Don’t fall…

I have a confession to make. I’m a “closet fan” of Linkin Park… While they’re not the “coolest” of bands in my circles, especially among my music friends, their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora in particular sit amongst my fave albums of all time. Definitely a case of “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff,” but still…

There is so much groove in the riffs, the guitar tone is massive, and the impressive vocal performances meshed with the raw power and energy of the underlying music is just a magic combination in my book.

The interplay between Chester Bennington’s melodic vocals and Mike Shinoda’s rhymes is just gold. There’s a directness and a simplicity—dare I say honesty?—to the lyrics. A lot of them reflect on the challenges of personal relationships. They could so easily come across as naïve or contrived, but they don’t. There’s a “real-ness” to it, an anger and frustration that is infused in their delivery, making it feel like a genuine reflection of lived experience, a rarity in what is ostensibly a pop-rock song.

A friend said recently “[Chester Bennington] sang so many of my sentiments over the years.” Yeh, me too. Another friend noted that working out to their music was a saving grace, helping them on a weekly basis work through their own challenges. That speaks to the powerful combination of music, energy, lyrics, and vocal delivery—all of it together is what makes it work.

That said, Chester’s voice, in particular, was a big part of my connection with the music. Not only in terms of the emotion and power evident in the delivery, but also his melodic choices—the intervals and directions he took really caught my attention and imagination. Someone more learned in music theory can probably explain why—perhaps it’s reminiscent of a lot of my favourite vocalists like Sting, Bjork, Colin Hay, Jeff Buckley… In any case—I liked it. A lot.

He had the most amazing tone to his voice too. There’s a scene in the DVD that accompanies the special edition of Meteora, looking at the making of the album, where I think it’s (producer) Rick Rubin who says that there’s an upper harmonic to his vocals that makes it sound like he’s doubling the part, when it’s just a solo vocal. In the doco they single that out and it’s really apparent, but you can hear it in all their recorded work if you listen closely.

And, IMO, he just oozed cool in terms of his visual persona. I really wanted to be able to pull off that look (but there was no chance)!


There’s another scene in that documentary that stuck with me. The first album has a lot of dark lyrics—there is often no resolution or uplift. In the end is a great example (now, sadly, being used as a reflection of Chester’s choices). Given the initial success of their debut album, it was clear this music, and these lyrics, were resonating with millions of people worldwide. Ruben highlights to the guys that their words are an influence on so many people, and suggests they consider how they might shape those lyrics for a higher purpose, to provide a light, guiding people through the murkiness, not just reflecting it…

You can see in the film that the young lyricists—Chester and Mike—really take this to heart, adding a lot of weight to the creative process and no doubt to each of them individually. (And I wonder if this weight had any bearing on recent events?) But you can also hear this shift in the music. The anger and frustration and power remains in the delivery, but there’s a subtle but important shift, that continued into later albums.

There was an introspection, an examination of the role we each individually play in creating our own situations. But also a pushing back, saying “it’s not just about me, and I don’t have to accept it.” I can move on, and beyond this. (See, for example, Breaking the Habit, Faint and Numb.)


All of this makes the recent news of Chester’s passing deeply felt for myself, and clearly some of my friends (based on what I’m reading in my social networks). It is the third occasion I’ve heard about in recent months where a talented songwriter, lyricist, singer and performer has taken their own life. And seemingly when they had it together. For example, Chris Cornell had seemingly made it out the other side of the grunge heyday, when we lost so many talents—Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland—to name but a few. They had families (Bennington leaves behind a wife and 6 kids). And both still enjoy a degree of commercial success, and the adoration of a plethora of fans.

When I was working with Reachout.com I recall hearing that a report of suicide in the news often triggered a spate of suicides in the community. I wonder (and worry) that this is what is happening here. (Bennington was very close to Cornell.) It’s one thing to hear about a suicide from afar, but it always hits harder when it’s a person who is close to you, or is so admired and through whose music we develop such a strong connection. If so many people drew hope and inspiration and outplayed their own anger and frustrations through this music—as is evident through my own experience and those of my friends—what happens with the people behind that music take their own life? Does this set a template? Are people “inspired” by this action to follow suit?

I hope not.

As Tim Byron, in response to the news of Simon Holmes’ passing, so eloquently stated (the whole post is definitely worth reading, but I’m quoting one bit at length here):

“…I want to point out that it’s sometimes hard for men of a certain age to admit to needing help—there’s a cultural value in Australia about resilience and self-reliance and stoicism, and a feeling that getting on with tit is the best you can do. There’s a good side to this, I think—it often means you don’t get caught up in the small stuff. But it also means that people often lose the ability to deal with the big stuff.”

