Archives for the month of: March, 2013

For many of us celebrating the Easter weekend, it is a religious occasion. One theme of Easter is that of new life (hence the tradition of the Easter egg). For me the rejuvenation of gardens and public spaces is akin to this. I have been to Singapore nine times now and enjoy immensely travelling to the city state. It has a buzz and energy about it, while presenting beautiful gardens that are boosted by the tropical climate and rains. Singaporeans enjoy presenting their gardens in new and innovative ways. The Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay are no different, and they are truly magnificent. We saw them under construction a couple of years ago when we took the opportunity for a stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, staying at the Marina Bay Sands (you can get amazingly cheap rates on the rooms if there is not a big event on at the same time as your visit). I didn’t know what I was looking at from the hotel balcony view until I got back home and found this article on inhabitat.com . So I said to my wife that next time we go to Singapore we have to see these gardens and their super vertical garden “trees”. Below are a couple of shots of the gardens under construction. BTW – as per usual, all these images link through to my larger photos on Flickr.

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Late last year we finally got the chance to go back and visit the gardens, open to the public and in full bloom. To get there you have to walk past the imposing Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, and over the bridge that separates the gardens from the uber-size hotel-casino. When you finally arrive it is like being sucked into another world full of flora and colour. The Supertree vertical gardens greeted us, and I must admit I was awestruck by the genius of their design and construction.

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The elevated deck that allows you to walk through the “trees” looks awesome. I think we will take the walk on the deck next time we go, now that the Pok (our son) has properly found his feet.

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There are several themed gardens located throughout the site, in many ways reflecting the diverse cultural backgrounds of the people of Singapore. We stopped for a rest in the Chinese Gardens, where the backdrop was the three huge towers of the uber-size hotel-casino. We could see the storm clouds approaching in the distance and it rained briefly on us several times while we were walking around.

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You can’t get away from the Supertrees and there are some 18 in total at the gardens. You can go right up to the base of these structures and there is excellent information about the trees and how they work – truly impressive!

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There are a few other themed gardens with different plants that are being nurtured. Turning a corner sucks you into what at first appearance would be a completely different garden from the one you just left.

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The Pok had an excellent time running around the gardens and spent a lot of time doing laps around the base of the Supertree above. At the time, with him being so young, he found it quite a novelty that he would walk the base of the structure and see Mummy and Daddy again, and again, and again.

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Finally, the proper tropical storm approached and brought an end to our visit. We had a fantastic time, and will definitely visit again to see a lot of the parts that were still being finished and maybe seeing the greenhouse too. I think a visit at night would also add a different dimension to our next visit, with the whole site lit up under the different coloured lights. I would definitely recommend a visit to these Gardens if you are spending 48 hours in Singapore. One tip, bring water! The humid Singapore climate coupled with all the walking you will do when visiting the gardens will leave you parched. If you want to know where the gardens are in Singapore, I have inserted the Google Maps link below.

Google Maps - Gardens by the Bay

For all of you that are celebrating Easter, have a happy one with family and friends.

It makes me quite happy to be posting about my new arrival to the stable. I picked up just in time for Easter my replacement MTB steed, and it is awesome! I have finally got my hands on a BMC Fourstroke FS02 XT / SLX 2012 dual suspension beast. The first thing I did when I got it was ride over some curbs and jump some gutters on the way back to putting it on top of my car to take home.

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The paint job is the business and in line with cool Swiss graphic design. When I first saw the sales shots, I thought that the lime green was a bit wrong (green is not my colour). But now I have seen the lime green highlights, the subtle metallic grey, and the angular paint lines I have really taken it too heart. Not sure about the white colour on an MTB (mud and dirt magnet), but it is striking.

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I made sure that I up-specced it to match what I was replacing and take advantage of the high performing, but reasonably priced, Shimano XT components. In fact the only thing that is SLX about the bike is the front derailleur, which shifts just fine. It comes with a pretty decent spec sheet, and with my new Shimano XT MTB wheels and the Maxxis Ikons that are shod on them it will be a sweet ride! The Mavic Crossride wheelset it comes with will end up losing the Schwalbe shoes for a set of Michelin slicks so I can tow my little man or ride urban.

