Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 11, 2009

The beginning of the story

It’s been about a year since I began riding a bike again.This is the story of how I came back.

I had not been on a bike as transport since leaving school, well back in the 20th century.

One day, three years ago, I saw a shocking Doco called, Who killed the Electric Car?

It made me so furious, seeing how GM killed a off great Electric car in the ’90’s, that I vowed to convert my own small car to Electric SAP.

I went about it with great zeal, much to the concern of dear Katya, my wife.

But just when I was about to plunk down a lot of money for the conversion, about $25,000, I read about an E car Mitzubishi was about to release with far better performance figures than I could hope for.

This photo might look like I’ve stuck a knife my car in frustration, the one which was going to be converted. No, it’s a model which comes in the story later.

Car model early with saw

So, just to keep myself happy, I went out and bought an Electric bike, not with high hopes, especially.

Well, what a pleasant surprise it’s been. From day one, it felt just like an ordinary bike only better, because it helped with the hills around here.

Here’s my daughter going up a hilly street near our place.
Ellen up hill 250 sharp
See what I mean?

Anyway, I love being back on a bike again. You forget. The wind on the face, the smells in the nose, (there’s jasmine around here, you smell it at night) I’d forgotten how how free you feel too.

Here’s me with my first E bike. The helmet is a regulation one. (It’s the law in Australia, you have to wear these dorky things) The sun brim’s been added by me.

ian bike 3   250

It’s a step through, a so-called ladies bike. I didn’t give that much thought. I liked the easy on and off.

I carry big loads sometimes, 20 kilos of shopping. (Yeah, I often do the shopping) and it’s just easier with full saddle bags, the step through.

Sadly, that bike got recalled by the people who sold it to me, some design fault, and back came this man’s bike, which I actually like less because it makes me lean forward just a bit.

And as you’ll see, I’m very against leaning forward.

But that’s not the reason I”m showing you the new one.

Mosman daily  full prof1000

It’s because this photo was taken recently, 9 months later, and I’m ten kilos lighter. That’s is only important because some say that E bikes give you no exercise, which is rubbish!

I reckon I get more exercise because I use the bike every day.

My E bike’s best feature? I sum it up this way. Effort? yes. Pain? No!

So, the situation today, after a year on these bikes, is that I’m so keen them, that I’m devoting a lot of time to getting the word out, even though I’m not taking commissions or anything.

Australia is full of bikes, more bikes than cars, but because our stingy Governments never built bike ways for them, indeed never treated the bike as a useful vehicle, bikes are rarely used like I use mine, to get around.

The bike culture here is mostly leisure and sports riding, that’s what’s done here.

The Aussie bike shops mainly sell ultra light road machines, the gear, the flash clothing, that’s all the go.

leisure ccling small 250

We need to create a more-down-to earth, bike is useful, kind of culture as well.

If we can get many more people riding to work, to the shops like I do, then we’ll get the bike ways, (we’ll have the numbers) which in turn, will make riding safer.

Right now, without bike lanes, bike ways, bike boulevards, etc, you take your life in your hands to some extent.

We are in catch 22. People don’t want to ride because they don’t feel safe. But, until more do ride, we wont get the infrastructure which will actually make them safer.

We have no choice but to break the mold ourselves and in a low cost way. How?

We can change our bikes, get more appropriate ones, or modify the ones we have.

I’m talking about bikes as everyday transport, workhorse bikes, not the bike you’ll use in the weekend for speed and sport. Nor your touring bike either.

For inspiration, we need to look to those countries where 55% of the population ride a bike each day. Holland and Denmark, for example. They know what works as a handy get-around.

90% of those commuters are on sit-up-straight bikes, which you hardly ever see in Australia.

grpoup on bikes 250

Here’s a great photo of Obama, by the way, having fun in the up straight position. It’s heartening that he’s pro bike.
Obama 250

Up straight is a happy, very communicative, position. You relate to other traffic, bike or car, more pleasantly and, as a result, that traffic treats you better, takes more notice of you.

Up straight, a lot of the fury which now exists between bikes and cars in Sydney, for example, is going to disappear. I’m sure of it.

cycle chic 2

At least, I’d like to see my theory put to the test.

Here’s a whole family out for a ride in Brughes, Belgium, a great town to ride in, and where I began to get excited about bikes again, after so many years of complete disinterest.

whole-famoily-husmand 300


I saw this scene again and again in Europe, the up straight rider turns out to be what you could call, the open faced rider

Compare those faces with those in this official NSW publication, a booklet supposedly encouraging people to ride to work.

RTA pamphlet 250

Note how they’re all hunched over and seem slightly grim.

RTA grim 200

Admittedly, this group’s going to work and Belgians are on a family outing.

