OBSERVATIONS FROM THE SADDLE OF A BIKE
Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle.
This next odyssey will include new destinations and not so much encountering the past. The blog will include stories about the people we meet and the interesting things we experience while travelling. I might point out that where we go and when will be determined by the fate of the moment.
The prelude to our journey — Sydney
25th August 2017.
Our departure point for the forthcoming odyssey was Sydney and because we decided to carry two laptop computers on this journey and one needed a new battery. Preferring to do business with small companies we came across Mac Repair Specialists and Justin the young chief technician. When I told him about our Encountering the Past adventures he enthusiastically declared, ‘you are living the life I dream of’.
While waiting for Justin to fit the battery we had lunch at the Walrus café where we were greeted by waiter Ddalibor. He had an accent and when I enquired as to its origin he said Macedonian. I mentioned to him that there was a possibility we may go there during the forthcoming encounter whereupon he exclaimed that we must visit his parents in the beautiful region of Tetovo, just west of the capital Skopje. He even suggested that when he was visiting them in December that we could visit while he was there. Ddalibor went on to describe the countryside nearby where his parents live and after doing a little research it looks like a good place to make observations from the saddle of a bike.
Below is a map showing where Macedonia is geographically located.
On the above map the lighter red is the geographical region of Macedonia and the deeper red is the Republic of Macedonia. Depending on your political persuasions if you say you are going to Macedonia you could in fact be going to Thessaloniki. Political correctness suggests that if you are going to Skopje you should say I’m going to the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Following is a photograph showing Lake Ohrid to the south of where DD’s parents live. There is a 90 kilometre bike route around the lake, much of it reserved for bicycles only.
Another reason for visiting Macedonia is because I was contacted via the comments of this blog by Banco who lives in Gevgelija near the Greek border. He gave me the longitude and latitude coordinates of free beach camping sites in Greece, most useful information for stealth campers like us. Following Banco’s emails I researched Macedonian history, language, music and dance and when I mentioned this to Banco he said he would take us dancing when we came to his town.
A third Sydneysider encounter was when travelling on the train back to where we were staying with friends. Opposite us there was a young lad manipulating a Rubik cube. Most commuters these days tap away at smart phones so watching a Rubik cube enthusiast was a rare event. I sought permission to take a photograph and write about our meeting. Unbelievably the cube manipulator’s name was Reuben!
Unfortunately I had little time to talk with Reuben. I would have liked to have got to know him better as I think from the fact he entertained himself with a cube rather than a smart phone and, in addition, he wore a very colourful shirt, tells me he is a highly intelligent and creative lad. Reuben, where did you get that shirt?
The Rubik Cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Erno Rubik. The cube comes in various sizes from 3 x 3 x 3 upwards. Reuben was using a 5 x 5 x 5 model. The record time for solving a 3 x 3 x 3 version stands at 5.97 seconds. The question that any inquisitive mind must ask is how they work, what intricate mechanism allows the continuous movement of the sections in two directions. Search YouTube and you will find the answer.
Sydney is a dynamic city and it is a great place to start a journey such as the one we have commenced. Much of Sydney’s dynamism is attributed to the people who live there. They come from every corner of the world. New Australians, as they are often referred to, have brought with them their culture, an enthusiasm for life and wonderful culinary delights. Almost 45% of the people who live in Sydney today were born outside Australia.
The following map shows countries we may visit and they include: Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and France. The journey will take six months and we will start and finish in Zurich.
On the forthcoming journey we will again be traveling with our foldup bikes because having done two trips to Europe with them we consider it is the only way to travel. Foldup bikes are the ultimate travelling machine as they are lightweight, easy to take on trains and buses and even in a country such as Sweden where it is not permitted to take bikes on trains under any circumstances a foldup is allowed.
Recently I was poking around a secondhand bookshop and came across a marvellous book by Vic Darkwood called ‘The Lost Art of Travel’. In it he quoted bicycle racer Richard Mecredy (1861-1924), ‘Touring is the backbone of cycling, and nothing can surpass the pleasure and exhilaration of wandering free as the wind o’er hill and dale, with no care and anxiety but to drink in the fresh air and sunshine, to feast the eyes on Nature’s beauties, and feel in every vein and sinew the throbbing power of vigorous manhood’ (womanhood too, I hope).
