Beach Road …

I have a few days in the big smoke so a chance to find out why boys die faster than girls on bikes.

Melbourne sits on the east side of a large bay with only a narrow entrance to the ocean. Beach road winds its way along cliff tops and beside beaches. It’s beautiful and busy and very popular with cyclists. And they are not especially loved by the car drivers or indeed the pedestrians.

I spent two sessions with a clip board and pen sitting by the side of the road. The first session was from 5pm to 6pm on a Friday evening. Rush hour traffic. The second session was on Saturday morning from 8.20 to 8.35.

It might be considered likely that commuters were well represented in rush hour whilst virtually every cyclist on Saturday morning was riding for fun or fitness.

There were so many cyclists in the second session that I was restricted to counting one side of the road only.

So on Saturday morning I counted 241 cyclists passing my nose in fifteen minutes. 216 were male, 25 were female. The other side of the road seemed equally busy so it seems reasonable to double the number. Multiply by 4 to get an hourly figure which brings us close to nearly 2,000 cyclists an hour using Beach Road as a training track. 89.6% were boys 10.4% were girls.

By comparison there were few brave enough to tackle Beach Road during the evening rush hour the previous day. Just 54 passed counting in both directions during an hour of observation and only 2 were female. 96.3% versus 3.7%.

Why was it that 90% of cyclists killed 1999 and 2015 were male? Because there is a big imbalance between the sexes when it comes to cycling. 90% of cyclists are male.

How can this ratio be improved? In an admittedly small sample it does appear that higher female participation rates can be achieved if they are given the opportunity to take their clothes off.

 

Risks and Opportunities …

Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live. Mark Twain.

Thirty years ago I was scared away from the bike by the risks. Now at age 71 I’m back and so far having a ball.

What are the benefits?

Lifted straight off the Victorian Government Better Health website

The health benefits of regular cycling include:

  • increased cardiovascular fitness
  • increased muscle strength and flexibility
  • improved joint mobility
  • decreased stress levels
  • improved posture and coordination
  • strengthened bones
  • decreased body fat levels
  • prevention or management of disease
  • reduced anxiety and depression.

Improved joint mobility and strengthened bones seem dubious claims. If you can’t put your knees, hips and ankles through a certain range you can’t cycle and they’ll never do anything extra no matter how many times you pedal. The evidence for bone density is mixed – cycling is often praised as weightless exercise you can’t expect too much.

Cycling Weekly (so much more beneficial than cycling weakly) would like to add better sleep, better sex and a better social life to the list.

Yeah, so it’s great. How great?

A study in the UK of 263,450 people with an average age of 53 followed for about 5 years published in the British Medical Journal

… found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.

That would appear to be sufficiently beneficial to outweigh the risk posed by riding in traffic at least in the UK but the risks are not negligible.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare* looked at hospital and death data for a 17 year period.

In 2015–16:

  • about 12,000 cyclists were hospitalised due to injuries sustained in a crash—this was 1 in 5 of the 60,000 people hospitalised due to injury in a land transport crash
  • nearly 6 in 10 of hospitalised cyclists were injured in an on-road crash (6,900 or 58%), and the rest were injured off-road
  • nearly 6 in 10 hospitalised cyclists had sustained a fracture, with the most common injury being a fractured upper limb

Between 1999–00 and 2015–16:

    • 651 cyclists died, an average of 38 deaths a year
    • of cyclists who died, nearly 8 in 10 were aged 25 and over, and 9 in 10 were male
    • nearly 160,000 cyclists were hospitalised, an average of more than 9,000 each year
    • across all ages, the rate of hospitalisation rose by an average of 1.5% each year
    • the proportion aged 25 and over rose, while the proportion aged under 25 fell

Of particular interest to a 71 year old male is that injuries tended to be more severe in older people requiring longer hospital stays.

The over-representation of males is interesting. Is it that 90% of cyclists are male or are the girls cycling with a great deal more care than the boys?

 

* AIHW: R Kreisfeld & JE Harrison 2019. Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations, 1999–00 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 123. Cat. no. INJCAT 203. Canberra: AIHW.

