29 Dec 2009

The Waltz of the Bikes

Posted by Mike Rubbo

A movie for Australian cyclists.

I’ve had this little film The Waltz of the Bikes in mind ever since I looked through the one tape that Violeta sent me of a sunny day’s shooting on the streets of Amsterdam.

I’d asked her to just watch bikes, the variety of riders, the flow and curve of them. But nothing prepared me for the ballet she sent me on the tiny tape.

I knew that these were the perfect images to prompt you to see yourself on such bikes, but how to do them justice?

Since then, about two months ago, I’ve been nibbling at the footage, using a few shots here and there, mustering my courage to do justice to the whole feast. The best use so far was probably in;Talking to David Hembrow

Usually, I rely on a strong story telling voice to pull you into my short offerings, but this time I knew it had to be music, and music which would make the pictures dance.

Then, The Blue Danube came to me, and I began playing the images in my head to the music but cutting nothing, fearing it would not work as my imagining said it must.

Also, I was fearing it would not build, but just be more of the same, round and round like a wheel.

Then finally, yesterday, wedged between Xmas and new year, the sky pouring unseasonable rain on us, I began The Waltz of the Bikes. Cutting, showing it to Katya and cutting some more.

Try this Vimeo version first. The YouTube upload (below) is stopping as starting.

The Waltz of the Bikes from mike rubbo on Vimeo.


Violeta Brana-Lafourcade
has not seen her material so shaped as yet, she is off with her family on a boat, but I am happy. Indeed, I look at the waltz again and again.

It has always fascinated me how disparate shots can hint at stories in the lives of people I’ll never meet, who may never know they were filmed.

The women chatting, two pairs, two conversations, glimpsed and gone.

The two guys with guitars, one like a gun turret on a pocket battleship, the other, an unwieldy parcel.

The couple dinking, he riding and she on the back in her turquoise skirt.

But then she parks the bike, clearly hers. The shot continues beyond what you see, as they unlock a shop, maybe it was theirs.

There’s the mum who gives into buying an ice-cream for her blonded pillion rider, her son for sure.

Long legs texting who?.

The men in power clothes, one cresting, and the tiny white dog who zips past, used to riding in the basket.

The grumpy look of the pink shirted man is good too, for surely all is not fine just because the sun is shining in the city of canals.

Towards the end had to come the father and his moppet. She’s in her baby shades, waiting as he secures the cargo bike, the family SUV.

Behind, if you look closely, two men eye a poster of another man, a naked torso.

The last flurry of the music, ( two minutes of the waltz are cut out under the jingle of a bell) just had to go with the flurry of the hurrying woman’s summer dress.

Then the way for the power glide of a rather imposing personage in white, down the long leafy canal.

If any of these riders see this, thank you, and if you contact me, there’s DVD for you.

Meanwhile, the message for Australia is this; let’s at least admit to ourselves that this is how riding in a city, even our city, could be.

It could leisurely too, the Dutch are no less happy no less prosperous for taking their travel slowly.

And it could be, without the danger gear that more and more we wear, the helmets and the day-glo vests, confessing we are in hostile territory. Why should it be here and not there?

If we slowed our traffic, if we impressed on motorists that if they hit something smaller than themselves, they are to blame (that’s the Dutch rule) and if we ride regally like this, seeing and been seen, then this waltz could be us as well.

But then, we’d have to celebrate that we do want this and not always and only the cultish adversarial side of cycling, as is now the case, the glorying in the fight.

(“Share the road, Damn you!” reads a T shirt in Canada infected with the same virus)


Racing, speed, the high performance bikes which cost a fortune, the Tour De Francing, all of that is fun, challenging and noble in it’s own way.

But it’s no longer the whole story. Ad it should not take all the oxygen to leave this other possibility, this simpler more join-able biking stifled, breathless, marginal.

When, Australian Cyclist recently wrote about Copenhagen as Pedal Paradise, which is very true, they primarily interviewed Mikael Colville-Andersen

He’s the writer of the famous blogs, Copenhagenize.com and Copenhagen cycle chic.

(Ezra Shaw)

You’ve perhaps met Mikael here, for Violeta filmed him too, (The Guy from Cycle Chic and; Talking to Mikael).

Robin Barton of Australian Cyclist was right to pick Mikael to talk to, but it was not so fine to reduce his famous photos of beauty on the bike to almost thumbnails.