Foldup bikes are probably frowned on by traditional big wheel bike riders. They probably think foldup bikes with small wheels are for commuting and can only go on paved surfaces. This is not the case as we have ridden over some rough roads and cobblestone pavements and they have coped fine. I admit that to get from one destination to another we might have to pedal more but if we get tired we catch a train. No longer do we have to prove anything, there is no need to pedal every kilometre of the journey.
Bicycle designer Grant Petersen said ‘Think of bicycles as a rideable art that can just about save the world’. This is worth pondering; can the bicycle save the world? It depends on what research you believe. One researcher suggested that riding a bike compared to travelling in a car is not such an energy saver. He based his statement on the proposition that cyclists’ energy needs are far greater than one might think. A cyclist carbon footprint depends whether they are vegetarian, vegan on a paleo diet or if they are meat eaters.
Following are some interesting facts relating to the carbon footprint. A banana-eating cyclist contributes 65g of carbon dioxide, 90g if powered by cereal with milk, 200g if powered by bacon, 2800g if powered by air-freighted asparagus. The figures are based on the assumption that a cyclist burns 50 calories per mile.
The above information was taken from a story by Mike Berners-Lee, which appeared in the Guardian June 2010. Mike wrote and I quote: ‘Is cycling a carbon-friendly thing to do? Emphatically yes! Powered by biscuits, bananas or breakfast cereal, the bike is nearly 10 times more carbon-efficient than the most efficient of petrol cars.’
This year, 2017, marks the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle. There is debate as to by whom and when the bicycle was invented, however it is generally agreed it was invented by German, Baron Karl Drais in 1817. German Deutsche Bundespost believe this to be true as they recently published a stamp to commemorate the event.
It was through necessity that Baron Karl Drais built the first two-wheeled contrivance called the Walking Machine. If you don’t know why Drais decided to pursue bicycle design you will find, as I did, the following explanation fascinating.
In 1816 dense clouds of smoke covered much of the northern hemisphere, a result of the massive eruption of Mt Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. An ash cloud from the eruption dispersed around the northern hemisphere lowering global temperatures and leading to worldwide harvest failures. People in Europe moved around like refugees begging for food, livestock including horses (the main form of transport at the time) starved to death. The event is now known as the ‘Year Without Summer’. To solve the transport problem Baron Karl Drais invented the two-wheeled walking machine. The Drais machine could be steered and this seems to be the criteria in classifying the walking machine as a bicycle: if it couldn’t be steered it wasn’t a bicycle.
The walking/running machine was called the Dandy Horse because it was ridden mostly by well-dressed young men known as dandies. The Dandy Horse is still being made. The following is a photograph of one of my grandsons riding a modern version.
It could be said that Drais was the first to ride a bicycle and the ride took place in June 1817: he rode seven kilometres along what was Baden’s best road at the time. The ride, as quoted in Wikipedia, was the ‘Big Bang’ for horseless transportation. The ride was not a comfortable one due to the badly rutted road: it was hard for the riders of the Dandy Horse to balance so they took to riding footpaths, much to the annoyance of pedestrians. Authorities in Germany, Great Britain, the United States and even Calcutta banned the use of the Drais machine. The ban ended its vogue for decades.
Drais not only invented the bicycle but invented the first typewriter with a keyboard, a device to record piano music on paper, the first meat grinder, a woodsaving cooker and a machine, still in use today, a Draisine, more commonly known as a railroad handcar.
For us there are many positive aspects to travelling on a Dandy Horse. When we are not riding the horse acts as a carrier of our luggage and it allows us to explore an area much faster and wider than if we were on foot. But the most positive aspect is when people see our bikes and come to us for a yarn. They want to know where we have been and where we are going and sometimes the conversation leads to a coffee or lunch. This would not happen if we were pulling a wheeled suitcase.
Because I am past halfway in the septuagenarian era the first thing we do when we arrive in Zurich is to have very small electric motor fitted to our bikes. The innovative Austrian made motors and battery weighs only 2.2kg. The battery is the size and shape of a drink bottle. Below is a picture showing the Add-e innovation setup.
I will write more about this unique invention soon after we have them fitted. I hope the use of the motor will not increase our carbon footprint excessively, it might mean we will need to eat more bananas!