“Going and seeing a doctor and getting a referral to government-subsidised sessions with a psychologist isn’t going to totally uproot your identity. It’s not self-indulgent.”

“…if you’ve read this, and you had a poor experience with a psychologist, and that put you off—please do try again. … Sometimes you don’t quite connect with a psychologist—psychologists do have a variety of personalities. It’s worth persisting until you get someone you do connect with.”

I wholeheartedly second this statement, especially the bit about “try again”.

I’m white, middle-class, and male. This puts me in a position of privilege, and it’s easy to think and feel when you’re wrestling with the pressures and challenges of life that “I’ve got it good, why should I need help or support? I should have all this together. I shouldn’t complain. I shouldn’t lean on others.” You could argue the same for the above people, adding to that their success commercially and the admiration of others for their skills in their chosen craft as an additional driver against seeking help. But it is so important that if you find yourself in that situation, that you do get support.

Personally I have chosen to do as Tim advises—a year or so ago I sought out the support of a psychologist to help me untangle the anxieties and constant feeling of exhaustion that I was feeling. It was a decision that has helped me tremendously. (But it took 2–3 attempts to find the right one for me…) I’ve also taken to meditating, after two good friends shared with me that they had benefited from the Headspace.com program (an iPhone app). I signed up, and have found a great benefit in doing so. And I’ve also found N.E.T. and kinesiology of help.


In reflecting on these recent events, I choose to see the spirit and extraordinary talent in what the likes of Chester, Chris and Simon provided in their time with us as my inspiration. To work through my own challenges via an appreciation and connection to their art, rather than any final choices they made.

I also choose to take that inspiration and channel it towards my own art, something that I have lost touch with in recent years, having done very little songwriting and performance in that time. I have renewed vigour in re-locating my creative voice, and expressing that. Even in small ways, untethered to goals and aspirations of commercial success. It’s the least I can do to honour their gift to me (and countless others) in their music.

I thank the creative spirit for their gifts and how their sharing of those gifts have helped me, and no doubt will continue to do so, through my tough times. I hope that their legacy continues to bring joy and support to others. And that our memory of them will remain on the light in their lives, not the darkness of their passing…

“Growing” 3D printed objects

I found this demonstration and talk by Joseph DeSimone of Carbon 3D, explaining a new method of 3D printing where the elements are sort of “grown”, really interesting.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my current role to be able to explore 3D printing—working with great peeps like Mel Fuller from Three Farm and Matthew Connolly from me3D in teaching this technology to young folks.

It’s really piqued my interest—I’m fascinated by the possibilities. I’ve been looking into various approaches to 3D printing bikes (perhaps unsurprisingly!), among other things. But I also see potential in creating parts for things like robotics projects.

One of my “alternate lives” would be an industrial designer. I’ve long had an interest in building things in real life (starting with my love of LEGO, but extending to radio control cars, and dreams of being a robotics engineer at one point). But I’ve never quite had the skills or equipment to pull that off. I thought about heading back into study of industrial design at one point, but wasn’t quite convinced it was the right path for me.

What I’m finding most inspiring/interesting about 3D printing is that it brings into reach many of things that I always dreamt of being able to do. I was very excited recently to be able to 3D print an iPhone stand for a custom application at work. Not knowing how to use the software at the start of the day, we were able to get a first prototype designed and printed within the space of a few hours.

Speed and strength are two key issues with the resulting output for some applications. For example, if I was still actively working on RC cars, I can see countless opportunities for customisations and enhancements using 3D printed parts, but they would need to be quite strong.

The Carbon 3D technology is much faster, supports a wide range of source materials, and is stronger—so seems to address a lot of those issues.

I also think about applying this sort of thing to creating the robot pieces that I envisaged when I was a youngster, attempting (unsuccessfully) to build a robot with an articulated arm out of wood.

Combined with my ongoing interest with robots and technologies like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, I see the potential to fulfil those childhood/teenage dreams.

Suffice to say I’m finding the whole “digital making” space very inspiring at a personal level (and wishing I had more time in my professional capacity to explore and play with the tech that we’re teaching at IDX!)

Hippy bifday to me…

I’m having a birthday.

One that ends in a “Zero”.

