Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 24, 2009

The Day the Sky Went Red

This movie doesn’t really belong on the blog in that it’s not primarily about bikes.

But I did dash down on my bike, into the red dawn on Sept 23rd, and being upright, I did have one hand more or less free for filming.

At first, later that day, I posted the clip just as stunning images, but then my friend, David Bradbury got me thinking about what we’d seen and what it could mean, and so I re-cut and re-titled the clip. We Play With Fire.

Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 21, 2009

When No One Came

It felt a bit like a situation I found myself in 1973, making a film in Cuba, supposedly doing an interview with Fidel Castro, waiting and waiting but Fidel never Turing up. That was called simply, Waiting For Fidel.

Yesterday, my daughter Ellen and I waited, camera in hand for an event which also didn’t happen. Not so long, it’s true the wait, minutes only, but faced with the same, “what to do?”

I’d had an email from AVAAZ, the famous international activist group,
inviting me to take part in a Global warming Wake Up Call, a bit of gorilla theatre, as I understood it, happening all over the world at 12. 18 precisely Monday, Sept. 14th.

Well, there were no events near us on the Central Coast, NSW, and so I offered to stage one that would bring bikes into the Global warming story.

The contribution they make is usually ignored, esp. here in Australia.

But it was the Saturday before that I sent in my offer to stage a Plant Bike and I was rather trepidacious as to whether anyone would come.

With good reason as it turned out. Being a working weekday, everyone I spoke to personally said, “sorry”

And being this car crazed country, people just don’t have bikes at hand, ready to hop on. The tires are flat.

So Ellen and I, she’s also hard to get on a bike, turned up at the appointed spot on bikes and waited

And when no one came, it was time for the Fidel ploy, make the film about the non event.

In this case. I did some shocking facts I wanted to convey, and proceeded to do so with Ellen being exceptionally helpful, and only once calling me a retard.

You’ll notice two things about Ellen. A word on them when you’ve watched it

Here it is. Planet bike for Avaaz. Thanks, Avaaz for the push, and please consider a global bike campaign.

Every Kilometer of Bike-way built, is a delete for Green house gas emissions, once built, that is.

About Ellen. The two things. 1. She looks lovely on the bike. 2. She’s not wearing a helmet, and in Australia, that means she’s breaking the law.

Look, my thoughts on helmets have changed somewhat since reading (link on the side)

It’s not that Mikael has brainwashed me, merely brought to consciousness, thoughts I’d had already.

We bought Ellen a pretty good bike when she was twelve, hoping it would become her major way of getting around in an area where there is little public transport.

The bike sat there, in the carport for about 4 years, unused, till Katya recently started to use it.

bike in garae

Yesterday was the first time Ellen has been on a bike in a very long time, and the only reason she agreed, was because I did not go on and on about her wearing a helmet.

She and her friends just don’t and wont ride bikes, in large part because helmets are “not cool.”

What they really mean is that they don’t look attractive, or look less so, in helmets and who could disagree?

Now that might sound silly, but then tell that to the fashion and cosmetics industries much of which I find over the top. Women want to look attractive and will weight that heavily in behavioral choices.

If convinced helmets are crucial, they just choose not to ride.

Yesterday, Ellen matched up well with the lovely creatures you see on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, the other great Danish blog.

Let’s try putting them side by side.

Ellen, Yesterday.(No, she’s not on her mobile)

ellen on bike toards, 440

A Danish girl from CCC.

chick on yellow bike

If Ellen and her Friends were able to look like this, maybe her teens would have been spent on a bike.

Instead, not riding was her choice in the nation which was the first to bring in compulsory helmets in 1991, and which very few other nations have followed, by the way.

The Aussie look, below, was just not an option.


Almost no teenage girls ride bikes in Australia.

Ellen’s lucky, she’s fit. But what about all those who are obese and image conscious, are they better off staying off bikes because of the “dorky thing” that has to go on the head?

Especially when the life saving stats as to the benefit of said “dorky thing” are not impressive.

The heavenly creatures in Denmark, in Holland, in Germany, don’t get head injuries, well not to the extent that helmets are demanded.

It’s a tough call, and I’m not as sure as I was on the issue. I now lean towards feeling it should be a personal decision after 16.

That means Ellen would have been legal yesterday.

I do think, Auatralia so free in terms of what th land offers environmentally, veers towards the super sexed nanny state. This country is full of people assidiously dreaming up rules to make the lives of other better, safer.