All the beauty of the those famous photos in Copenhangen Cycle chic was lost, and moreover, you’d have to look very closely to see no one was wearing helmets.

(Australian Cyclist, Jan. Feb. 2010)

Now these are the sort of photos for which Copenhagen Cycle Chic is famous. (see more in;The Guy from cycle chic)

May we not see them?

There is something going on here, something a bit awkward.

How about we get over our helmet modesty, as if to show rider fully un-helmeted was to show them nude.

I have been reading Australian Cyclist for only a year but I have yet to see a photo of a gloriously un-helmed rider. Might it might put ideas in our heads? Is that the worry?

It’s always pics like this. Now I’m sure these ladies love their lids, but how about not shying away from the rest of the world?

(Australian cyclist)

Whilst helmets might have seemed like a good idea here at the time, virtually no one has followed our lead overseas, in making them compulsory for adults, and and some of those places which have, are now in second thoughts.. (See Israel below ) for adults,

People like Milkael have very strong opinions as to how counter productive helmets are.

It is not right to make him the core of an article in Australian Cyclist and avoid his views , passing over the dramatic lack of helmets there with this offhand remark: “with cyclists feeling so safe on the streets, so safe in fact that most don’t wear helmets…”

The truth to report to that is that Mikael is very disappointed and frustrated that official bodies in Denmark have been using a fear campaign to provoke helmet use in a country where before there was none, and that that fear campaign is working somewhat, to the detriment of cycling. So he feels.

(German helmet promotion)

For as is proven again and again, when you push fear to sell helmets, you do sell helmets, but you also convince many people to stop riding.

As Mikael ends the second video he did for me, (Talking to Mikael) he said;

It’s no coincidence that since Australian put it’s helmet laws into effect ….

…they have actually become the world’s fattest country, a higher percentage of obese people than even America has.

So, you can either promote helmets and kill off cycling, or promote cycling and reap the health benefits, and extend the lives of your citizens. You have the choice but you can’t do both. “

Dr. Ian Charlton said the same thing in…. Doctor on a bike

The Australian Cyclist can disagree with that polarity, but it should report what the man, the most respected blogger on cycling in the world, believes.

As for Israel. They brought in compulsory helmets for adult cyclists just a a year ago.

Now, they are having second thoughts. Why?

(photo borrowed from Copenhangenize.com)

It’s nothing to do with the fact that helmets actually offer very little protection, and in some circumstances, are actually dangerous in that they can result in brain damage through twisting shock.

No, it’s for other unexpected, reasons which might just provoke a rethink here as well.

The big news, the sensation in urban biking is how bike share schemes like the Velibs in Paris and the Bixis in Montreal are sweeping the world.

Cities, their citizens, and their visitors, love the the easy access bikes scattered all over the city, bikes which you don’t have to own or store, but just use and leave.

(My friend, James Schwartz on a Bixi)

The success of Bike Share is massive , despite vandalism….

….as it benefits each host city in terms of less traffic , less greenhouse gasses and the upward tourist dollar. becomes more and more irresistable.

But Tel Aviv quickly realized that that the 2000 bikes slated for that city, can’t be deployed because of their new helmet law.

They’d made themselves a catch 22, since there is no way to dispense a tested, sanitized helmet on the street, along with the bike.

Here is what Mikael has just reported on his blog, Copenhagenize.com, reporting Israeli sources.

The bill, sponsored by MK Sheli Yehimovich (Labor) repeals part of the Helmet Law which was passed last year.

Instead of requiring a helmet for intra-city riding, Yehimovich’s bill would leave that decision up to the adult rider. Children, those riding off-road or those biking between cities would still be required to wear a helmet.

“Riding a bike in communities and especially in cities, significantly reduces traffic congestion, parking difficulties, air pollution and accidents.

Requiring helmets drove many people away from their bikes and back to their cars because of the hassle of wearing a helmet and carrying it around,” the MK said in a statement.

“In Paris and other European cities, there are wonderful programs which provide bikes for transport and no one requires a helmet there.

Tel Aviv has also signed a contract to station 2,000 bikes around the city but the project has been held up because of the Helmet Law.

Moreover, the law is unenforceable and the police have said they do not plan to even attempt to enforce it,” she added.