Wanting to do something small to mark the occasion.

Doing two things:

  1. Seeing Death Cab for Cutie on 1 August at the Opera House. 10 years ago, I celebrated my birthday by going to see DCFC at Home in Darling Harbour. Great show. Figured given the timing being not far away from my birthday again, that this show would be a fitting “revisit”. Given the nature of the latest album, being a bit more about “growing up”, also a little poignant. The last show Ang and I saw at the Opera House (heh: from “Home” to the “House”)—Elbow—was amazing. We discovered a little gem near Wynyard serving a tremendous selection of boutique beers on tap called Frankie’s Pizza. Seems like the perfect start to the evening. So kicking off there about 5ish. Dinner. Then the show.

  2. I live in Katoomba now. I love the place. I feel my roots starting to dig in up here. And it’s a long way from Circular Quay 😉 So, I’d really like to do something close to home to mark the occasion as well. I’m away on business on my actual birthday (in Darwin, attending/co-facilitating/participating in the Broadband for the Bush Forum), but figured I might just hole up at Station Bar, one of our favourite joints up this way—and perhaps unsurprisingly one that usually has a great selection of boutique beers on tap (noticing a theme here?). Date: Saturday 18 July. Time: 6pm+.

’twill be low key. But fun… If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance it’d be great to have you there 🙂

So, if you’re up for it let me know which/when/where in the comments so I can book tables and stuff…

Reconnecting with music

I’ve been trying to reconnect with the art of having fun making music.

Anyone that knows me well knows that making and performing music has been a big part of my life for, like, forever.

But since Fuzu called it a day, in part due to my sojourn into Sustainable Practice at uni, I’ve found it hard to reconnect with any particular musical venture.

I had the support of some great musician friends to record an EP last year, but that project feels like it’s stalled. Which is disappointing. If only because I feel like I’m dishonouring the effort and creativity of the folks involved. It don’t treat that lightly.

But, to be honest, I’d forgotten the tremendous amount of energy and headspace required to do justice to a project like that. My previous efforts were all group efforts—with a band, where each member contributed some forward momentum to the process. This project felt different, as it was to record something akin to a “solo” project. And a lot of hard work. To co-ordinate. To write. To rehearse. To arrange. To perform. To mix. To promote. To turn it into “something”. Something of note. Something to carry forward. Something that begins something else.

After many years doing the whole “band thing”, I recognise and acknowledge that if you want to make it in the business, you have to treat it like a business. And after many years of trying to do that, I am at a point where I think I’ve worked out I don’t actually want it to be a business.

I want to reconnect with the feeling that I get when inspiration strikes. A sense that you are a conduit for something more. Something outside yourself.

That sense of flow that you get where you lose an hour evolving and developing a riff. A verse. A lyrical idea. An arrangement.

That sense of camaraderie that emerges from being in a room with other musicians and you create something that feels bigger than yourself.

A synergy.

A spark that begets a spark that is transformed into something to share. And when another human connects with that, to honour that mutual sense of connection. Of a shared experience, emotion, sentiment, imagery.

For the longest time I’d start a song, or a project, and enjoy that creative process. I’d enjoy the opportunity to get in front of an audience (with a bit of marketing and relationship building with venues/bookers etc.). And to experience all that.

Times have changed.

My professional life requires a lot more headspace.

To even get a gig now requires a solid Facebook following. And a guaranteed audience.

I get that. I understand.

But I’ve come to realise that’s not what I connect with music around.

So… letting go of some of that, I decided I need to revisit the sorts of behaviours that got me started. And to let go of some of the baggage around the whole “making music” thing.

A new song doesn’t have to be a launching point for an EP or recording project.

A jam doesn’t have to be the launching point for a band.

A performance doesn’t have to be at a commercial venue.

So, I’ve been attending the Western Fringe songwriting sessions here in Katoomba. Stewart Peters and Snez have been organising these for some time (and until recently they were running at Parramatta at, the now defunct, Mars Hill Cafe).

Watching Stewart and Snez perform at those sessions was inspiring. It reminded me about the “why?” A passion for connecting with the creative spirit. To express oneself. To enjoy the process.

Since I’ve started attending the sessions, two songs have flowed. Not a lot (esp. compared to what I used to produce), but a start. And I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with the art. With that spirit. And having a small audience to share that with—not necessarily having to have it finished, polished, recorded, marketed, rehearsed, socialised via facebook et. al.

To just create. For the sake of it.

