Category Archives: Commuting

A quick riding update

If you’ve read my previous post on quitting the road, you’ll know I’ve had some struggles lately with riding tarmac. Well, there’s some good news.

I’ve been working with a psychologist for the last few months, and with some changes of routine and a decent reset, I’m starting to get some kms done on the road bike again.

Gratuitous commute pic

A photo posted by Jason Brown (@thecrankset) on

So, what are the key factors here?

Continue Reading →

How to fix Sydney

I was just told in a cycling forum on Facebook that nobody seems to be suggesting solutions to Sydney’s absurd traffic chaos. The poster in question really only had “more rules and more enforcement of rules” as a solution, ironically, in a forum complaining about the NSW government’s new registration-by-stealth rules.

Laying aside for the moment that this statement is actually ridiculous and that many of us are proposing solutions until we’re blue in the face, here’s my multi-point plan to fix Sydney’s woeful transport network for everyone, pasted in from Facebook – with a few minor tweaks – to a more permanent home here.

We’re suggesting plenty of solutions and alternatives. CONSTANTLY

1. Overarching principle: Reduce reliance on private cars, especially single-occupant journeys, thereby reducing congestion and therefore traffic stress.
2. Modify Sydney’s shitty road infrastructure so that speeds are reduced on suburban streets *without* adding pinch points and other points of conflict. Sydney’s obsession with “traffic calming” doesn’t actually calm traffic. It makes stressed-out drivers sprint from speedhump to speedhump. While we’re at it, fix the dreadful pavements so that people can actually walk from A to B without breaking their ankles (and so that, say, wheelchair users can actually get around like everyone else)
3. More separated cycling infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users. This in turn will encourage more casual cyclists to leave their cars at home and ride or walk, thereby further reducing congestion. NOT SHARED PATHS. We don’t actually want to run down pedestrians, even if there’s a slim chance one of them might be Harold Scruby.
4. Be smarter about measures such as speed traps and RBTs. Trapping the same spot over and over drives regular rule-stretchers away from the regular spots and into the back streets, where their chances of conflict with pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders and local kids are vastly increased. This happens. I’ve done it myself after ‘dropping in for a quick beer on the way home’ and being worried about how close to the limit I may be as I approach a regular RBT spot. A lot of my friends have done the same. We’ve talked about it. In furtive tones. I’ll lay odds if you’ve ever had a cheeky schooner despite having the car with you, you have too. And after a ‘cheeky schooner or two’ you should NOT be driving on poorly lit back streets.
5. More motorcycle cops with GoPros to catch and fine drivers attempting to text and drive. Holden Commodores just can’t enforce this rule. Seriously, how hard is it to just get this shit done? Get some GoPros, fit them to bike cops’ helmets, turn them on, wait a while. PROFIT. And dangerous distracted drivers get nickel-and-dimed off the road. Win-win.
6. Reduce motor vehicle priority at junctions. When cars can coast through for five minutes at a time but all other traffic gets 15 seconds to get their crossing done before another five minute wait, we’re looking at transport apartheid. Making pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorised modes wait for ridiculously excessive time discourages active transport and drives more vehicle trips, because hey who wouldn’t want to sit in their car and diddle with their phone rather than stand at the roadside waiting for the Green Man to show up?
7. Stop building big dumb roads. Big dumb roads just move traffic from local congestion zone A to local congestion zone B. Big wide roads can’t empty out onto piddly narrow streets and Sydney is chock full of piddly narrow streets. WestConnex is just an expressway from traffic jams in Homebush to Traffic Jams in St Peters, and we all know it.
8. Congestion charge for the Sydney CBD, modelled on London. Couple this with removal of tolls on the Cross City Tunnel. Providing a fiscal disincentive on the magical cross-CBD congestion reducer is dumb like a box of really dumb rocks and whoever came up with the idea should be hung, drawn and quartered. With a steak knife.
9. Properly integrated public transport with sensible transfer options, including Park and Ride for suburbs poorly served by rail lines. Make timetables for key changeovers mesh properly. Provide shuttle buses if you must.
10. While we’re at it, run more public transport and run it later at night, encourage car share schemes. Encourage car pooling. Encourage flex-time and WFH options. Encourage anything that’s not people driving around alone in their air conditioned bubbles, bored to tears and with their mobile bloody handheld Candy Crunch machine phones within reach.
11. Mandate more off-street parking for new apartment and townhouse developments, thereby freeing up road space for projects such as bikeways (or, maybe, ANOTHER DAMN CAR LANE). Maybe even incentivise carless living in Inner-City suburbs like Balmain and Rozelle. We’re all overpaid hipsters here anyway, we can afford to rent a GoGet a couple of times a week. Some of us can even afford to garage our cars away from the Inner West’s absurdly overcrowded streets.
12. Get rid of the mandatory cycle helmet law, if only for bikeshare schemes. MHL has killed bikeshare in Melbourne and Brisbane, whereas other cities such as London and New York are thriving on it. There are other factors, sure, but it’s absurd to think a CBD worker would take a helmet to the office – or a tourist bring one on their sightseeing walk – on the offchance they might want to take a citibike from one end of the CBD to the other.
MHL is also known to be a discouragement to casual and new cyclists, as well as arriving foreigners such as myself, who look askance at a country that fines people for not wearing a plastic hat for a 200m trundle down to the shops for a bottle of milk. Enforce it on main roads if you must. Link it to the metre matters thing. 1.5m roads: helmet. 1m roads: optional.
13. Sack Duncan Gay. Send him off into the desert seated backwards on a horse wearing a giant papier maché head. Never think or talk about him again.