Here’s a quick way to understand what I mean. Walk a few steps with your body bent forward at 35 degrees,
raising your head to see where you are going, like the riders in the NSW photo.

Notice the discomfort, and your expression is probably grim too.

Next, imagine pedestrians coming towards you on the street postured like that, how grim they’d appear, peering at you from under their headgear.

That’s the visual dialogue we now have between many Australian cyclists and others, their heads generally down, sort of grim or self absorbed looking. No communication.

Now, back to Belgians. Here’s another one. She’s communicating too, maybe a ‘where to now?” look.

woamn with files smaller

Up straight is not new. When the first so-called safety bicycles appeared over 100 years ago, sitting up straight was normal, part of the safety in the name, safety bicycle

Sarah Maddock2_1

to angles casuals used already cop

The above photo and the two below, come from Copenhagen Cycle Chic, a site with very beautiful photos of Danes cycling. A must visit place, along with it’s provocative pair,

These sites remind us that people of all ages can look so good, so glamorous, on bikes. Nothing forced, just free and beautiful.

Nice bike girl

older lady cop..jpg 200

Secondly, I suspect we need to discover E bikes like mine if we are going to commute in numbers. These bikes have no profile as yet in Australia, are considered very marginal.

We need them because they make sitting up straight so easy, even if there are hills and headwinds, and that posture is not only the most comfortable, but the safest.
You see better and you are seen better.

E bikes are also safer because they allow you to get out of the way of cars more more quickly, both on hills and at traffic lights.

I have a hunch E bikes could be the breakthrough technology we are waiting for which just might get Australians commuting in larger numbers at last.Maybe.

Strangely, the Dutch who need E bikes far less than we do in terms of hills, are going for them in a big way.

They astonished the bike trade by buying 140,000 of them this year. The Gazelle E bike, the Innergy, also won bike of the year.

Gazelle inneryg

Some people, like my friend David Hembrow, who runs an excellent bike blog in Holland, (google his name) feels that only older folks are buying E bikes over there.

Here, David gives new meaning to sitting up straight and to open faced riding. (photo. Julio Martiniez Anicieto)

V david hembrow, 400

I wonder if he’s right, though…… E bikes just dominated Europe’s biggest annual bike fair in Germany, I’m told, in terms of the new trend to watch.

I sense a wide range of ages will buy them, if not for hill climbing, for carrying loads, be it children, shopping or work related things.

E bikes are green, cheap to run, about 5 cents an overnight charge. My bike comes with its own solar charger, which I’m yet to buy.

I like the fact that you use the motor as much or little as you want. The stronger I get in the legs, the less I use the motor, actually

Lots more to share with you. Let me end this first post by uploading one of the manyy videos I’ve been making on the topic.

Here’s me trying to convince my neighbor, Tony, to try my E bike to go to work.

At 18 kms. his commute is too far, he says, for a regular bike.

Don’t miss the song, 9 million bikes in Beijing which starts 3.5 mins. into the movie. It’s great

That’s enough for one post, I guess. But please, do leave comments. They are like water to a blog.

Next time you’ll meet feisty Sue Abbott who’s fighting a helmet charge in Scone, her trial at the end of the month but has something else to give as well.

sue_australia - 200



  1. bring on Bike Share

  2. Well done. A nice description full of interesting photos.

    I ride to work a few times a week in Sydney. It’s 20km. Takes me an hour. I feel a lot healthier now that I am doing it regularly.

    I ride an upright bike as well. I find it really strange that almost all bikes sold here are racing or mountain bike, with uncomfortable riding positions. It really doesn’t make sense. People seem to accept it without thinking much about it.

    I’ve been looking for a dutch bike. Bike shops don’t even sell them!

    I have noticed more and more people riding bicycle to work in Sydney. It is definitely catching up here.

    I ride my bike to shops on the week-ends as well. I find bicycles ideal for trips less than 10 km, much easier than hauling a car around.

    I avoid main roads. Too dangerous with cars going faster and inattentive drivers. suburban streets are OK. I wear bright clothing. I haven’t has any problems with cars not noticing me so far. I had to figure out a route to the city that avoid all main roads. Not easy sometimes but worthwhile to make the effort to find a safer route.

    I never had a E-Bike. They sound interesting though.

    Keep up the articles and the videos. This is very interesting and refreshing.

  3. Came upon you from
    A lot of fun. I have a little gas (weed eater) motor on one of my recumbent bicycles … mostly pedal on hills and rises.
    Interesting to read your blog and see the movie about Sue.

  4. Great blog Mike! Look forward to all the stories you unearth and share. There should be plenty of material over the coming years 🙂 Cycle safe….

  5. An excellent start, Mike. Keep it up !

  6. Entertaining and informative. The links are useful and I like the spirit. Keep on Biken.

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