I was speaking to one of my besties the other day, and he was advocating the virtues of just woodshedding on your instrument. To find flow running scales, transcribing a favourite line, playing along with someone else’s work. And, importantly, not having to come up with something new.

There’s something very strongly appealing to me about that.

I remember many hours spent working out (and later transcribing) bass lines at home and at uni. ‘Shedding on scales and patterns from instructional videos from John Patitucci and other inspiring players. There was a joy. In the challenge. In the flow. In the developing of one’s own “voice” on the instrument, through understanding what you liked in others’. To find resonance with/in what others’ have got to say. And to pass that forward.

So I think I’ll be setting aside some time in the coming weeks to give it a go.

In the hope I can rekindle that connection to what is important to me about music.

To understand and process the world around me.

To express my emotions. To transform negative energy and experiences into something positive. (And to celebrate the positive stuff too.)

Quieting the inner critic

One thing I keep hearing is that I’m verbose. That I like complexity. That I’m technical.

I’ve decided that here is not about listening to those voices. Here is about me unpacking the world and digging for answers. Or failing that, at least insights. If it’s verbose, complex, boring, convoluted, unclear, lacking a point… that’s ok.

Perhaps in expressing the “unfiltered” version here, I’ll be more succinct, less technical, and express an elegant simplicity in other aspects of my life. We’ll see 😉

Letting go

It’s been forever since I just wrote a blog.

Just about something of interest. Something that makes me mad. Got me inspired. Something that just happened.

Not a series (though I still have hopes to do some of that too). Not “adding value”, other than in a sense of self expression (that someone else might connect with, but that’s not a requirement/intent). Just trying to make sense of the world.

That’s sort of come about as my work has centred more and more around doing what I consider valuable to work in, with and for communities.

A sense that I have to have something important to say. To share completed ideas. To somehow contribute to this (slippery) sense of “thought leadership”.

And a little bit of fear that what I might say might be misconstrued, or somehow impact my ability to do play the role I wish to play in my professional sphere.

Consider this a first attempt to break the pattern of “stop energy”.

To just reconnect with the idea of blogging. The thing that got me excited all those years ago (I started blogging around 2002, my current blog has entries back to 2003).

To have a voice in the wilderness.

To share.

To challenge.

To be challenged.

To learn.

To live true to the tagline that I started with, that inspired the name of this blog: “Thoughts that made it to the page.”

The day I became “that guy” you see on the news…

I’ve often seen news reports on TV about someone who got caught out on a bush walk and ended up needing to be rescued by helicopter, sometimes after days in the bush. I now have a new appreciation for how it is all too easy to end up in that type of situation, even if you think you’re adequately prepared. I wanted to share my experience so that other MTBers might think through their own circumstances and perhaps avoid the mistakes I made in a recent ride.

I ride in the Blue Mountains area—so typically along fire trails in bushland. I’d read about an track that was “well sign-posted”. For an average rider, the “mostly single-track” loop would take about 45 mins to complete a circuit. And you’re never too far from the car should you get into trouble. I’ve ridden the Oaks, McMahon’s Lookout, Wombat (VIC) and Quarry Road fire trail near the recently opened MTB track at Hornsby. Suffice to say, I figured that I had sufficient experience to tackle the course unassisted.

I arrived at the trail head and started down through the fire trail and true to the description I came across a small section of sign-posted single track, only to emerge at another fire trail with no signposts. I rode out and back a few kms along the firetrail and eventually found some single track a bit further on. Excited to get into a bit of single track (finally) I followed some other riders along for a period, before they pulled over at the next, un-signposted, juncture. They seemed like they weren’t sure which way to go either, so I decided to press on, picking what looked like an interesting path. The maps I had used to evaluate the trail indicated a simple loop, so I assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that the trail would loop back and I’d be on my way back to the car before long.

After one or two further un-signposted junctures, I found the single track looking was more like walking track… then more like water trail (i.e. the remnants of a creek or water run-off channel). Before long, any sense of “track” had completely disappeared.

Thinking I had my bearings, and convincing myself that I could see a walking track a bit further down the hill, I set off across some light scrubland. Before long I’d lost all sense of the trail I had left. I’d stopped RunKeeper by this point and had scant mobile reception so was finding it difficult to determine my bearings and location.

