In Defence of Bike Lanes

25 10 2014

There’s been a lot of folks in this town hating on bike lanes lately, with a small, vocal minority calling for the removal of lanes already put in. This week, councilor Mike Nickel put the southside bike lanes on 76th Ave and 97th Street in the cross hairs, even offering support for the planned 83rd Ave and 102nd Ave bike boulevards in exchange for support on removing the lanes in question. Amazingly, many members of the E-ville cycling community seemed willing to participate in such a trade, sighting poor design, poor placement, and the inefficacy of paint on the road.
For real? How bad could they be? This required an exploratory mission to the south side via 97th Street.
Perhaps tellingly, I don’t remember taking this route before. If I was going a shorter distance south in the area, I’d take 96th Street, and if I was going deep south, I’d take Mill Creek then 91st Street. I had to look at a map to confirm that, indeed, there was a bike route that ran all the way south from Whyte Ave. Perhaps this route actually was reduntant?
The first thing I noticed as I turned onto 97th was that there wasn’t anything demarking it as a bike route. Upon closer inspection, things started to become clearer.

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The game is spot the sharrow!

The relatively new markings had been paved over as part of road resurfacing. Suddenly, the threat of bike lane removal by a fiscally conservative politician became more real – you can’t call him on being a hypocrite for wanting to spend money removing infrastructure when it was already gone. The timing of this made perfect sense.
Running down a quiet residential street, I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with this route, and I was enjoying riding it far more than I did 96th.
Then, I saw it:

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Roundabout!

A newly constructed roundabout! The ultimate in traffic calming and bike accommodating infrastructure! And I bet someone’s pretty pissed about it.
Further down the road was the bike boulevard piece de resistance, the street had been blocked off to cars but a multiuse trail allowed bikes to continue to pass through. I’ve only rode infrastructure like this in Montreal and Vancouver and was thrilled to see it in my home town. Who knew E-ville was so progressive?
The residential section, however, is not the section that has been generating criticism from cycling allies and enemies alike. As it crosses 63rd Ave southbound, 97th Street enters an industrial area, and the sharrows give way to painted bike lanes.

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That's a bike lane. That's what all the fuss is about.

As I rode, I went over all the criticisms levelled at this route in my head and wondered if the naysayers were talking about the same road. Busy? Nope, not even at rush hour. Going to get squished by a semi? Nope, the car lane is wide and where the bike lane turns to sharrow it becomes 2 full lanes – lots of room. Loss of parking for businesses? Nope, all of the businesses had parking lots in front and there wasn’t street parking to start with. Unused? Nope, I saw several other cyclists. Disconnected, start and stop infrastructure? Ok, maybe a little, but nothing unmanageable, especially by this city’s standards.
The best part was crossing the Whitemud Freeway. The road just went right over – no negotiating the multiple lights and offramps of the 91st Street and 99th Street alternatives.

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There's a freeway beneath my wheels.

I barely noticed I was crossing the busiest freeway in the city. How awesome is that?
The bike route ended at 34th Ave, which is where the 91st Street bike path also terminates and gives you the option of riding a busy arterial or going way outta your way on twisty suburban roads. Since I’d come this far, I decided to venture a little bit further to get some noms at Loma House before heading back. The last leg of the ride was definitely the worst, zigzagging through the industrial area where bikes weren’t even an afterthought, to get my reward. Too bad the lanes don’t go all the way to 23rd Ave.
So, to all the haters out there, I say this bike route is great! It’s useful, safe, direct and well thought out. We need more of this, not less, and we can’t let opponents to progress exploit our duversity of opinions to convince us that we need to be undoing the first steps towards a citywide cycling network. A lot of people also like hating on sharrows, wondering what’s the point of having a road marking that signifies something that’s perfectly safe, legal and normal anyway (namely cycling on the road)? The beauty of sharrows is that jerks in gasburners look especially stupid when they yell “get off the road!” so it happens a whole lot less. And less ignorant screaming makes everybody’s lives better.
Vivent les bike lanes!





