25 April 2013

Helmet hair

I've now been delivering mail for Australia Post, for a week and a half.

My round should take me about four hours to complete. I'm currently spending about five and a half hours on the bike per day and that's with someone else doing a couple of bundles for me. To explain about bundles. When the mail is sorted, it's bundled up with rubber bands and each bundle is numbered. I start my run with bundle number one, then when I finish that, I turn around and grab bundle number two out of my pannier, put it in my front carrier and continue from there until I run out of mail. Then I ride to the nearest drop box and refill my panniers with another eight or nine bundles. All up, there's around 1200 addresses on my round, in about twenty-five bundles.

I started learning the round last Monday by following my mentor, Jodi, around. He's been doing the job now for ten years and seems to know the area like the proverbial back of his hand. The first thing that surprised me is how tiring it is. Bouncing around for five or so hours really takes it out of you. The bike is actually quite comfortable, with a really nice soft seat, but most of our footpaths aren't concreted, so they're uneven to say the least.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I did half the round while Jodi did the other half, then he came to check and see how I was getting on. The rest of the week, I did pretty much the whole round, with Jodi doing a few bundles here and there. This week it's been more of the same, I'll do most of the round, while someone does a few bundles so that I'm learning the round, but not spending too long getting it finished.

I'll eventually get faster at the job. At the moment I'm spending a lot of time having to do u-turns because I've ridden straight past a letterbox. There's a couple of reasons for this. A lot of people don't seem to see the necessity of having a number on their letterbox, which is okay if you're in a middle of your street and your neighbours either side have big numbers on theirs. If the house is on a corner though, I don't know the number until I get to the next house, then I curse, turn the bike around and ride back.

More annoying than the lack of numbers are the letterboxes that are hidden by hedges, or have garden beds in front of them. The ones that are hidden can't be seen as I ride up to them. I usually see them as I'm going past or when I look around wondering where it is. The ones with garden beds in front of them are just plain dangerous, as I have to either lean right out to deliver the mail, or park the bike on uneven ground and get off, hoping the bike won't fall over. We're actually within our rights to not deliver if we have difficulty getting access to a letterbox, but if we did that every time, we'd be taking a lot of mail back to the depot, and we'd still have to leave a card anyway. It's amazing how many people park their cars in the way of the letterbox too, which is actually illegal if they're blocking the whole footpath. The council could make a fortune in parking fines if they followed me around for the day.

I'm gradually getting used to it all though. I'm certainly less tired at the end of the day and I'm getting to know where all the hidden letterboxes are and what the best approaches are to get to the awkward ones. I'm also getting a lot better at my slow riding. The funny thing is, I can ride slowly around a parked car and between bushes and trees, but if I have to do a tight u-turn in the middle of the footpath, someone's driveway, or the street, where there's no obstacle, I still have trouble and usually end up putting my foot down.

One thing I'll definitely have to do is cut my hair more often. Check out this helmet hair.

This is how I come home from work every day, with three ridges on the top of my head.

13 April 2013

Going Postal

I started a new job on Monday.

Since leaving my Airservices job back in September, I've spent most of my time writing novels. Codename: Digby is available for sale through Amazon and most other eBook websites such as Kobo. Codename: Greenland is in the editing stage and I hope to have it ready for sale some time in June. Unfortunately, my books aren't going to make me rich, so I needed to take the plunge and get a job.

Australia Post are always advertising for posties, so a few weeks ago I put in my application and after going through the process of interviews, police checks and a medical, I finally got a call, Wednesday before last, offering me a job and telling me I was to start on the following Monday. A big difference to the eleven months it took me to get into my previous job.

Monday to Wednesday this week was all induction, filling out paperwork, learning about Australia Post and who does what, security, health and safety. We even had a session on the power of positive thinking.

Thursday and Friday was when the fun started.