I kept walking, (thankfully) found some decent mobile phone reception, and using Google Maps on my iPhone determined the direction of my entry point to the reserve in which the trail was located. I started off in that direction only to find a creek that I didn’t remember crossing, and that the terrain was becoming increasingly difficult to traverse, especially with a mountain bike in tow. After a few more minutes of this, I had to concede that I was lost, with no sense of where my original trail had left off and where I was heading.

So I called 000 for assistance. My iPhone GPS co-ordinates proved less than helpful, but about 3 hours later, after dark, two Police rescue personnel were standing in front of me, after receiving some helicopter support. I feel terrible that I caused such a fuss and the resources that were mobilised to find me.

I’m not a person to take the risks of mountain biking lightly. I’ve read many articles highlighting the value of preparation. I had decked out my hydration pack with a first aid kit and bike repair tools. I ensured that I had a fully-charged phone, that I’d told my partner and friends where I was heading. But even with this, I found myself terribly under-prepared.

Mostly, I was totally sideswiped by how much of a mess I ended up in for what should have been a totally innocuous ride—what was supposed to be a quick and easy 45 minute circuit. I would feel less embarrassed if I was attempting a multi-day ride through a forest or something. I think this demonstrates that even a seeming simple ride can go wrong all too easily.

Experienced riders may scoff or write-off my experience as me being a dumb-ass, or not taking the dangers seriously and being ill-prepared. And in hindsight I can think of a hundred things I would/should/could have done differently. But in the moment, when panic starts to set in (even a light panic really degrades your ability to think clearly, I discovered), all of that was pretty meaningless.

My hope in sharing this sorry (and embarrassing) tale is in the hope that others can learn from my mistakes. While I was waiting for the Police to arrive—and having done some serious reflecting since—I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I’d do differently, and what I need to do in future. The Police also had some tips and advice to share on the drive back to the trail head.

From that, here’s what I would suggest:

Pause, breathe, and retrace

If you find yourself “off the beaten track”, stop and retrace your steps to your last known good area of track, rather than trying to press forward, even if you think you know where you need to go. If you’re tracking your ride using a tool like RunKeeper (and you have adequate reception) use that to help you work out where you need to go to get back to the track you left.

A phone is not enough

The GPS co-ordinates reported by my phone were way off. Google Maps simply put me in a “sea of green”, with no indication of trail locations. I expected that being in an area with reasonable reception I’d be ok with just the phone, but this clearly isn’t the case. (And friends have highlighted that I was lucky to get reception in that area.) That said, I was able to call the Police, communicate with friends (via SMS), use my flashlight app as a signalling device. I will be packing a battery extender (like the Mophie juice pack) for future trips, as my battery hit 20% capacity just as the Police arrived.

Ensure your emergency kit is well stocked

My standard emergency kit was totally inadequate. I didn’t have a thermal blanket. I didn’t have salt or matches/lighter to fend off leaches. I didn’t have my wet weather jacket (which I lamented when it started to rain, thankfully only briefly). I didn’t have a mirror for signalling. I didn’t have a torch. The list goes on… I was going on a short 45 min circuit and never imagined I’d need such things—but I would have benefited from them all.

I’d recommend chatting to a mountaineering store for advice, and adapting as required for your circumstances. I’ve since done so and received great advice a number of options that will be finding their way into my standard pack before I tackle a new trail.

Do new trails with a buddy

Make your first ride of a new course or trail with a riding buddy that knows the area and the terrain. Connect with a local club, or online forum (e.g. in my case SydneyCyclist, local riding groups like BMORC etc.). Having an experienced riding buddy can help make the process much more enjoyable, and safe. I’ve just recently benefited from this riding some lovely, local single-track and receiving useful advice from local riders.

Get a beacon

You can get a free “hire” emergency beacon from the Police before a ride, where you can also register (unfortunately only by fax or in-person) where you’re heading in case something untoward happens. I’ve chosen to purchase an InReach beacon (the Spot is another, cheaper, option) from my local mountaineering store (and signed up for the ongoing service). These commercial units enable SMS messaging even when your phone is out of range, as well as being more accurate and enabling an “SOS” signal to be sent. The InReach also supports a smartphone-based mapping application that uses the GPS from the unit for positioning (and provides more detailed maps). While these are an expensive addition to your kit, considering the value of one of these units vs. a dropper post or that you-beaut saddle/sunglasses/etc. in an emergency situation (as I had occasion to do while I waited for the rescue party)… well, I think you get the picture.