Meet the Olmo

26 07 2014

When you haven’t updated your blog for 6 months where do you start? My last post was about setting up the new BikeWorks South. Since then, the shop has been mostly finished, has opened, and has been extremely busy. More on that in a future post. I don’t want to talk about work as I’ve been working nonstop, but have had a little time to squeeze in a bike build and a ride here & there.
So, meet the Olmo.

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This Italian beauty started off with a set of tubular wheels, which I haven’t exactly had luck with in the past. My lucky streak continued when one of them exploded after the test ride.

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Around this time, a large, generous donation of high end road and triathlon parts came into BikeWorks, presenting me with an opportunity to upgrade this lovely old steel frame with some ridiculous modern components. This is actually my first bike with drop bars, so I felt a set of interuptor levers were in order.

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Yep, that’s carbon.
I also added some swanky low spoke count wheels as well as a small purse to act as a handlebar bag.

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It’s taken me zipping to the ends of the bike paths.

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Meanwhile in suburbia…

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Note the sky. That ain't clouds, it's smoke.

Here we have a public art installation in the extreme outer suburbs in a neighborhood that hasn’t even been built yet. In typical Edmonton fashion, instead of commissioning original art by a local artist, the developer got a Seattle artist to recreate pieces that he’d already produced for Portland. Still, I really dig the weird irreverence of it all. I live in a central neighborhood. Cycling out to see these fibreglass monoliths was nearly a 50km round trip. That’s how ridiculous this city is.
Of course I had to go back to see them at night, cuz they light up.

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Not sure why, but I always feel compelled to take my road bikes off-roading. Not the best idea at 130psi.

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This area has been cleared for E-Ville’s next footbridge, and you can see the corresponding clearing across the river. It won’t be long before you can ride down here on a road bike without feeling like your eyeballs are going to vibrate out.

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I think I like this bike a lot. I’m working on improving the stamina of my back, arms & hands as the riding position is way more agressive than any of my other bikes. I also have a few more plans for it. The old Campy shifters and derailleurs are lovely but can’t handle a modern gear range, so I expect to be making more changes yet, and to be riding centuries on it soon.





When Your Bikey Job Has You Working on Everything BUT Bikes

20 01 2014

This past fall, the folks at the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society learned that BikeWorks South, a fixture of the cycling community located just off Whyte Avenue for more than a decade, would have to say goodbye to its old home. This means that much of the responsibility for finding and renovating a new space falls on my shoulders. For the purposes of this blog, it has meant that I’ve been too preoccupied to update it, in case you were wondering where I’ve been.

It’s exciting times, and every step of the way has brought new challenges and lessons. It’s an opportunity to build a better BikeWorks: more accessible, no more alley entrance or navigating through a bike pile to get in, store front, windows!

Around the same time that we were scrambling, looking for a new space, one of the coolest video stores in town was, unfortunately, going the way of the video store. Videodrome’s end was a sad moment for supporters of local, independent businesses but marked an opportunity for EBC, and we secured a long term lease on the space.

Next task: turn a video store into the best community bike shop on the continent (aim high). Considering I have exactly zero experience in renovations, this was going to mean a crash course in everything from ceiling to floor in order to scale a learning curve with the profile of a cliff. Luckily, there are many knowledgeable volunteers who’ve stepped forward to help out and show us how to do things right as the bulk of the work is being done by volunteers with experience ranging from none to extensive.
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Day one. This is what we started with: grungy carpet, the remains of a front counter and security system, a pink ceiling…
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…windows on three sides, and a whole lot of open space. I’d never noticed the windows when it was the Videodrome as there was shelving blocking it. They’re glorious!
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First step, paint the ceiling and ductwork yellow. This was especially urgent as it was a dirty pastel pink.
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Next, tear up the carpet and the counter ruins and scrape the carpet adhesive. We started with floor scrapers but after a whole day’s work by a small army of volunteers, we’d only cleared a small portion of the floor.

