Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Wheelie Innovation Spotting

It could become tedious. With each return trip to Buenos Aries we have a series of visits to make. A form of returning initiations. Choripan at the port, Chipas from Retiro, a walk around with the reserve, check the street-artwork along the railway line. All have been ticked off yet again. The bikes have had their repairs attended to, the chains oiled and the tyres pumped. Time for a test ride, so as it is Sunday that leaves just one last task.

Bamboo bike

Many cities will close off a portion of street to motorised vehicles and open it up to pedestrians. The Costanera in Vicente Lopez is one such. A bario to the north of the city that fronts onto the Rio del Plata, that on highdays and holidays pacifies an eight kilometre stretch of four lane highway. With the attendant sports pitches and open space makes for a vast green lung in a manic metropolis. Crazy city, 'crazy' where skate boarders vie with the traffic on the world's widest street, where 'crazy' is spelt with a smile.

We head for the Costanera, along newly surfaced highways that on a Sunday are now prioritised for cyclists. Over the many years of visits to this city, it's been interesting to watch the improving provision in cycle infrastructure. Probably not fast enough for the campaigners but still progress.

They'll turn left onto 19 lanes of highway!

I enjoy coming down to this stretch of the city, where the in-line skaters predominate. The elegant, free flowing experts weaving their way through the beginners attempting to master the impediments of the traffic calming bumps. The child on the pedal-less bike, kicking his way along, the cycle-led Yorkshire terrier whose legs are a blur. There's a real feeling of empowerment and innovation. It's also an opportunity to watch the latest thoughts on all things "wheels". This was where I saw my first bamboo-framed bicycle, first sail-powered skateboard, the first motorised longboard. This year's visit was no disappointment; three new ideas.

Sunday morn in Lima.

A father is rolling towards me; he appears to be standing on a lump of molded plastic with two wheels on the outside. A possible adaptation of a Segway, one without a supporting handle? Similar to the machine that mowed down Usian Bolt at a recent athletics competition, that the Dutch police use to pirouette around in Schiphol airport. A quick scan of the ether suggest a possible name for my sighting: generically termed a 'rideable', more specifically the 'lesser spotted hoverboard'. It's my first spotting but I'm led to believe that they are the latest in eco-health gizmos and the "must have" for this Christmas. I spot father later on, he's carrying the contraption. It weighs twenty kilos; is this how he improves his cardiac circulation?

My second 'wheelie', is another adaptation. A skeletal, lightweight go-cart on mini plastic wheels that's propelled by twisting the front axle back and forward. Similar to those wobble trikes that were the rage two Christmases past. At least when this five year old driver gets fed up, she can pick it up and haul it herself.

My third 'wheelie' spotting has no wheels. Place one square metre of low friction plastic on the ground; a smooth concrete surface would be ideal. Place some equally low friction over shoes on your feet, crouch down in the classic speed skater's pose, place one arm behind your back, swing the other gorilla fashion, then propel yourself .... sideways. There are two 'stoppers' to restrain you on your slippery surface. Static ice skating. I suppose it does away with the need for helmets, knee and elbow protection, but it also negates that anticipation of the next flying buttock arrest. I wonder if it's significant that those availing themselves of this training service are the same young professionals who spend their midday siestas at the exercise and fitness classes that materialise each workday outside the glass city towers in the business district. Whilst the other skate learners are families clinging for support to one another, and the young couples, where more often than not it will be 'her' teaching 'him'.

Three 'wheelie' innovations, one question: will any of them be in evidence if we visit next year?