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I totally changed the cockpit to what I had managed to find comfortable after much trial and error – namely Oury clamped rubber grips and short PRO bar ends, not to mention the K-Edge Garmin out front mount. Fitting the speed and cadence sensor took some fiddling, particularly with the rear suspension mech, but I managed to get this installed.

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BMC’s whole Advanced Pivot System (APS) on the rear triangle is quite an impressive piece of cycling engineering. It looks quite robust, and appears to be slightly over-engineered – which gives me a lot of confidence. I can’t wait to test this on the trail, again, and again, and again.

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This is the first time I have owned a dual suspension bike, and it will take some work to dial in the front and rear suspension. I am missing the lock out feature for the front suspension forks that I had on my old bike, but I can get around that. The new Fox forks are very high quality, with the finishing on the metal being right up there. I can’t imagine what the Kashima coated forks are like. The only thing that doesn’t quite fit at the moment is the 720mm bar, as it feels way too wide. I guess I got used to 640mm 3T bar that I had on the old bike, and I might end up swapping this component out as probably the final up-spec for the new bike. But I will take it off-road first to see how it goes before I make up my mind.

I have decided to name him VTT, after the French word for mountain bike – vélo tout terrain. I will call it a “he”, because no doubt he will contribute to some additional cycling scars at some point on my body. I still miss my old bike, but this new one has already got a special place in my heart. I took the photos of it before I had the chance to get it dirty, and this is probably the cleanest it is ever going to be. Now I am looking forward to some off-road spinning!

I was a bit naughty the other day on the return flight I took from Sydney to Melbourne. When they told us to switch off all electrical equipment on landing, I took my camera out to take a photo of the Sydney City skyline from the air. After all, how many times do you get the chance to take a photo from a couple of thousand of feet in the air. It wasn’t the easiest snap to take, given the turbulence and speed the plane was going at, but I got one good one – minus the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Skyline

And the city continues to grow with new developments and the conversion of a lot of harbour land that 50 years ago had an industrial purpose. The City of Sydney is responsible for approving all developments. So I was quite surprised when I went to the Sydney Town Hall (to get the signature of a Justice of the Peace) to find a 1:500 scale model of the City of Sydney. I truly felt like Gulliver in Lilliput. The detail of the architectural models is amazing.

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Here is my local area as captured in the model, the scale of the buildings from above definitely provides a different perspective from the human scale at street level.

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Currently, one of Sydney’s most controversial developments is that of Barangaroo. The next shots capture the scale disproportionate to buildings locally. But the height of the proposed constructions is not out of scale compared to other buildings in the Sydney skyline. Regardless of the buildings, I hope that they sort out two things properly – 1. transport that works and services all the increased land usage, and 2. ensure that the continuous harbour foreshore path is built with the land restored as much as possible to its former line.

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The rest of the model clearly shows the city scale and how Sydney truly is a global city.

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This next shot is of another large development currently under construction in Sydney, and closer to me – the Carlton and United Breweries site on Broadway. This will totally change the fabric of the local area, and hopefully for the better.

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Anyone can see this model at the Sydney Town Hall, and the best part is that it is free. I guess, my childhood interest in building cities out of Lego is still piqued by architectural models.

My work in Melbourne has now come to an end, and I am relieved because my health has taken a beating with flights and air-conditioning taking its toll on my lungs. But one of the many things I will miss is how beautiful the cultural fabric of the city is. Melbourne, like Adelaide, has really embraced the Arts. While you may not like certain pieces, it changes the urban landscape and makes you ponder – instead of mindlessly walking around like ants between concrete, glass, and steel. I would not be exaggerating when I say that this post could have contained 1,000 photos as the city is peppered with urban art and sculpture. But I have not been in Melbourne on holiday, so my photo excursions have been limited to after the working day is done. Here are a couple of pieces that grabbed my attention, in particularly the super-human scale of the pieces and how people can interact with the pieces. I love the visions that the artists have brought to life; a large cow in the shape of a milk carton, a giant slug coming out of the ground, some large white garden things, and giant golden bees. As usual the images click through to the larger images on my Flickr account.

