicity of bikes must tempt people to mess with them! A quick search of their site comes up with more ridicul-, um, I mean- interesting contraptions.

I can’t help but think this was created in response to a sign which read ‘Do not lock bikes to gate!’

And a gentle reminder for our car-loving friends, from the wonderfully clever people at XKCD.com

I think the above text also applies to some sportier cyclists heading down Wellington’s steeper hills… just replace ‘box on wheels’ with ‘thin layer of lycra/hi vis’!

Light ’em up!

It’s that time of year again. The autumnal equinox and daylight-savings are behind us. Winter solstice will be here soon. Night-time is officially longer than day-time and before 5pm I’m not the only geek with lights on my bike.

I’m actually impressed with a lot of the bike-lights I’ve been seeing on the road, at least on the bikes with lights. On the other hand, here’s a compilation of Wellington bicyclists who don’t quite get the “lights thing” –

As it says in those video descriptions: You’re looking for a cyclist. Motorists aren’t.

One of the problems with choosing a good bike light is that they ALL look bright when you’re standing in the bike-shop, holding the light at arm’s length and pointing it at your face. This doesn’t really mean much when you’re on the road, in a dark and rainy night, and the driver behind you is doing “important” things, like eating a burger and sending a txt.

We all like to think that the lights on our bike are conspicuous and “make drivers see us” but you have to do the experiment: Have a friend ride your bike a few hundred metres up and down a busy street, after dark, while you watch. Does the bike get lost in visual noise? Is it noticeable if you’re looking for it? Or is it conspicuous?

Simon and the gang at GWRC have tested a big pile of lights that are available locally for less than $100. Better yet, you can pick up a discount voucher for lights at the GWRC offices (142 Wakefield St – Ask for some free reflective tape while you’re there).

NZTA’s official road code for cyclists lists the requirements for lights. The important thing is that front and rear lights that are visible from 100m is a minimum requirement. Bicycle lights, even on a modest budget, can now easily put that “visible from 100m” requirement to shame.

On a related note, police in Wellington have, over the last few weeks, been doing bicycle light checkpoints (they may also check your helmet). More of these check-points are scheduled, so make sure you qualify for a chocolate, not a ticket.

A note on battery maintenance: Avoid lights that use “button” or “coin cell” batteries; it’s often cheaper to replace the light than the battery and they’re the weakest lights you can buy. For lights that use AA or AAA batteries, invest in ni-mh rechargeable batteries and a charger. When the batteries go flat it’ll cost a few cents to recharge them and you’re not filling a landfill with dead batteries. Many of the newer lights have built-in li-ion batteries and USB charging.