I have more. Lots more.

Since adding that, here are a few more. I’ll continue to tweak this post for a bit as more come to mind.

14. Stop NSW police conducting sting operations on “Jaywalkers”. Jaywalking is a made-up crime, with no victim except perhaps the hurt feelings of the little green lightup man, who feels rejected because you didn’t wait for him. It’s not just cyclists who feel put upon by Duncan’s Army. It’s also people who want to get to work on time but don’t want to wait for the absurd length of time the RMS have mandated for crossing queues (see “vehicle priority at junctions”, above)
15. Actually fix the broken magnetic sensors in Sydney’s bike lanes, thereby reducing at the drop of a hat the number of “running red light” incidents. Have I mentioned those bloody sensors don’t work, by the way?
16. Drastically reduce speed limits on single-lane roads and in areas with residential housing and/or high-density occupancy.
17. More bus lanes, with fewer private cars in them. The motorbike cops I mentioned earlier would be great at enforcing that. Lovely State Revenue. Mmmmmmm. Yummy.
18. Subsidies for businesses who want to provide end-of-trip facilities for their workers but don’t currently have them. Subsidise gym memberships, so incoming riders can get a shower before work, if the office lacks facilities at all.
19. Open Glebe Island bridge to foot and cycle traffic, and provide a level, off-street cycle expressway along the Inner West light rail corridor. The land is there, sitting idle, doing nothing for anyone. Open it up. Now. Do the same for other derelict corridors such as the Alexandria Canal, and easements long the Bankstown and Inner West rail lines. If necessary, put in raised cycleways . And stop putting “designated cycle routes” up 15% gradients on back streets while cars get a gentle 2.5% slope and all the road space they can eat. I’m looking at you, Darlinghurst.

and finally

20. Did I mention the bit about Sacking Duncan Gay? Fire him into the sea from a cannon and never think or talk about him again. A roads minister who ignores the expert advice of his own office is a liability and an embarrassment.

You are welcome Sydney. Totally welcome.

You’re doing it wrong: Bike Racks

I’m hereby starting a new series of posts, on a topic I’m sure is close to all our hearts: Why other cyclists are doing absolutely everything wrong and should stop now please.

We all do it. We love doing it. Now I’m going to do it here.

First up, bike racks.

Specifically, the kind of multi-bike racks that many progressive workplaces have in their car parks, so their workers can arrive happy, flushed and awake – by bike – in the morning.

Apparently, none of you know how to use them. Let me show you a picture of some idiots doing it wrong.



Notice, if you will, the handlebars of the road bike at centre left crammed up against the tubing of the bike rack itself. Notice also the overlap of the handlebars. This results in drop bars entangled in cables, bar ends scratching bar ends, scuffed brake levers, gear cables pulled until your indexing is out of whack and all kinds of general horror. The high rack to the left is basically unusable because of the tangle of handlebars and nobody seems to have any sense of order. Worse, the derailleur of the road bike at centre left is right in the firing line should the commuter bike at centre-right be removed roughly by a less-than-careful owner. And these people obviously are less-than-careful because of the way they’ve parked. QED.

Protip: STOP DOING THIS. It’s an inefficient use of space and – to put not too fine a point on it – a fucking mess.

Also, helmets must be clipped to the stem and draped over your handlebars. It’s the rules.