 

 

Strava …

I liked the computer. I liked being able to see that I was going really fast. Downhill I could be really impressed with myself. For the secondary display I usually chose distance covered but on the eBig Tour you can cycle through all the options as you ride. It’s nice to be able check your average speed. Apart from the odometer  the other data is ephemeral. I didn’t keep a record.

The new bike has no computer. I could buy one. I really like the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam which does all the tricks I had before plus GPS mapping. It comes in at a mere $600 but I’ve spent all my pocket money for the year on the bike.

I have a smartphone. There are a number of ways of putting that to use. I have been using the Strava app. You open an account and download the app on your phone. When you’re ready to go for a ride or a run you open it up.

Across the bottom of the screen there are a number of options, the centre one is labelled record. Press it and you are rewarded with a bright orange button. Once you have satellites press the button and set off. Don’t forget to take your phone!

At the completion of the ride press the finish button and you can give your ride a title and description, add a photo, write notes and sync it to the cloud. When you go to your real computer your session will look something like this …

and you can track your workouts in a number of different formats. In addition you can compete against others over road segments.

It’s a combination of training log and social media. You can keep it private, share it with friends or share it with the world.

There are some other features to explore. You can sync heart rate and power monitors. The basic app is free but there is a deluxe version for those whose pocket money hasn’t run out. You can sign up at strava.com and get the mobile app from your friendly app store.

There’s no display to watch during the ride but you can work out your average speed at your leisure.

The Norco Charger …

It happens that Gayle is a tall and elegant woman or in other words we are of similar height – both needing a medium frame on our bikes. Her second hand bike was an uncomfortable fit for her but she could transition to the eBig Tour without even needing the saddle moved.

This would have to be one of the strongest arguments for an ebike. They enable riders of differing abilities to enjoy a ride together.

Back to the shop I went. I wanted a similar set up but without the motor. A hard tail because I didn’t expect to be leaping from rock to rock but softer forks for the more ferocious corrugations. An aluminium frame for economy. A single chainring for simplicity. A very pleasant young man steered me to the Norco Charger.

It was love at first sight – with the bike that is. I would have liked a more exciting colour but hey.

It’s a bit more mountain bike and a bit less the tourer. For rear suspension you stand on the pedals and absorb the bumps with your legs – just like skiing. The front forks are perfect.

Of course it weighs a lot less than an ebike so my average speed jumped a couple of kph.

What’s missing?

The computer …

The eBig Tour …

The blame or the credit has to be sheeted home to friends John and Carole. They are both older and fitter than we are, how annoying. Gayle observed the difference in circumference between John and I and declared a war on my waist.

They keep trim by cycling and keep flexible with yoga. Cycling OK. Yoga is for yuppies. John extolled the ebike for a someone making a comeback. I negotiated a good price for two ebikes but Gayle chickened out and picked up a second hand ladies mountain bike of conventional propulsion.

I picked up my Merida eBig Tour on the first of December 2019 and off we went.

It has three levels of assistance from a Shimano motor cunningly concealed in the crankcase. Shimano terminology for them is eco, trail and boost. They are selectable via a control that falls under the left hand. The right hand controls the derailleur gears. Both hands have a disc brake to manage.

Eco provides a pleasant tailwind effect and the battery may be good for 120 km or so. I’ve never got that far. Trail provides more assistance but the range drops. Boost will leave a Ferrari for dead or at least make climbing hills easy. Take care the first time you select it.

There is a fourth option which is to have the computer on but the motor off. I really like the computer which provides your speed and average speed, elapsed time, distance traveled, cadence, odometer or range. You can review them all after the ride. Bloody luxury.

Now surely this is cheating. How are you going to get fit if a motor does the work?

The first thing to note is that if you don’t pedal it doesn’t go. There is no throttle. What happens is that your effort on the crank is measured and the motor adds some extra. You can work as hard as you like. Under Australian law the motor must cut out at 25 kph any way.