What’s in my pack

For what it’s worth, my pack now includes:

  • First aid kit
  • Spare tube
  • Tire repair kit
  • Tire levers
  • CO2 pump canister and adaptor
  • Allen key multi-tool
  • Leatherman (pliers, knife etc.)
  • Spare brake pads
  • Sunscreen
  • Duct tape
  • Salt
  • Waterproof matches, fire starters and a lighter (in a waterproof pack)
  • Thermal blanket/bag
  • Mirror (for signalling)
  • Emergency GPS beacon
  • Micro-size high-power/long life LED light
  • Spare batteries (for beacon + LED light)
  • Battery extender for phone

All of this fits snuggly into a CamelBak and is quite reasonable in terms of weight. This all might seem like overkill to some, but as I hope my experience demonstrates, it is worth the little bit of extra prep + weight for peace of mind.

I’d be interested in what others think of these suggestions and any other tips that might be beneficial.

2012 = Big year

2012 was a pretty massive year, not that you’d be able to tell from searching the archives here… The year kicked off with Angela and I finally finding a place to live, with us (eventually) moving to Katoomba the Blue Mountains in March. Then towards the middle of the year I took a change of direction with work, moving back to Saasu as Chief Design Officer. There were a variety of reasons, some of which I’ve outlined over at the Zumio blog. Shortly after starting at Saasu I also began tutoring at the University of Western Sydney, working with undergraduate students in the application of design research techniques. Then a trip to New Zealand, shortly followed by my graduation—having completed my Masters studies at RMIT.

With uni now done (and a break between tutoring stints), I suspect that I’ll be writing a bit more for personal benefit and pleasure, which is likely to fall over to this blog. I’ve also been writing a bit about my work over at the Saasu blog too.

In any case, it’s taken me a bit of time to clear the detritus that had built up in amongst all the busy-ness—a backlog of emails and mini-projects and just bits and pieces left undone. But it’s starting to feel like I’m ready to get into the new year. And it only took me a month!? :\

One of those projects that’s just kicking off is a little project/blog called Socoloco. The first cab-off-the-rank is Seasonal Saturday. The site has more about the background and intent of the project.

I’ve also been chatting with the folks at the Open Food Web Foundation about potentially assisting there. (I’m noticing a theme across those projects ;)) I’ve also joined a volunteer group to look at how the Winter Magic festival might be operated more sustainably. I’m looking forward to this not only from an intellectual/problem-solving perspective, but also as an opportunity to become more grounded in my (new) local community.

While there’s already a lot underway, a key goal for 2013 is to keep things a little bit more sane in terms of workload and lifestyle. I’m looking forward to more time to work on our new house, among other things. And to explore my new-found passion for mountain bike riding. And to get back to playing a bit more music, both personally, and with my good friend Kristian Jackson. We both have EPs in mind for this year. For mine, I’m not putting a date on—it’ll be ready when it’s ready. But I have already started working on some material left over from the Fuzu days that never got recorded.

Never a dull moment eh? 🙂

More on folding bikes

A friend of mine asked me recently about any tips I might have on folding (and/or electric) bikes. I emailed a response that I thought presented a useful round-up of my learnings, and thought it worth sharing here (slightly modified as well.

The 4 main folding bike systems/manufacturers I recall that produced bikes with wheels the right spec for Cityrail are:

The specs for Cityrail are:

Folding bikes are permitted on trains free of charge at any time, provided the bike is folded and carried in a bag before boarding. The bike (in its bag) must not exceed these dimensions: 82cm length x 69cm height x 39cm width with a maximum wheel rim diameter of 51cm. Free travel does not apply to CityRail bus services, including trackwork or NightRide buses.

There are a couple of other systems I’ve seen, the notable ones are:

Tern are a spin-off from Dahon. They have the same folding mechanism and are run by one half of the family that owned Dahon. The split tainted the Dahon brand fairly significantly in my opinion, as it seems that the folks behind Tern were a bit more entrepreneurial and innovative, leaving Dahon primarily as a manufacturer (rather than design-led) [Update 1-Feb-2012: See comments for response from Dahon]. I put my money on Tern—I have a Link P24h with electric conversion from Sydney Electric Bikes. (I’ve written about my experience before). If I were to do it over, I’d probably get the Link P9 (http://www.ternbicycles.com/au/bikes/link-p9), as the in-hub gear on the P24h has proven to be a bit of a pain in terms of maintenance, and in practice I never use it.