Conversely, here’s how it’s actually done


On the left, my Trek Domane. On the right, m’colleague Tim’s Trek Madone. Nestled together in perfect harmony. Tim’s front wheel is in the elevated portion of the rack, lifting his handlebars clear of the rack’s tubing. My handlebars are free of obstruction and unlikely to be dinged, scratched or mangled when Tim removes his bike later today. And there’s no way I can wreck Tim’s derailleur, and no way he can wreck mine. And there’s plenty of space in the high rack to the left, should someone wish to use it, notwithstanding the idiot who parked there with his front wheel in the rear-wheel position.

This, friends, is how it’s done.

And this also applies to the wall-mounted racks some workplaces provide. Though apparently no-one at my workplace can figure those out either


Now write that out five hundred times and DON’T let me catch you doing it again.


A Bridge Too Fast?

In response to the SMH’s beat-up of yesterday

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Jason Brown <>
Date: Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 2:41 PM
Subject: A Bridge Too Fast

Regarding Melanie Kembrey’s Monday piece on Pyrmont Bridge, I feel I might have to clue your readers (and writers) into Cycling 101.

A bicycle is a simple device which relies on momentum to provide stability. To put this simply, the slower you travel, the more of your attention must be devoted to keeping your bike upright. Stable when moving, unstable when stationary, grey area in-between. Pretty simple.
The fact that riders exceed 10km/h on Pyrmont Bridge is not, in the main, because they are hoons, or irresponsible, or bad citizens. It’s simply because tottering along below 10km/h feels markedly less safe, stable and controlled – to most riders – than cruising along just that bit faster.
This is just physics. Physics and human nature.
Putting it back in context, this makes Pyrmont Bridge – and in fact most ‘shared’ paths – a poor choice of cycle route. However Sydney’s infrastructure deliberately funnels CBD to Inner-West riders into this busy corridor, with few other routes available. Alternative routes are either stocked with hostile traffic, prohibitively circuitous or simply unworkable.
The solution? As David Borella states: More and better infrastructure, not griping about riders exceeding an arbitrarily-defined speed limit.
 SMH declined to print this, instead opting for two anti-bike responses, both attempting to tar the many with the brush of a few, one citing a cyclist running a red light and hitting a child, the other citing a cyclist hitting a pedestrian on a footpath in Earlwood. As ever, these solitary, context-devoid isolated incidents alone say nothing about the overall ‘problem’. I’m sorry they happened, but they’re NOT relevant to the larger debate. I could cite statistics of people being injured by drivers, by joggers, by skateboarders and, yes, by pedestrians. Isolated incidents are useless in examination of wider issues.
The real problem is that too little infrastructure is safe or suitable for multi-mode transport options. Too many roads are hostile to riders, forcing them onto footpaths or backstreets, where they come into conflict with pedestrians. Too many ‘planned’ cycle routes – Pyrmont Bridge included – are run in denial of the realities of multi-mode transport. Shared infrastructure should NEVER form part of a commuter route, yet that’s exactly what City of Sydney have done by funneling Inner-West traffic to and from the CBD over a busy pedestrian foot bridge (two, in fact, if you count the Anzac Bridge).
That’s the problem here. Not the stupid actions of a minority – Idiots will always exist no matter what you do – but the absurd cycling ‘infrastructure’ that Sydney riders must deal with day-in, day-out.

Sydney Waste Services and dangerous driving

Sydney Waste Services: Responsible driving? What's that?

Sydney Waste Services: Responsible driving? What’s that?

This morning on my ride to work I was subjected to a very dangerous close pass in a door zone by a garbage truck carrying the logo and contact details of Sydney Waste Services. The incident happened on Harris Street, Pyrmont, between Miller Street and John Street, heading North.

This is a mixed commercial/residential zone with a long strip of short term parking on the left, already a potential danger zone in and of itself.

I’d just turned left out of Miller Street on the green arrow and was heading along Harris at perhaps 30km/h when the garbage truck I’d passed at the Miller Street lights thundered past me at close range. The truck was maybe 15cm from the end of my handlebar as it appeared, and it felt like I was squeezed towards the parked cars as it passed along.

I yelled out, naturally, “Too close!”. The left-side window was open and a dismissive hand emerged, accompanied by what sounded like a “fuck off”.

Nice, huh?

(post updated 27-3-14, see footer for detail) Continue Reading →

Focus on a segment: Lilyfield Road

With the news that Leichhardt Council is planning to put speed bumps in on Lilyfield Road – in part to slow ‘speeding cyclists’ – I thought it might be an idea to focus on this much maligned and much ridden section of Sydney road and see if we can come up with some numbers on just how fast riders are going, and see whether Leichhardt Council is right in their decision.