If you don't live in Australia or New Zealand, you may not know that we deliver the mail here on a little Honda CT110 motorbike. They're known as postie bikes here, because Australia Post is the biggest purchaser of them. Basically, they're a 1980s technology, single cylinder four-stroke, with a centrifugal clutch and they're practically bullet proof. We had to be trained to ride them safely.
I must admit to being a bit nervous on Thursday morning, it's been over six years since I was last on a motorbike and that was a 750cc Kawasaki Zephyr, the only bike I've ever crashed.

After introductions and some theory in the classroom, the ten of us went downstairs and were shown the bikes and how to do our daily inspections, something that has to be done every morning before going out on the rounds.

We started off by just riding around the range, a big parking lot kind of area. We had to go up to second gear, then back down to first and practice slowing down for give-way signs and stopping at stop-signs. When you're used to using a clutch to change gear, it takes a bit of getting used to, not having to do anything with the left hand.

From there, we did slow riding, which involved slaloms, doing u-turns in really tight spaces and riding a fixed distance of ten metres in over ten seconds. If my maths is correct, that means about 0.3 kilometres per hour. I managed to do it in about fourteen seconds. By lunch time, I was absolutely loving riding the little Honda.

After lunch we did some emergency stopping, getting up to thirty-five kmh, then hauling on the brakes at a certain point and stopping as quickly as possible without skidding, or falling off. We also did some figure eights, where we had two groups of six riding around and around, crossing each other's paths in the middle and not crashing. The day was finished with more slow riding practice.

Friday, we started off by inspecting our bikes under the watchful eyes of our two instructors, to make sure we were doing it correctly and not forgetting anything. It's something we can be audited on out at the depots.

This time we had panniers fitted to the bikes, each with about twelve kilograms of phone books in them. We're allowed to carry up to twenty five kilos of mail on the bikes, twelve and a half on each side. It makes the bike about two feet wider and, needless to say, I knocked over a traffic cone within about ten seconds of riding off. The panniers make the bike wider, but they also make it more stable, because the weight is low down. It's a bit like the pole a tightrope walker uses for balance.

We did more slow riding and I found it harder this time. It wasn't so much the extra weight on the bike, but the instructors telling me to look up all the time and distracting me. If I looked up, I couldn't see the cones and was worried I'd run over one, which I did. We did more figure eights and some more emergency stopping and an exercise where we had to come around a corner at about twenty-five then stop quickly, before going onto counter-steering. Essentially, counter-steering is swerving around an obstacle, but if you want to go right you turn the handle-bars to the left. Trust me, it works, it's all to do with gyroscopic procession.

We then did a little exercise where we had to ride up a short incline, pretend to deliver a letter, then reverse the bike and turn around so we could ride off. It's not as easy as you might think, since you have to make sure you don't touch the front brake and you have to be really careful you don't tip the bike downhill. Then we rode over to three letterboxes, all at different heights and pretended to deliver to those. There's a different technique for each one, for example, with a high letter box, we select neutral, put down the kick stand and use the park brake. Yes, they have a park brake on postie bikes.

Having now ridden up to some letter boxes, I was starting to feel like a postie.

After lunch we had our road ride. We followed one of the instructors to a nearby football field, attracting a lot of attention as we went. Twelve people on little red bikes in high viz gear tends to do that. At the football field, or rather next to it, we practiced picking up a dropped bike, then we practiced locking up a brake and recovering from the skid before it got too bad. It's amazing how quickly the ground went from wet grass to slippery mud.

From there we went to some back streets and played follow the leader, taking it in turns being the leader, while the instructor observed from second position behind you. We attracted a lot of attention here too, as it's school holidays at the moment, so there were plenty of little kids standing on the footpath watching us ride past and waving to us.

Once that was done, it was back to the school to do a quick theory test and then we were finished. It's hard to believe I got paid to have so much fun.

Next Monday I start learning my route. I'll follow another postie around on the first day and gradually deliver more and more mail over the following days, until I'll be delivering by myself the following week.

Getting paid to ride a motorbike on the footpath for four hours a day. How cool is that? And, I'll still have time to write my novels.

I'm not too sure about all this rain though.