Mikael ends. “The bill hasn’t passed just yet. There are three votes in the Knesset to come. Nevertheless there are signs that rationality is returning to our species.”

Over to us in Australia. We are aware of the problem as; Bike Share and helmets dont mix? discovered.

But what will we do to enable the Waltz of the Bixis?

By the way did Waltz, leave unanswered questions in your mind? Well maybe Michael Bauch can answer them for you.

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22 Responses to “The Waltz of the Bikes”

  1. Fantastic compilation Mike! And great filming Violetta! The music fits perfectly with the footage. I love how cyclists always get the right-of-way to automobiles – very unlike cycling here in North America or over there in Australia.



  2. Dear Mike, once again a great short film on Bicycle culture, this is something I have also been interested in for some time and particularly after the local government closed the local school because of poor attendance .It was thought that demographic change was the reason but I found several families not supporting the local school and driving there kids to other public schools closer to where they work or even further. The ability for children to walk and cycle to school has been overlooked these days and convenience takes a priority. Its sad to see kids that are starting high school and who cannot ride a bike.
    In Canberra where I live , there has been an effort to get more people commuting by bike by realigning road lanes to accommodate a 1.5m bike lane and reclassifying a breakdown area as a bike lane.These have been on major arterial roads with speeds from 60km/h to 100km/h with no physical protection or separation whatsoever.
    Ive been a great advocate for better bicycle infrastructure rather than a painted line but governments are really unwilling to spend the equivalent per capital spend on infrastructure as in Holland.
    I really enjoy the simplicity of Dave Hembrows and markenlei’s video’s that highlight such great infrastructure for cycling. Keep ‘em coming also Mike.


    Martin Miller

  3. Thank you so much for this magnificent video Mike! Clearly we need professionals to show our Dutch cycling at its most beautiful!

    The Netherlands are in the middle of winter right now and what we see in our streets today is so very different from these sunny summerly pictures. Sure, there are still a lot of cyclists out there but we are all dressed so differently!
    The video made me very happy as it reminded me of what we will be having again in a couple of months time.

    I hope, or better: I trust this video will be inspiring to a lot of people all over the world. Even if it doesn’t show great cycling infrastructure (as the center of Amsterdam doesn’t really have that) but you do show people of all classes and age groups on bicycles in great numbers, and that is what matters.



  4. I liked the film set to the Blue Danube. I was able to watch the whole thing without thinking of docking spaceships! :)

    I used to read Australian Cyclist when I lived in Australia and was a member of the state cycling organisation. I agree that showing a helmetless cyclist seemed to be akin to showing drug use for that magazine. If such a picture was shown, it was usually taken in Europe and accompanied by a disclaimer that it was taken in Europe.

    In contrast, the latest issue of the UK equivalent to Australian Cyclist, the CTC’s ‘Cycle”, has a picture of a guy in a Santa outfit riding a bike (and if he is wearing a helmet, it is well hidden under this costume. There are pictures of helmeted and unhelmeted cyclists throughout. On p58 there is a lovely picture of two 5-7 year old girls cycling helmetless for an article on “Quality Kids Bikes”.

    Looking back at Australia from a UK perspective, it is pretty clear that the Australian cycle advocates are dominated by the roadies, MTB crowd and the hardcore (10km+) commuters. People who think that workplace showers are a really important ingredient in promoting utility cycling aren’t going to get why MHLs are a really bad idea. :)



  5. The upright position on a bicycle is the natural position. It feels right, it is comfortable, you can see well and be seen, and you have better balance.

    It’s the norm in most of Europe.

    Why isn’t it the norm in Australia? Maybe because cycling on roads has been associated with racing. You see people with all their gear, just like the riders in the tour de France! Speed is everything!

    It’s really weird. We must be one of the few country where the specialized use of a bicycle has overtaken its more fundamental usage.

    Australia is lacking a more casual cycling culture when using a bicycle is simply a daily mode of transport to go to the train station or the shops for example. The lack of bicycle parking is one of the hurdles. Unnecessary and counterproductive helmet law another one. Who wants to bother with a nearly useless helmet just to cycle to the local shop?

    Europe is so far ahead of us when it comes to cycling.

    We are the dumb ones who seem to put extra efforts to discourage cycling. More cars, more traffic jams, more pollution, more dangerous cycling, more fat & unhealthy people who lack exercise, that’s the way to go!

