Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Bicycle Love

Is it wrong to fondle another man's bicycles? Absolutely, if uninvited. However once proper introductions have been made and an understanding of the shared passion is made, it becomes perfectly normal behaviour.

And so it came to pass that last week I hopped across the ditch to Melbourne to visit a World Renowned Pair of Cycling Enthusiasts (WRPCEs). Their shared love of all things cycling is manifested in a breathtaking collection of antique cycles, an astonishing lifetime's work. I had heard the stories. It was time to make the pilgrimage.

Upon arrival at the WRPCE household, I was issued with a bicycle to use for the next five days. The success of the trip was already assured by this point as far as I was concerned. I'd never been to Melbourne before and was hugely impressed by the place, it is an easy city to cycle around. I firmly believe that the best way to breathe a new city is to explore it by bicycle, you get to hear snatches of conversation, smell things, good and bad, and stop whenever you feel like it. If you get lost but know roughly where you need to be, you can always get off and walk. My hosts took me on some wonderful rides to local areas of interest and at the weekend organised a ride on a borrowed penny farthing to Williamstown with members of the local antique cycling group. Good company, good riding and good food. The real treat was yet to come though. The borrowed bicycle was returned to its correct place in the collection, tea was drunk and farewells said to new friends. Mr. WRPCE then suggested that I might like to try one of the more exotic bicycles in the collection.

I already knew that the collection featured an early example of a geared facile and I had already taken the few measurements I needed and many photographs. I didn't want to ask for a ride but jumped at the chance when offered. Some years ago I had previously ridden a slightly older, non geared facile and enjoyed the experience enormously. I was keen to compare the characteristics.

A non geared facile some time ago

The most striking difference is that a geared facile is (obviously) geared higher, this particular example has a 40" wheel with a 36T sun gear and a 12T planet gear. This makes it equivalent to a gear of ((36 + 12)/36) * 40 which is 53.3". The lever action is not intuitive at first and takes a little getting used to. After pedalling in circles for a lifetime, pedalling in arcs does not come naturally. The bike itself is in fine mechanical order and other than the usual jingly tune from the brake lever, was very quiet. I was acutely aware that this was not my machine and was extremely cautious but I felt that it would have the capacity for a fair turn of speed in practised hands. I rode up and down the street wearing a huge grin. I did however make one mistake which I regret. I rode the bike back to the collection and pedal dismounted as I usually do. Mr. WRPCE promptly chastised me and pointed out that it places huge stress on the mechanism. Clearly mortified, I apologised profusely but no harm was done to the bike. I will need to remember that tip.

Later, we rode a pair of authentic, replica hobby horses around the block. This was a new experience and it was really good fun. Although slightly too small for me, it was easy to learn to ride and I now have a new respect for these machines. I can best describe the action as akin to the easy, fluid motion of ice skating, you alternate thrusts with each leg but not furiously as I had previously imagined. You briefly pause between each stroke and can easily cover 10 metres with each leg. Not as slow as you imagine either. I'm not sure I'd want to tackle a long down hill though.

In other news, Mr Middleton had commanded that I visit the Ian Potter art centre to view a particular painting by Arthur Streeton, "The purple noon's transparent might". I had strict instructions on how to view it which I mostly managed to follow. The idea being that close up it is just a bunch of brush strokes but observed at a distance it becomes a very good painting. We all agreed (5 of us) that close by it was a collection of daubings and that at a modest distance it was OK. I felt a little foolish for dragging all these people in here just to view this. It was only when viewed from right across the room that it began to look really good, the water in the lower left of the picture took on real depth. We all agreed that actually it was quite good. But what do I know? I fettle chunks of steel for fun.

"The purple noon's transparent might"
I may possibly have improved the painting when nobody was looking

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