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On one other side note, I have passed 5,000 views on my Flickr account this last week. Since I have started this blog and got out to shoot, I have focused on getting more of my photos on the web. I am quietly happy that I am able to share my pics with others.

A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure of catching up with a fellow cyclists, and blogger, Frank Burns. He had just finished riding over 4,000 km starting at the top of the North Island of New Zealand all the way to the bottom of the South Island. Then flew over to Sydney and rode all the way down the coastal route to Melbourne. Pretty impressive, particularly given that this was the first time that he has visited this side of the planet.

But even more impressive was the fact that Frank has raised over £5,000 and counting to support the charities that are attempting to care for the children of Syria. I was watching the international news the other day when a disturbing statistic was discussed about how three out of every four children in Syria know someone who has been killed in the conflict. The tear in the psychological fabric of this generation of children will have ramifications for the future of not only Syria, but the world. And the world leaders are standing on the sidelines not wanting to put an end to the madness – and I am not underestimating the messiness of this action. But how many more Rwandas, Bosnias, and Syrias does it take to step away from the sidelines.

Anyways, we had a great night, and my brother (and riding buddy) joined us to talk everything two wheels, some tall stories, and knock down a few bevvies. By now Frank has probably landed back in England with his “trusty fallen soldier” in tow to be the centre piece of his wife’s plans for their garden.

Dinner with Frank Burns

You can read about Frank’s cycle touring adventures on his blog, amongst other topics at

Serendipities of Life – Taking the road less travelled

And if you feel like you can spare a dollar to support the cause to care for the innocent victims of the Syrian conflict, then please get behind Frank in the good work that he is doing.

http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1 

I have been fortunate to make many new connections since starting this blog last year, and I hope to have the pleasure of meeting up others (either online or in person) in the future.

OK – I can’t hide the fact that I am a little bit excited. I will be getting a new MTB steed!

After the emotional rollercoaster of having my custom made from scratch MTB steed being stolen by some dodgy [#!{/?#$ insert expletives – multiple], I waited nervously for the insurance company to do the assessment and see if they could fix me up with a new ride. Having never had anything of value stolen before, it was uncharted territory for me. I did not  know how to deal with the guys from the insurance company and everything I had heard before was that insurance companies would do everything in their power not to pay the sum insured. I felt terrible writing up the claim form and attaching all the documents for the assessment, reliving all the memories in my head of putting the steed together. I think they were a bit shocked when I was able to provide them with a full specification of the bike – and if you asked me over a beer I could probably recite it back to you, tyre valve and all. I had a receipt for pretty much all of the components too. In all, the claim assessment form was 15 pages long. But they came through, though they did note that mine was an unusual case as the steed was bespoke (no pun intended). In some respects I wish the [#$@%*+~ use different expletives this time] thief had stolen my road steed, it would have been a straight swap for a new model of the same ride.

Requirements for a replacement …

Here is where the next challenge commenced. There were two complications with my replacement requirements; 1. it had to be a 26 inch wheel ride, and 2. it had to come with QR skewers. If you know your bikes then this reads pretty straight forward (and you think to yourself hmmm…), but for the non-riding geeks here it is in more detail and why these two requirements created complications:

Complication #1 – 26 inch wheels

It seems that in the few short years from when my old bike frame I purchased was made (2009), the whole MTB world has flipped and invented new wheel sizes. This shouldn’t be a surprise to cyclists because from the time that Gary Fisher was creating custom MTBs back not long after I was born, mountain bikes have evolved in leaps and bounds. Innovations have included the evolution of rigid frames that then copped suspension forks, then the rear triangle copped a suspension rig too (and this whole suspension thing is getting uber complicated if you check out this system from Lapierre). Brakes have gone from caliper brakes to… V brakes to… disc brakes – and pretty soon these discs will be made of carbon, ceramic, and silica composites instead of metal. And wheels have gone from 26 inch to… 29ers to… 27.5 inch / 650B. Confused? Yep – me too! Here is a graphic that explains the sizing, and it is not as simple as measuring the diameter dimension of the wheel (this article explains it in detail)