Time to bring in the heavy machinery, but first, a screening of Triplets of Bellevue on the translucent plastic protecting the windows.
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We brought in a floor grinder to obliterate the stubborn carpet adhesive and polish up the concrete.
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It was still a tonne of work grinding and then cleaning up the 250 pounds of sand it took to remove the glue. The concrete had to be clean enough to eat off of when the sealer was applied. The tedious work was rewarded with richly patina-ed stone-looking floor. I must admit, though, that pushing around that piece of machinery was pretty fun.

Painting came next. No meek colours allowed.
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The colour scheme pays heed to our old shop and helps create a glowing, welcoming and energetic mood.
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There was a back room that we felt would be more useful if it was part of the main space, and I’m all for tearing down walls, so…
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Thanks to some very committed volunteers, we lost the excess wall and gained a pretty and functional design feature.
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At this point, the space is really taking shape. Don and Bruce have been integral to keeping the renovations on track and have already lent their decades of experience and hundreds hours of volunteer labour.
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Bruce salvaged steel countertop from a former Vic Comp science lab that they’ve turned into the parts washing and hand washing stations.

The last week has been especially hectic because last Saturday was moving day. I was too busy directing the steady stream of volunteers bearing crates of parts and tools and other what-nots to take any pictures, so you’ll have to be satisfied with these before and after panoramas. (Click on the picture to enlarge.) At least the weather cooperated with a spring-like January day.
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Yep, there’s enough stuff to set up a community bike shop in that mess. The wheels and bikes will come after we get a handle on the storage situation for everything else.

This story is still in progress and I learn something new every day. I keep getting more excited about the new shop and all the possibilities. There will be more repair stations and more space to work, we have a really cool bike storage system in the works, the place will be bright and accessible, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  For many of the volunteers who helped with the move last weekend, it was the first time they had seen the new BikeWorks South. The reactions were fantastic and the enthusiasm contagious. March, when we plan to open our doors, is not so far away.
We’ve been raising money with an indiegogo campaign, and though we reached our funding goal the day before moving day, we have big plans for any additional funds. Plus, there’s some really cool swag to be had. Be sure to check it out here:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/opening-a-new-bikeworks-south





Biking Through Blizzards in the Coldest Place on Earth

13 01 2014

As hard as winter has come on this year, this past week has really taken the cake (except I started writing this post last month and got sidetracked). The work week began with blizzard warnings and ended with windchill warnings as the coldest temperatures in the world were registered in this province. In E-Ville, though, life doesn’t stop for the weather, and bicycle is still the best way to get around.

With the snow coming down and drifting on Monday night, I had to ride cross town. As I’ve always said, riding through fresh snow isn’t a problem, it’s when the cars start packing it down and churning it into oatmeal that things start getting dicey. Still better than waiting in the cold for a delayed bus.
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A little trail maintenance is a nice touch, though.
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And while the approaches to the High Level Bridge were drifted over and close to impossible to navigate, the upwind side of the bridge deck stayed clear.
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With days of warnings of the storm, the streets were empty, the desolation more striking than the bitter wind.

It’s all enough to make a girl stud a green tire for her fixte.
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For the record, I haven’t used my front brake since I installed the studded tire up front, though I have had a couple of hilarious slow motion falls into snowbanks while getting my riding boots caught in the pedal straps.
My long awaited bottom bracket and large track cog came in time to witness more than double the average snowfall through the the first months of winter. Unfortunately, it appears that Shimano doesn’t test their grease in E-Ville conditions as the bottom bracket starts getting extremely stiff below -15C. I’ve compensated by bringing the bike indoors whenever possible. We got long runner mats for the living and dining rooms to deal with all the slop melting off the bikes. 

Blizzards, too, must pass, usually not without some subsequent arctic air.
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I celebrated the cold snap with vegan Froyo for me and my sweetie. When it’s this cold, it’s very easy to transport without it spilling or melting.
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Life is sweet. Cold and sweet.