The Brompton is a neat folding mechanism that is very compact, but I think it would probably be too small for folks of my height (6″+). I’m personally not a fan of the Birdie’s design. The larger Montague’s are awesome, but fall foul of Cityrail’s guidelines.

If I were buying today, I’d be seriously considering the Conscious Commuter electric, as the weight reduction and inbuilt battery are significantly better than what I’ve got. Though they still seem to pretty much be in “Kickstarter” mode, and are an unknown quantity in relation to quality/durability etc.

Tern P24h electric conversion

In about a week’s time, Angela and I will be moving to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. We’re really looking forward to the shift (more on that another time perhaps), but as I’ll be commuting around 3 days a week I wanted to find a way to reduce the time it takes to get to and from the train station at either end (about 15 mins walk each end — so an hour a day).

Some time ago I started looking into a fold-up bike for work, in part inspired by Digital Eskimo’s “bike fleet” for staff. But also a reflection of the increase in my monthly expenditure on taxis since moving to our shared office at Redfern from the CBD. My friend Miream had also suggested I look into electric-powered bikes/conversion kits.

So I did a bit of digging and found two Sydney suppliers of electric bikes. After chatting to Jake at Sydney Electric Bikes (SEB) and trying out a folding Apollo Stowaway 2.0 at the store, I was excited by the idea.

SEB allows you to hire out an electric bike to “try before you buy” — so I hired the Apollo for a few days to see how it would work in practice. I had it over a weekend and used it to nip across to Parramatta from Merrylands, and then on the Monday I used it to travel from Redfern to Bondi for a client meeting. On both occasions there was a good mix of flats and hills, and at the end of the ride (about 10 mins to Parramatta and 15–20 mins to Bondi) I was quite comfortable — no overly sweaty — about the equivalent of a brisk walk.

While I was sold on the concept, I wasn’t sold on the actual bike. I stand at 185cm tall, and the Stowaway’s ride height was just too low for me. Also, the 8 speed gear set on the Apollo was too low also — once on a hill I was “freewheeling” which I find extremely disconcerting, especially in city traffic.

I’ve had my eyes on Tern folders for some time. They seem to be the natural successor to Dahon, who were leaders in fold-up technology until recently (there’s a lot of politics behind Tern/Dahon, but I’ll save you the details). I learnt from Jake at SEB that Tern are only distributing 4 models in Australia, the Link P9, Link P24h, Link C7 and Verge P18.

Fortuitously, Jake was able to arrange a demo bike, fitted with a rear motor, of the P24h. I tried out the bike and it was a much better fit. But unfortunately the rear mounted engine system left a lot to be desired (the Apollo was fitted with a front-wheel mounted motor). The Tern bikes’ front forks are too narrow for a front-mounted motor, but Jake and the crew started to explore options for how we might solve the problem.

It turns out that the Apollo front forks and stem are suitable to retrofit on the Tern, so that’s what we did. And after using the bike for the last week, I have to say the end result was worth the effort.

Tern P24h converted electric folding bike

The Tern is a terrific bike — I’m really enjoying riding it. The gearing and ride height are perfect for me. The 8 speed external and 3 speed internal hub gear set combination provides an excellent gear range, and I’ve been able to reach just under 50km an hour downhill on the bike, which is very zippy for a folder. The Tern’s folding mechanism is smooth and very easy to understand and use. I did a demo for some of the folks at work yesterday and they were very impressed with how quickly it packed down.

It’s perfect for the train trip in — I’ve stowed it a number of times this week on both the Blue Mountains trains (which have areas in the entrance to the cabin for bikes and luggage) and standard CityRail metro trains. The folding mechanism is important for train riding, as CityRail charge a child fare for non-folding bikes taken onto trains during peak hour.

I rode from Redfern to Gardeners Road in Alexandria (about a 5km ride) for a business meeting the other day (in my suit), and again the bike did the job beautifully, with only light exertion equivalent of a walk of similar length. The only (minor) thing I’m not 100% sold on are the pedals. The Apollo’s pedals seemed a better bit of kit to me.

I have to say, too, that I’ve been thoroughly impressed with SEB’s work. The ability to hire before you buy, and the extensive effort they’ve put into this conversion (being the first Tern they’ve converted there was a lot of trial and error) has made me a fan.

Jake is still looking into suitable front forks that may allow us to restore the Tern front stem, as the folding mechanism is smoother than the Apollo’s. But even if what I’ve got is what we end up going with, I think I’m going to be a very happy commuter.