    No wonder almost no other country has followed our “lead”. The results aren’t pretty.



  6. excelent blog & video !
    i liked !

    happy new year from argentine



  7. ganesha

  8. Love the video! One of my favourite pieces of music. Makes me want to live there, instead of Toronto.

    Happy new year to everyone!


    Kevin Love

  9. Thanks for the accolade, Kevin. Did you see that I was taken with your comments on David Hembrow’s blog about the benefits of bike share. You were talking about creating deference. I am sure you are right.

    Did you also see the interview with David on this blog? Plus, take a look at Bike Share and helmet’s don’ t mix? Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  10. Mike, Violeta & the cyclists of the video, nice work with this movie, the music works well with it. I’m attuned to your sit-up theme, Mike. It’s more than just a theme though isn’t it. It’s about sitting-up and being counted; being seen for who you are and not cowering towards the ground; looking the world straight in the eyes and saying, ‘here I am this is me’ (and my bike); carrying your head high with confidence and shoulders square to the road ahead. Those who ride in this fashion are aesthetically proud and stately ambassadors to the whole cycling movement.



  11. Exactly, Kenny. Sit up and be counted. You put it perfectly. We send a message when we ride like this. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  12. Hi Mike!
    Thanks for the wonderful ‘Waltz of the Bikes’!
    And thanks especially to the skillful Violeta Brana- Lafourcade for capturing the effortless, unconscious beauty of it all!
    Some thoughts: It occurs to me that critics and status-quo promoters may seize on the ‘sunny day, Saturday- afternoon in central Amsterdam’ aspect of the film, and claim the whole thing as a sort of bicycle summer-holiday caper, a happy-clappy family-movie the entire Australian family can walk out of (it is useful, I think, to try to anticipate our critics’ line of attack).

    Also, they may argue that old, European cities are usually denser, often poorer, slow to ‘modernize’ and just too ‘Latin’ or ‘Dutch’, or ‘Balt’ or ‘Nordic’ for Australian conditions (Latin or Nordic indeed; I think of the architecture, the bridges, the cathedrals, the coffee-shops – a gift of the Arabs – Mediterranean culture, carnivals, jugglers, music and masques in the street). Which corner of the world do these mothers think the bicycle came from anyway?
    We have to be careful here. A bicycle culture is no less real and free in Winter as in Summer, as I found out in Colorado winters, cycling to work through Denver’s snows; so perhaps Violeta – or Dottie on her Azor Oma in Chicago – might grace us soon with clips of commuting cyclists in drizzle and snow on sit-up bicycles, to round out the picture?

    Years ago, sitting in my crane in Whyalla, I read ‘Richard’s Bicycle Book’ – the original one, about 1974, I think. In it, Richard Ballantyne argued that modern man was too mobile, too car-bound for his own good. He went onto claim that some loss of mobility would be a Good Thing. These arguments will be hard to win in Australia, for all the usual reasons.

    However, it is possible that some of these arguments are being made for us: What is the true cost of rising obesity in Australia? The true cost of car accidents throughout Australia’s communities? What are the real – and often immeasureable – benefits of a return to a calmer, more balanced way of living? (How exactly do you measure increased autonomy and a return to sanity?). And what are we to make of the culture-wars over global warming, except that, whatever else the bicycle may be, it is incapable of being a threat to the planet?
    In Australia we are very far away from European and American centres’ of experimentation. We do our own experimenting, thank-you. We ‘experimented’ with compulsory helmets and the result has been stupid and sad, a kind of Swiftian farce. We are now fatter and less healthy than before, there is less cycling, our politicians don’t get it, but this don’t matter ‘coz they don’t care. Instead we are offered ‘fun rides.’ I don’t deplore Australian fun rides, but surely we ought to be able to see them for what they are – the bastard child of cycling chic, a concession from on high to the penned-in feeling of all those who yearn to promote a return to ordinary, upright, practical, everyday cycling throughout Australian communities.