Beware. Nerdery follows below the fold.

Continue Reading →

Dear Motorist


Image: Daily Telegraph

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough. In Sydney and London, my two most recent home cities, cyclist deaths have been mounting up, and naturally nerves are wearing somewhat thin. For my part I’ve been alternating between despair and fury over the situation. I either want to stay at home and never ride again, or I want to go out and kick some wing mirrors off.

In the press and on the blogs, much ink has been expended on the fact that the Amy Gillett Foundation’s “A Metre Matters” campaign needs to be implemented here and it needs to be implemented now. With this I strongly agree – though I personally think more than a metre is needed.

Very few column inches, however, have been expended on the fact that we already have safe overtaking laws, right now.

In NSW, rule 15 defines vehicles. It is abundantly clear over the fact that a bicycle, for the purposes of the rules, is a vehicle.

We are not second class citizens on the road.

Many road users, cyclists included, seem to be entirely ignorant of this, so let me just underline it – because it’s important for what follows. A bicycle, for the purposes of road rules, is a vehicle, and therefore carries all the rights and responsibilities that any other vehicle carries – with some specific exceptions.

Further down the rules, you come to Division 3: Overtaking. Within this division, rule 140 forms a master template for safe overtaking between vehicles. It’s pretty clear and unequivocal

A driver must not overtake a vehicle unless:

(a)  the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic, and

(b)  the driver can safely overtake the vehicle.

Let’s just repeat that

A driver must not overtake a vehicle unless:

(a)  the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic, and

(b)  the driver can safely overtake the vehicle.

This rule, part B of rule 140, would cover every single one of the dangerous overtaking moves that I’ve experienced as a cyclist, and criminalise them with 20 penalty units. What we seem to lack is general knowledge of this rule, the fact that it applies to overtaking cyclists, and meaningful enforcement. Being inside a metre is emphatically not safe. A driver passing this close has breached rule 140.

NSW Police, and more broadly all jurisdictions in which similar laws exist – yes, they exist in the rest of Australia and in the UK too – could be enforcing this rule right now. But they never seem to bother. What we get is mealy-mouthed excuses and instead of being charged under rule 140,  drivers are sent on their merry way with a mere warning – or at best an incorrect charge – while at the side of the road, the ambulance service and the health system is left to pick up the pieces.

Enough is enough.

If, like me, you’ve over it, may I suggest you write to the NSW Police Commissioner and demand that rule 140 is enforced, in the absence of more specific one metre rules. Demand that his officers correctly handle collisions and near misses when reported. Write to your local politicians and press home the point that we need a metre or more, and mention that we already have unenforced laws which can handle this. And if you have driver friends who aren’t aware of these rules, tell them. Make sure they know that if they can’t get past a bike with a safe margin, then they must not overtake. Make sure they also know that bikes are vehicles and therefore they are treated as such – at junctions, roundabouts and when emerging from parking spaces. Give way, give space.

This needs to change. Enough people have died.

Calling time on that whole “bell” thing

“Bike coming through. Keep to the left please”

I called out in a bright cheerful voice this morning

The reply came back

“Where’s your bell?”

That exchange happened this morning as I rode down the Cooks River Cycleway on my circuitous but somewhat pleasant commute to work.

Now before I get to the meat of the post, I’d like to first address the unspeakable stupidity of that response.

In no possible universe does “ding ding” convey more safety-related information than a bright and cheerful “keep to the left please”. “Ding ding” does not convey, for a start, that the right thing to do is to move to the left. “ding ding” is, in fact, considerably less safe, and less polite, than a cheerful “keep to the left please”. You’d have to be breathtakingly dense to think that was the case. One certainly does not need a PhD in Information Theory to understand that “ding ding” is a low information density phenomenon, whereas verbal communication of the “keep to the left please” variety conveys an order of magnitude more.  Ten thousand years into the future, when this blog post is retrieved by some far-distant digital archaeologist, people will be seen to remark “Fuck me, that was a really stupid response. People were sure thick back in the 2010s, eh?”. The kind of person who would make that response would be incapable of thinking his or her way out of a wet paper bag if that wet paper bag was open at both ends and clearly marked with the words “exit here or here“. The person who said it probably believes that she is a crusading figurehead for pedestrians’ rights, standing up to an evil, law-breaking cyclist. What she actually is, is a moron.

That pleasant little rant out of the way, let’s address why I do not and will not fit my bike with a bell. Continue Reading →

Bike Lanes