Through, truth be told, they are actally marking out control territories which are going to give them careers as gatekeepers of the rule they invent.

Meanwhile, those who are the object of their concern, esp. children, become more and more protected, coddled, and quite unable to cope with a rough and tumble world.

When I was a kid, I roamed free in a paradise of muddy water, river bends and marshes.

What I did in tipsy canoes, to poisonous swimming snakes, and on the high limbs of trees, is just not possible in the new Nanny state.

The result is that the kids I know today, have no interest in nature, the bush, whilst I love everything wild, and did make it through.

Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 18, 2009

Biking up the Wrong Tree

My friend, Bruce and I, have got into the pleasant habit of riding our bikes around Sydney.

Since both of us are sort of retired, we do this on weekdays, wandering wherever we like, sometimes up to 40 kms.

Since my bike is power assisted, and and his is not, I’m supposed to wait. But sometimes I forget how hard it might be for Bruce to get up a hill.

Last week, we filmed our ride and and, in order to make it a bit different, a bit special, we gave ourselves a task.

We decided to count the number of other bikes we saw, and even perhaps count the various types, though we somehow forgot about that. You’ll see why.

Here’s the movie. It’s funnier than I expected it to be, not always intentionally.

I think it’s really quite tragic that this spectacular city, on that beautiful day, was empty of bikes.

As you see, even though the facilities for bikes are very poor, there are wonderful places for wheelie wandering, and one just naturally wants to share them with the world.

Going to Tourist info web sites, I made a rough calculation that there were probably about 50,000 visitors in Sydney that day, and as far as we could see, not one on a bike.

What a loss both for them and the city.

You read about the great success of the Velibs in Paris over 20,000 bikes available on the streets with just a swipe of a card.

Velibs in a row


These handsome machines are not just for tourists, but locals too. The first half hour is free, encouraging the quick ride and leave.

Many other cities in Europe and North America are getting on the street bike bandwagon, Montreal, for instance, with Toronto soon to follow.

Here are some Montreal Bixi’s, a delectable name they came up with through a public competition

Velib bixie

From a tourist point of view, they are all cheap transportation which allows the exploration of out of the way nooks, such as you see Bruce and I discovering in Sydney on our ride, a very nookish city.

From a revenue point of view, they are great too because the spread the tourist dollar like a gentle rain over the whole garden of the urban economy.

Not so at the moment, tourists are bussed around on pre arranged shopping routes, their dollars dripping always into the same pockets.

There are so many street fairs and farmers markets of various sorts in and around Sydney now. Imagine the number of tourists on bikes they’d attract.

Here’s my local farmers market on a Sunday morning at Avoca Beach

Avoca market. best

Mine, the only bike in sight. Bikes can be rivulets of good energy trickling theough the urban landscape

Avoca market 350

All the excitement and profit of the wander-street-bike-revolution we now miss out on, and will forever.

That’s because of our helmet laws. it’s impossible to rent helmets through a self help system like Velib.

Hygiene problems, legal problems in terms of the helmets having to fit properly, and….

.…and since in almost every other country, one has the choice to wear a helmet or not, that is, one is treated like an adult.

How do you think the German or Japanese tourist is going to feel being told by a machine that he or she must wear a helmet or face a fine, deportation to Xmas Island, etc.

Like the introduction of the cane toad, the helmet was well intentioned, but like that turgid toad, there have been unintended consequences, those we have to live with.

Not a totally apt comparison, but thought provoking I hope

Let’s count the ways. 30% reduction in cycling with consequential increase of obesity, and no increase in cyclist safety.

Revenue loss and a wowser image gained in the eyes of visitors.

A nation of somewhat feral drivers who’ve never had to learn to be nice to bikes, who’ve never been calmed, tamed by bikes.

A population who, using their cars to drive even the shortest trip, don’t take their climate change transport options, and obligations, seriously. All in all not a very good deal.

I actually like my helmet and might well continue to wear it. But guess what, I would like, is the choice

Mike beside his car pod.300

Like to the shops on my quiet streets with no helmet. Wrangling those blue and white buses you saw in the movie, well, yes, quite possibly with the helmet.

helmet 200

Frankly, I had not given the whole matter much thought till I met Sue Abbott, and heard about her upcoming trial.

sue in newcstle 026.jpg 330

It will be an interesting test of sorts to see whether the media cover that trial.