November Rain

17 11 2013

In E-Ville, rain in November is never a good thing. For one, somebody always posts that stupid G’n’R song on Facebook and then I get it stuck in my head until the weather changes. It was sweet riding for a couple of days, though. The rain ate away the snow on the ground and with a good jacket, high boots and waterproof gloves I was quite comfortable and enjoying riding at high speed downtown.

A gorgeous moment between precipitations

Since the first snow this season, I’ve been riding the fixte because I haven’t had time to put winter tires on my other bikes, but mostly because it’s fun. Skiddly-skiddly. Those who’ve known me for a while have pointed to the influence of a certain ridiculously speedy courier, but I’ve recently realized that the influence has gone both ways.

Fixies with fenders and baskets and green wheels, oh my!

Check out the full fenders and front baskets on these bikes.
Of course, November rain turns to slush and freezes, creating the dreaded bumpy ice. It didn’t take long for me to have my first wipeout, and despite momentarily forgetting I was strapped into the pedals, I didn’t suffer so much as a bruise.
Eventually the rain in this late season turns to snow and we got eight inches of the wheel sucking white stuff over the weekend.

There’s even enough snow for the ol’ Canadian kickstand.

Looks like I can put off installing a kickstand for a while.

I still need to make some more changes to the fixte. Installing that pretty white crank increased the gear ratio a little too much and put my chain line a little too off and I’ve had a larger cog and shorter bottom bracket on order for what seems like forever. Ironically, it was only this past week before the snow flew that I was feeling like I was fully managing the gear ratio. In the mire of oatmeal snow that now encompasses most of the roadways however, I won’t be getting very far without that bigger cog. Hopefully the wait will end soon.





Autumn Critical Lass and Bridge Musings

14 10 2013

I’m sure I’ve said it before that fall is the best time of year in these parts, what better time for a ride?

While it’s true that there was snow on the ground by this date last year, this fall has been comparatively kind with many sunny days and minimal wind but still not too warm. On a late day Critical Lass ride we could bask in the golden glow of the last of the leaves and the setting sun.

Looking over the river valley, enjoying the last light.

Looking over the river valley, enjoying the last light.

Crossing the High Level Bridge was the highlight of this ride.

Crossing the High Level Bridge was the highlight of this ride.

The High Level Bridge is part of my regular stomping grounds, so I somewhat take for granted what a monumentally huge, vertigo inducing piece of century old engineering it is. On this ride, however, there was a young rider making her first trip over the bridge who reacted much the same as I did on my first time crossing the bridge outside of a car at approximately twice her age..

First bridge crossing.

First bridge crossing.

Which is to say, she got a little freaked out. Enough that riding down the hill to the LRT Bridge and up the killer switchbacks to the University was looking like a reasonable alternative for returning to the south side.

Another lass crosses the bridge.

Another lass crosses the bridge.

I remembered the time when I was a teenager that I was with a freind and we were walking downtown from Whyte Ave. When we got to the bridge, she expressed her fear, and me and the other folks we were with convinced her that she could cross. She ended up having a panic attack after we’d barely started over the span, and it took three of us to get her back up the hill and onto a northbound bus.

I was really glad our young companion wasn’t as freaked out as that. She and her mom ended up taking the train back across the river while the rest of us cycled back across the bridge in the crisp fall evening air.

For more on Critical Lass, check out Loop Frame Love.





…Now with 50% Less Bollards

14 10 2013

One of my favourite routes to get out of the river valley from Rossdale is an old, slightly neglected bike path that runs parallel to 97 Ave. It’s a gentle climb over several blocks, and now it has 50% less bollards!

They took out half of those bloody bollards!

They took out half of those bloody bollards!

And now that there’s one less bollard in the way, anyone hauling a trailer now actually has a chance to make it up the hill.

This path continues into the Legislative grounds where you can access the High Level Bridge and becomes a much more pleasant, though slightly steeper ride.

Choose your flavor of bumpy - unkempt asphalt or  sidewalk slabs.

Choose your flavor of bumpy – poorly maintained asphalt or sidewalk slabs.

The Leg ground paths have not, however, gone on a bollard diet, and still continue to stand as a monument to the 80’s.








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