At the end of Encountering the Past Part 3 (2014) Bev and I returned to Zurich from where we returned to Australia. Prior to departure our cycling friends Rolf and Erika took us to the Nationales Velo Museum in Brugg and although some readers might find a visit to a bike museum rather boring I found the evolution of bike components such as tyres, pedals and saddles particularly interesting.
The above type of bicycle tyre was in use up until 1887. After that pneumatic tyres were the vogue. John B Dunlop (1840-1921) developed the first practical pneumatic tyre in an attempt to prevent the headaches his son had while riding a bike over rough roads fitted with solid tyres.
In India, the land of innovation, I saw in the 1970s a ‘semi-solid rice’ tyre. A young boy fed grains of rice one at a time through the valve stem until it was full. Another tyre repair I also saw was a rubber sleeve bolted over the outside of a split in the tyre.
A modern day equivalent to the above tyre is shown below.
The above tyre is of course puncture proof and according to reviews it holds the road well and is also comfortable. The Tannus publicity blurb says, ‘Tannus tyres are like no other tyre on the planet. Being solid, a Tannus can withstand everything that would normally stop you flat with a pneumatic tire. Nails, glass, sharp metal objects, and thorns are no longer your enemy’.
Bamboo-framed bikes have been around for a long time. The first patent taken out was in England in 1894. Bamboo bikes in the past have not proved popular due mainly to cost, however today Green riders are mounting up and they are gaining in popularity. In England there is even a bamboo bicycle club and in Europe there is a bamboo bike school where you bring your old bike, cut it up and insert bamboo sections into your old bike frame parts.
At the present, companies worldwide are selling bamboo bike frame kits and advocates of bamboo bikes claim there are many advantages in owning one. These advantages include hand-crafted, often customized, bamboo is a renewable resource, it is grown not mined and unlike conventional bike frames made from aluminium, steel or carbon fibre.
Bamboo bikes have not been the only ones that are assembled in sections. Raleigh, the famous English bike manufacturer, made non-welded bikes and I was fortunate enough to come across one in Switzerland at a bike shop our friend Rolf took us to.
The purple aluminium frame sections are not welded to the crank-bearing holder but glued into place.
The owner of the above bike found it on a rubbish dump and brought it to Rene for repairs. Apparently it is a valuable collector’s item. The advantage of lugged frame construction is they are extremely light.
Looking at the wooden pedal begs the question, who turned the Dandy Horse into a pedal horse? Historians who specialize in bicycle history suggest Pierre Lallament (1843-1891) was the man who added a rotary crank with pedals attached to a hub. Then others believe Scottish born Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1812-1878) was the first to add pedals with connecting rods, but it is thought he added pedals to a tricycle, not a bicycle.
The above saddle could well cut off circulation to one’s under parts, not a comfortable experience. It has taken Bev and I a couple of years to finally decide on saddles that suit us best. How comfortable a seat is depends on how much fat one has on their sit bones. I don’t have a lot so I have gone for an extra soft split seat. My sit bones get a bit sore after three days of making observations from the saddle.
The new saddles on our bikes are rather plain compared to the saddle on the most expensive bike in the world. Following is a picture of the bike.
Only thirteen of these bikes rolled off the production line. Each bike has an emblem set with six hundred black diamonds and five hundred gold sapphires. The seats are covered with chocolate brown alligator skin. There is one for sale on the web at the moment with a price tag of one million dollars. When it sells 90% of the million will be given to charity. One bike rider I mentioned this bike to said ‘what’s the point of it’. Yes indeed.
The House of Solid Gold bike may be the most expensive but the coolest is the one in the following photograph.
The tour of the Velo Museum was with members of what is jokingly called ‘The Dying Velo Club’, so called because many of the members are moving into senior years. No longer do they compete in the Tour de France! One of the members, Marcello, invited us to his leather workshop where he fashioned all manner of items, not bike saddles but horse saddles.
The following photograph shows a 1982 model Swiss army bicycle. Marco, is a chef at a restaurant nearby to where our friends live in Zurich and this was his service bike.
That’s the end of this post. The next post deals with the finer arts of travel, such as the alternative forms of accommodation we are seeking out on this odyssey, couchsurfing, Pod and sleeping-in-the-hay camping. Bev and I hope you stay with us and, if you wish, leave a comment and if you want to be alerted each time we do a post click on FOLLOW.