Wheel Size - illustration

It would seem that the world is moving away from the wheel size that pretty much lead the growth in the sport so that riders can roll better. My challenge was that I had a second set of true off-road wheels with tubeless tyres being made up at my local bike store that set me back over $600 (mostly funded by my boss as part of a work bonus – give me MTB wheels instead of a ridiculously overpriced bottle of wine I said). And they are 26 inch wheels, which would go to complete waste on anything other than a bike that is made for this wheel size.

Complication #2 – Quick Release (QR) Skewers

The secondary purpose for my bike is to tow my son in his trailer when we go riding as a family. It is one of the main reasons I go recreational riding and requires a QR type axle on the rear so that I can fit the socket joint for his trailer. As this article from Bike Radar clearly states, “Gone are the days when all mountain bikes had 9mm quick-release skewers front and rear. At the front, 15mm and 20mm through-axles are now common, along with 135 x 12mm or 142 x 12mm setups out back.” What is behind this is that the thicker axle setups are stiffer and offer the rider more control, rather than flex. This one like the first seems a bit of a ploy from the manufacturers to generate reasons for upgrading your ride, no matter how solid the mechanical principles are. Still didn’t change my requirements, I just want to use a set of these.

QR skewers

The Search has born Fruit!

I searched the local bike shops for what they had on offer and it was a bit concerning. Giant had moved their entire MTB range to 29ers. Trek were going all funky with 29ers as well and with some out there axle mounts that no doubt will sell them a few more expensive bikes. Specialized, Yeti, Cannondale, GT, Scott… more of the same. I was getting worried that the MTB universe had moved on from my needs. I was getting more worried that I would have to revert back to an alloy frame, a kick in the guts after waiting for years to get the green light to move into the world of MTB carbon. Then I went to Velosophy in Moore Park – and the heavens peaked open slightly. I spoke with Klara at the store and asked her about some of the BMC mountain bikes. She told me that the entire range doesn’t get shipped out to our antipodean shores, but she ran me through some of the models. Klara then told me that BMC were trying to get rid of last years stock and that there were some stonking bargains to be had (as it turned out I was significantly under-insured, I insured myself for the cost of the components which were purchased at anywhere between 40-60% off the original price i.e. I had built a $6,000 ride for just over $2,500). The one ride she know about was a BMC Fourstroke, though she did not have all the details. Klara said that she would call me back on Monday to find out the specs and if they met my requirements.

When I left the store, I was not expecting a call back at all. Poor customer service is a hallmark of Australian businesses. To my shock Klara called me back like she promised and had the details direct from the BMC sales rep. There was one missing specification (for the forks), and she said that she would follow this up the next day. Again Klara called me back and had provided me with the further specifications. After a bit of thought, maybe two minutes, I told Klara to get me that new bike and the insurance company would be in contact soon. It just goes to show you how taking care of your customer can reap you benefits. Sure the ride is a dual suspension, and not all the groupset components are to the same spec as what I previously had, but the sum of the overs and unders is pretty much spot on. Below is a photo from the internet of my new ride, and I can’t wait to take my new steed for a spin. I will pick it up later this week, which should give me a chance to get over the nasty bout of bronchitis I have contracted. Who knows, it may even get a name. I may learn to love again – ha ha! Can’t wait!

BMC Fourstroke FS02 XT / SLX 2012

Returning from my morning bike ride the other week I took the Oxford Street bus lane express back home. This is surprisingly quick, with the only danger being overtaking a parked bus picking up passengers. But I noticed to my left that the Paddington Reservoir Gardens was open (at 7:30 in the morning). I had first discovered this through the website inhabitat.com and this article: Sydney Transforms Waterworks Ruins into Incredible Public Park. I was a bit embarrassed to discover this on an American website given that the site is less than 5km as the crow flies from where I lived. It became a mission of mine to photograph this park.