Riding the ebike is just like riding any other bike. The big difference is that you became a Tour de France quality rider overnight. It’s huge fun.

The eBig Tour is essentially a trekking bike. It has big fat tyres suggesting that it will do well in the gravel of our local roads and it can be ridden on fairly technical terrain. There is no suspension at the rear (a Hard Tail in Mountain Bike jargon) but the front forks compress and provide some relief on the corrugations. Reviews I’ve read generally find the forks adequate but they’ve not been tested on the roads round here. The ride can be uncomfortably hard at times.

After two months I’d done about 700 km mainly on gravel roads and forest tracks. I spent one afternoon climbing a little hill called Mount Hooghly and bombing down the other side. Boost got a work out on the climbs, I survived the descents.

The main problem was the disparity in riding speed between Gayle on her 24 inch conventional bike and my turbocharged eMTB. In order to get a good workout I did most of my riding with the motor off which gave me a good idea …

Surely Lycra is a Right …

I had a bike as a kid, a hand me down from my cousin Vincent. It was a ticket to freedom. Growing up in the east end of London I could ride into town and see the sights, Buckingham Palace and St James Park. There used to be a pelican on the pond there.

Another favorite outing was through the Blackwall Tunnel and back on the Woolwich Ferry. It’s a miracle I grew up really. And ain’t that the issue. Freedom on the one hand risk on the other.

The family had a strong tradition in cricket and soccer. I was good at both but when I discovered basketball there would be nothing to match it. I wasn’t tall but I could jump like a frog and put on a mean show of acceleration. I had a successful and enjoyable career as an elite sportsman a long long time ago.

What do you do when it comes to an end?

Training had become a habit, so had eating. I took up running. Initially it was agony but stamina came in time. I ran a few fun runs and then came the marathons. I could never be competitive. My muscles twitched so fast I would be leading the 100 yard dash at the half way mark and be half way back through the field at the finish, let alone 26 miles. But finish I would, my best marathon was just a couple of minutes on the wrong side of three hours.

I also revisited the bike. Living in a Melbourne suburb and working at the Royal Melbourne Hospital gave me the chance to commute by bike. I did it for about six months. My first port of call was the emergency room on three occasions just for soft tissue injuries. A friend didn’t get off quite so easily. Broken arm, soon back to normal – it was the imprint of the truck tyre on his neck that ended the commute by bike craze for me.

Then came the triathlon fad. I spent a winter having swimming lessons in an effort to tidy up my technique. Drunk on endorphins I had to have a new bike. The guy in the shop talked me into road racing the new bike. Just as part of my training of course.

The bike leg of a triathlon is in the style of a time trial, no drafting, just head down bum up belt it out. Road racing is quite different, there’s tactics and sufficient team work to provide opportunity for both the  beanpole with the power to weight ratio and the muscular sprinter to be in contention. If I could be in touch at the final bend, teamwork ended and it was all up to me and the lactic acid.

There was an entry fee for each race. Get a place and you get your money back. Win and you scoop the balance of the pool. It cost me nothing to race that season.

Swimming was a chore. Swimming serious laps means getting to the pool early while there are a few lanes roped off and sharing them with people that are too slow or too quick. It’s deadly dull and it makes your eyes red.

Cycling is way more exciting. Trouble was promising young cyclists were being killed or injured with an awful regularity. I will get fit if I don’t get killed. I gave away the cross training and stuck to the jogging.

Somehow when I hit fifty it just faded away. Or at least the periods of training became shorter and the intervals between became longer and so did my belt.

Then the hip became sore. I had a hip replacement in my mid sixties. I was sent to the cardiologist pre-op. The heart passed muster but when he learned of the marathons he said, without a trace of irony, ” No wonder you need a hip replacement”.

The last thing the orthopod said to me was, “No more running”, and he said it in front of the wife.

I now live in the bush. Country roads can be just as dangerous as city roads but there are plenty of quiet gravel roads and forestry tracks round our way.  I’ve bought a bike. It has nice fat tyres.

Now it’s time to buy the Lycra.