I’ve alerted many sections of our ABC, the conscience of our nation, to her story

Will they, do they, see the wider issues, I wonder, and will they be prepared to take them on, and presumably the lobby groups behind them?

Posted by: Mike Rubbo | September 14, 2009

Sue heads for court.

I came across Sue’s story, not in our media, but in a Danish bike blog which I avidly read.

Whatever’s happening in the world of urban cycling usually pops up for debate on Stories, movie clips and great photos, come coupled with pithy text from it’s creator, Mikael Colville-Andersen, and with reactions from around the world.

The blog seems to have little interest in speed, or how light a road bike can be. It’s into the social /sociolgical aspect of cycling. How bikes work in people’s lives in Denmark and around the world.

It celebrates plans and policies which make cycling more enjoyable and safer. It noses out stupidity and neglect of this wonderful way to get around.

That’s Mikael, there, and son.

mikae 300

That’s how I found Sue with her frizzy mop of hair, a compatriot and her story popping up on far away blog pages, but who was perhaps living not far away from my Central Coast lair.

sue_australia -200 muted

Mikael’s blog reported how Sue had been stopped by the police for not wearing helmet, and that she’d decided to fight the small fine rather than pay it.

She’s cycled all over the world, apparently, never had to wear a helmet, and did not see why she had to wear one here in Australia. Especially since she regards them as dangerous.

The blog was very much on her side, but there was no clue in the text to say where Sue lived in our vast land.

I was intrigued and soon decided that, if Sue was was not too far away, I would film her for Youtube and my new new blog, that is if she wanted to be filmed.

Mikael passed on ny idea her and soon she was in touch, revealing she lived in Scone, a town not too many hours away, and that yes, she would tell me her story.

At first we thought I would film on the day of the trial, hoping to get into court.

But then, finding out I’d not have access, we moved the plans forward to make this, a what-will-happen-sort of film, which is down below.

The fact that we live in a nanny state which tells us we must wear helmets if we bike, comes up from time to time in the press.

Though far more people drown each year than are killed on bikes, about 8 times as many, life jackets are not compulsory, but helmets are.

From a horse, you have further to fall, but no helmet is needed on your steed.

A cynic might think the authorities had a meeting and said….

V. man on mobile 300

What can we do to ensure that cycling in Australia…

V., man and kid 300

….never reaches the happy madness of Europe.

V man kid happy

What can we do to make sure, instead that our people go everywhere in cars, grow plumper and plumper, not like those skin and bones Dutchmen.

V. Old men 300

Why, we can make them wear those dorky things, helmets, even if they’re not children!

v. mym with baby blue helment

And, then, they’ll give up bikes of their own free will. (which many did)

V. man and dog bruges

And then we won’t have to build expensive bike paths to make cycling safe.

woan with sun glasses 400

And our kids will grow up so coddled, so SUV’d, they’ll never venture far from a play station.

V. Mum and kid cu. 400

Of course, our Govt was not so warped. Yet, I have heard that in the late 80’s, a big bike study was commissioned and it made 3 recommendations to the Govt.

1. Build cycleways for safer cycling
2. Educate motorists for safer cycling.
3. Make helmets compulsory.

The Govt of the day basically acted on just one of those recommendations, the one which cost them no money, and which shifted the safety burden to the rider.
Guess which.

If you know this not to be true, let me know the truth.

In Holland, where the above photos were taken specially for this blog by Julio Martinez Aniceto, there are presently 29,000 kms. of Cycles ways, David Hembrow tells me.

There was a second reason I was eager to film Sue in Scone, , nice country around there.

Looking at Julio’s photos and the Danish blogs mentioned above, I’m coming to realize that what is missing in my country, is the beauty and freedom of helmet-less cycling.

Woman profile so relaxed

People on bikes without helmets do look pretty good, one has to admit, and if the situation’s safe, then the bare head’s ideal.

V gay from behinbd

Couple this with the stately bikes they ride in Europe, bikes who’s handlebars curve back to embrace the rider like a lover, and you have riders of both sexes, but especially women, coming close to being sculptures in motion.

cicloeleganza Mara Carfagna2.jItalian minister in blue cop

(photo from

And not only women, either.


Will Sue Abbott be elegant? Could she come across as a biking beauty in the bush to help make my point, as well represent as the Helmet issue?

That’s what I was secretly hoping for.

Well, here’s the film we made together. See for yourself.

And do go see more Danish bike photos on those blogs.

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

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