    Australia faces unique difficulties. I’ve slowly come to the belief that the biggest obstacle is not distance, nor high winds, nor brutal summers, nor even a collective loss of memory, but the indifference and ignorance of our rulers. And it is a very queer, Janus-faced indifference: on the one hand cyclists are small in number, politically and electorally insignificant – who will in all cases be expected to do as they’re told.. or else.. – cf Sue Abbott; on the other, this is Australia, sport is king, and we insist on protecting you from yourself! Thus we have a crux between the convict-authoritarianism of our past, and the modern, liberal impulse to ‘save’ us from ourselves.
    I believe that the vacuum created by the decline in religious belief is being filled by a new role for politicans: moral improvement! They know what’s best for us, and by Jesus, or Yahweh, or Vishnu, they’re gonna make sure we do what’s best for us!! My authority is CS Lewis, for Lewis, who was very smart indeed, understood very well where Nanny-State buffoonery would lead:
    ‘ Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive….for it will be pursued without end with the full approval of the oppressor’s conscience.’
    How is all this to be undone, and our rulers persuaded to reconsider?
    Sikhs in Britain were able to persuade UK authorities that they should not be compelled to wear uniform-helmets or caps at any time, and certainly not when carrying out their professional responsibilities. It offended their religious precepts. More power to them! I, too, have religious convictions, and I do not see why our political classes should pass laws that mess with my head.

    We need to look beyond Australia, to the example of other countries’ experience. The power of global blogging may, with persistence, broaden the horizons of our civil servants and politicians. Theirs is very much a failure of imagination. Is the old-fashioned, upright, load-bearing, Old Dutch too much.. too simple, too unthinkable?

    In the meantime, I salute the courage, dignity and persistence of Sue Abbott. Surely more of us can now stick our helmetless heads above the parapet?


    P.S. Mike, re your train travel troubles, have you thought of a Brompton? They surely meet your criteria: sit-up, carry loads and fold down to little. I’ve had them on trains and buses.


    Milo Hurley.

  13. A beautifully made video Mike – some lovely touches of father & daughter, and at the end the billowing skirts of a cyclist! Of course the waltz is perfect choice of musical background. In all, made me feel nostalgic for Europe and its culture of cycling.

    My favourite viewing sport is Tour de France, I love watching the gentle undulation of the column rolling through the countryside, so much better than the noisy polluting car races this country enjoys.

    It would be wonderful to have our own Tour of Australia, much more environmentally friendly from the point of pollution and humane treatment and preservation of animals – recently thousands of kangaroos were killed in Bathurst just to clear the track for car racing.


    Margarita Bowman

  14. Hola, mi nombre es Sabrina y estube buscando por internet, fue entonces que encontre tu blog, el cual me gusto mucho, el cual es bastante agradable para leer. Regreso la proxima semana para leerte de nuevo. Saludos Sabrina


    Sabrina Fies

  15. [...] Video mash from Mike Rubbo at http://www.situp-cycle.com/2009/12/29/the-waltz-of-the-bikes/ [...]



  16. Total concurrence about the ladies and their lids. Any action picture of Australian cyclists is bound to make the heart sink. Look at that glorious woman in the picture immediately above and compare and contrast. Lawdy.


    Scott McIntyre

  17. ogden http://jin.z1w.ll0.co : ogden…




  18. The wheels which means the world ;)



  19. How about a tour De Australie on sit up bikes? Of course they are not as fast. But that does no matter. Some will still be faster than others. The point is that they would be even more beautiful undulating through the countryside. plus the fact that the the strain, the emotions, of the sit up rider are so much more accessible to the viewer . You’ ll get more out of a sit up race, vicariously. They used to race on penny farthings. You can race on anything. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  20. One thing we can be sure of here is that the longer we live on an island of fear promoted by the pro helmet lobby fewer young people will be exposed to using a bicycle other than for competative sports style rides. It is rare to see them used for shopping or any casual usage at all. Thus increasing our dependance on cars ,and perhaps also the inexperience of car drivers and cyclists to use the roads together.

    I cant ride with helmet on as it leads to a terrible affect on my vision from very small temperature rises i found out from an opthmalogist recently this is called uhtoffs phenomonen.


    After being fined and given warnings I have given up cycling and i only ask that people will also try to help me by voting for the LDP as they are the only political party willing to remove this discriminatory law which the labour party introduced.

    Please join online for free so they can have the membership numbers to contest the next federal election. Goto the link below to join.




  21. The waltz of the bikes ;) Thanks a lot!



  22. Thanks a lot! Nice post!



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