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Soup of This Day #320: Easy Down The Road

July 5, 2013

Transperth Special
A Transperth articulated bus (Renault PR180-2). As a kid I: a. Used to like riding in the part where the join is; and b. Often erroneously called them ‘reticulated’ buses. This example is a No.600, which makes it a special bus, for major events, etc. I still maintain that if it was actually reticulated as well as articulated then it would be even more special – Photo: Nachoman-au, 2006. Nachoman-au is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I like buses.

This is partly because for a good portion of my adult life I didn’t have: a. A car; or b. A licence to drive a car. So I needed buses. It was more than just that though – I needed trains and generously one-sided car-pooling too but I never got to the same level of affection for those.

This I think is because trains are confined to a track and so provide a very regimented and impersonal journey. Sharing a car by contrast is a very personal journey. Way too personal for me. I could never do silence in a car being driven by a friend. I sort of felt like they were providing the motor and the steering so I either needed to provide the entertainment or fix them up with a date.

These were both problematic for me – Depression makes for a poor entertainer and I was struggling most times to fix me up with a date, let alone some action for my wheelman or wheelwoman.

So Transperth buses became my preferred method of getting around. They’re not so much about straight lines as they are about lumbering genially around the byways. This allows for a kind of detached engagement with the wider world – Which is nice for a depressed guy who wanted to be alone but also wanted to be reassured that there were other humans out there. Sometimes just the feeling of being on a bus with random strangers was enough to quell the loneliness – We were sort of on a shared mission, my fellow passengers and I.

I even grew so comfortable on these journeys that I used to fall asleep, either sitting upright, swaying with the bus around each corner, or leaning against the seat in front. Inevitably I’d wake up before my stop and never once did I have anything stolen from me while I snoozed. Like I said, it was like a shared mission – Me sleeping was just somebody else’s shift on watch.

And even when I wasn’t riding the buses, they still played a part in my transport life. When I got a triathlon bike to ferry me from home to uni I used to race buses on the way in, often drafting them until they made a stop, allowing me to shoot on by to an imagined victory. This was as dumb as it probably reads – Buses are large, obscuring your vision, and making it hard to judge where to place your bike so that you don’t end up in a drain whose grating is wide enough to swallow a narrow racing wheel whole.

Buses also stop a lot and with better brakes than you get on a bike. They’re certainly easier to bring to a halt in terms of what you need to do – They have just the 1 brake pedal. My bike had 2 brake handles and woe unto me if I applied too much force to say, just the front brakes. That could, if you were drafting a bus and had to stop suddenly, lock the front wheel while drive would still be forthcoming from the rear. This would send the bike end over, catapulting the rider to the bitumen and maybe into the path of the very thing he was braking to avoid.

Yep. Did that.

During a self-created race 1 day I drafted a No.72 bus down a hill and into an intersection. As the bus lumbered through a turn I was thrown out into the bar of a t-junction and square into the path of a Volkswagen Kombi van that had unintentionally timed its passage through to coincide with the arrival of a bike that nobody could have noticed tucked up behind the bus.

Which is unfortunate but does give me my theme for this post – Buses, bikes and how sometimes they don’t mix.

Take the 2013 Tour de France, currently under way in France. Yes, I get that saying that the Tour de France is in France might seem a little redundant but the Tour isn’t always in France. Sometimes it edges for a short stretch into a neighbouring country and of late, the organisers have taken to kicking each Tour off with entire prologues and/or stages in other countries. Next year for instance the Tour will start in Yorkshire, England.

Which isn’t very French at all.

This year though the whole race will be on French roads. Every last metre of it. This is because the 2013 edition is in fact the 100th and to celebrate that milestone the French decided to keep it as French as possible. The roads will be French, the food will be French (Except the fries, which will be Belgian) and even the kissing will be French.

So instead of a trip across the ocean to some non-French outpost to commence this Grand Tour, for 2013 the organisers took a trip across the ocean to some French outpost and began the race in Corsica – The 1st time the race had visited that island and the only region of France not yet crossed by the Tour.

The Island of Beauty has been crossed now. It’s been crossed good and proper, via 3 stages totalling 514.5km. Although it was almost only 511.5km, thanks to a bus.

Yep, a bus got involved in the Tour. And not just any old bus – This bus was that of the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team (OGE). The vehicle that ferries the riders and crew of that team around between stages was being directed across the finishing line of Stage 1 and out of the path of the approaching peloton when it hit a problem and got wedged under it.

That problem was the timing gantry that bridges across the finishing line. It’s situated well above the line, allowing riders and support vehicles to comfortably pass underneath. Large buses, apparently not so comfortably. Or not at all.

The Orica-GreenEDGE bus got stuck fast. Wedged in such a way that going forward was not an option and neither seemed to be going backwards. This was a problem of immediate proportions – The riders were around 20 minutes away and barrelling along at a decent clip towards this finishing line. Which had a bus over it and through it.

Awkward.

The organisers tried in vain to move the bus. The driver, his 1st day on the job, sat with his head in his hands. Eventually a call was made to move the finish line to the 3km mark and that decision was communicated to some of the riders.

And then the bus was eased out backwards, leaving the gantry where it belonged and the finish line was once again the scheduled stopping point. Messages were again sent out to riders, advising them that all was as it had been. Some hadn’t even been aware that it might not have been, while others were reflecting on their hot breakfast drink and wondering what had bean.

I think coffee is an illegal stimulant.

The whole of this confusion lead to a chaotic end to the stage, with multiple crashes and everyone being awarded the same time for fairness.

Despite that mitigation, not too many riders were happy with the bus.

And that could have been Orica-GreenEDGE’s contribution to the Tour in 2013 – Marginally more noticeable than their debut effort in 2012 but about as successful. That though is not the kind of footnote that Australians tend to accept. Here in the land down under we support our bus pilots and what better way to show our respect for those captains of transport than to win Orica-GreenEDGE’s 1st ever Tour de France stage.

Yep. Did that.

Simon Gerrans edged favourite Peter Sagan on a puncher’s Stage 3 to claim that win. That was pretty impressive but even better was to follow the next day. Stage 4 was a team time trial, with slipstreamed trains of lycra-clad riders racing against the clock across a 24.8km circuit around Nice. Omega Pharma-Quick Step (OPQ) set the early pace with a sizzling 25:57 and for a time it looked to be as insurmountable as a wedged bus.

Not for Orica-GreenEDGE. The Aussie team paced themselves to perfection, coming home in 25:56 to snatch the Stage 4 win and to propel Simon Gerrans into yellow. Gerrans is the 6th Australian, and the 1st rider from Orica-GreenEDGE, to hold that honour.

And hold it he did, spending the next 2 days wearing the coveted jersey, before handing it over just last night to his OGE teammate Daryl Impey, who in the process became the 1st rider from Africa to don the maillot jaune.

Meanwhile, I didn’t get a special jersey for my cycling feats that day I faced down a Kombi van. On the flipside I didn’t get killed either. I didn’t in truth get physically hurt at all – It was pretty much just my pride and my bike that got banged up. I ended up riding off with a red face, my handlebars upside down and some crooked front forks.

I’d like to see those Tour riders try that – Then they could really find out what it is to be messed around by a bus.

Easy Down The Road

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