What I found was a stunning example of urban rehabilitation and a small oasis in what is quite a ‘citified’ area of Sydney. It is one whole storey below street level and once you descend you forget that you have just left the bustling city. The architectural design is tranquil and uses the old structures as a skeleton to lay out a modern garden both at street level and on the subterranean level. As an amateur photography who loves buildings, design and architecture, I got a feeling of giddy excitement as I viewed all the lines and patterns. Below are some of the shots. As usual, the images click onto my larger images hosted on Flickr.

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I would love to go back and shoot this location again. Since I was last there I have acquired my one and only Canon L series lens. I was a bit disappointed with the light for this shoot too. But as with all photographers, I am always trying to acquire the perfect shot. If you ever visit Sydney, you can find the gardens at this location on Google Maps below:

Google Maps - Paddington Reservoir Gardens

 

So today I am not posting about one of my rides but one that my wife Rebecca did today. A few years back, Bicycle NSW started a great initiative to get more women cycling – Gear Up Girl! They realised that for the mass participation rides a whole bunch of male cyclists, riding as blokes do, can be a negative incentive for women riders. Sometimes women don’t necessarily want to ride at 35km/hr in a bunch and hammer it up a hill – sometimes they just want to go out for a ride and enjoy it. So they set up a set of women only rides to take the blokey edge out of the mass participation rides and get more women in lycra and on two wheels. In my opinion it can only be a good thing getting more people riding, women or men. But I think it sends a really powerful message to kids if they see their mum’s getting out to ride and get fit. Our little Pok (AKA our son) was quite jealous that his mum was going out for a ride and insisted that he bring his bike along. He even wanted to set off for the 8am start after he saw his mum take off (2 year old tantrum ensued until I told him that he could go mountain biking on his balance bike among the trees).

My wife and my aunt Jan decided that they would be riding buddies for this trip, and it would 45km in distance starting and finishing at Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush. This is the fourth Gear Up Girl ride that my wife has done, and no matter how many kms she has in her legs leading up to the ride she would never want to miss it. But the weather was looking ominous and it had been raining in Sydney fairly consistently for the last three days, yesterday being pretty heavy. I reckon a few riders decided to give it a miss, but it didn’t deter the two riding buddies from hitting the road. My wife registered on the day and placed the numbered rider bib across the bar and stem preparing to roll.

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The obligatory rider pre-ride pose followed before heading to the start line. My aunt Jan had just installed a new set of rubber on her wheels, thinner and faster – so she was keen to try out how fast she would roll on these new shoes.

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There is one annoying thing about this ride, the gas-bagging that goes on before the start. I don’t understand why they don’t realise that, male or female, getting cold again before the start of a ride is not conducive to a good ride. So all the riders were itching to get going, my wife and aunt included.

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Thankfully they set off not too long after this shot was taken. Now when I said it was ominous check out the clouds in the next photo –

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But the heavens stayed clear for the most part and it was only puddles mostly that had to be navigated. If you look carefully in the above photo down the bottom right you will see a rare sight at these rides – the Aussie Green and Gold ready to roll! The girls were lucky today to be joined by Jayme Richardson – who represented Australia at both the Beijing and London Paralympics and is two time bronze medallist in the speed event, the 500m time trial. I saw her on TV on SBS Cycling Central a few months ago, and never thought I would see her ride in person among the plebs. Here is the spot they broadcast on her – tough rider!

SBS Cycling Central – Jayme Richardson

Jayme Richardson - On the Track

Anyway, the girls set off and had a good ride – except for the nasty headwind for the last couple of kms.

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They returned to the finish line after two hours. My aunt Jan’s new rubber was very quick, and this has probably delayed her desire to purchase a road steed. I am very proud of my wife’s efforts and look forward to our next ride in May for the Ride Around the Lake. Next time I will be able to join in the fun!

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