There’s Something About Marjory

31 08 2010

Marjory Stewart Baxter is a 1982, Canadian built Raleigh Lenton that was rescued from a dumpster and resuscitated by some old friends, who left her to me when they moved away. She was always a sweet bike, but when I replaced her rusty steel wheels with modern alloy rims something magical happened, and she became as zippy as a roadbike while still comfy as a cruiser. She’s still my favorite bike (even if she’s not the one I ride most), and anyone else who rides her instantly falls in love.

Lately though, she’s been giving me some trouble. It started one night at the local bicycle co-op while I was teaching a bicycle maintenance course. I was getting all the participants to check their chains and drivetrains for wear, and it just so happened that out of 8 bicycles, not a single one had any chain stretch. Being unable to remember how long it had been since I’d changed Marjory’s chain, I wheeled her out, knowing I could probably demonstrate what some chain wear looked like. In front of the class, I embarrassed myself by pulling the chain completely off the teeth of the crank – so according to what I’d just told everyone, that means that I’d likely need a complete drivetrain replacement that could’ve been prevented by changing the chain before it got so stretched. Bad mechanic.

I threw a new chain on that night, but it was several links shorter than the old one, and it quickly became apparent that the freewheel was also worn beyond repair, so I replaced it as well. The ride seemed better, until she started throwing off the chain, which would then get jammed between the chain ring and the chain guard and have to be forcefully pulled out.

Oh Marjory, sweet and difficile, why must I get so dirty to ride you so prettily.

After this happened twice in one ride (number of dudes who asked if I needed help while I was unjamming the chain: two), I decided that I was going to return to EBC and not leave until I remedied whatever was causing Marjory’s distress. As it turned out, my next opportunity was going to be after I taught another bike maintenance class.

That day, I packed up a smorgasbord of tools for the class’s benefit and set off on my daily commute only to be interrupted by a flat tire. What’s most surprising about a flat is how few (like, one) I’ve had this summer. Luckily, I had all the tools I’d ever need (though I had the wrong spare tube with me – oops) in my pink tool bag.

Number of dudes who asked me if I needed help while I was waiting for the vulcanizing solution to dry: three. There were also a couple of other dudes who approached me like they were going to offer assistance and then backed off when they saw me spin off the axle nuts with one continuous motion and remove the tire with a flick of the lever and a single pull, respectively. Is it the skirt? Sure, cyclists are pretty awesome and look out for each other and I’ve certainly helped and offered help to many strangers, myself. But, the same day, when another dude’s wheel spontaneously taco’ed at the finale of Critical Mass, he didn’t get anywhere near this outpouring of help, even in the middle of a large group of cyclists. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from offering help when they see someone who looks like they need it, but would those dudes have perceived another man changing a flat, with a complete set of tools, in as much need of assistance as girly me?

To avoid the common mistake (when fixing a flat) of applying the patch before the vulcanizing solution is dry, I tell people to do something else, like have a snack & a drink or chat with riding companions, rather than watching glue dry. On this day, I took pictures and told well-meaning dudes I didn't need any help.

Honestly, some days I get a kick out of messing with people’s preconceptions and playing up the femme bike mechanic thing, but some days I just get fed up with people assuming I know nothing about something I do quite well, based solely on my sex. Even though this was turning into one of the latter sort of gender-warrior-grind days, I want to make it clear I’m extremely grateful for all the kind people who offered to help a stranger. What’s bothering me is how the perception of gender can be the only difference between “mechanic fixing bike” and “damsel in distress” to a stranger’s eyes.

Marjory, one bell adjustment from being ready to roll.

Patching and reassembling Marjory was no problem at all, and I was back on the road with little lost time (but very dirty hands – though that’s what the small vial of the magical green powder called Worx in the tool bag is for, at least as soon as I could find a bicycle accessible washroom).

Later that night, as the midnight hour approached in a surprisingly bustling bicycle co-op, I realigned her derailleur and lengthened her chain, and she was once again reborn as my best bike ever. Here’s to many more marvelous miles on Marjory.





24 Hours in the Slow Lane

21 08 2010

It was one of those restless summer weeknights where adventure and responsibility fight for the attention of the insomniac mind, when I decided I needed to ride. I often feel that I have to go farther away to find fresh scenery, and to push myself to go harder and longer, but this night I felt bored with that prospect, and instead opted take Poplar (my 1950’s loop frame bike) for a tootle.

The University of Alberta campus is close to home, packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and is delightfully abandoned and quiet after midnight, making it the perfect place for a slow late night ride (so long as campus 5-0 didn’t bust me for riding without lights or a bell).

View from a parkade top. Also, check out the reflective design on my hoodie!

I wanted to top a parkade on Poplar mostly because I wanted to feel what it’s like to do it on a single speed with a coaster brake. Turns out it was no problem at all, and I therefore have no reason to feel bad about any time in the past where I may have “encouraged” anyone else on such a bike to do it. :-P

I wonder if, in the 70's it was some art or design student's project to paint large circles at the top of a parkade...

Coasting down the ramps of the empty parkade, ducking my head because the ceiling seemed too close, I inadvertently rode into a photo shoot for a shiny black SUV. What an ad that would’ve made – sleek new car in huge empty space-age garage, and suddenly appears yours truly, smiling and rattling and rolling on a rusty 60 year old cycle. That image kept me giggling as I rolled down to street level and set off to explore more of campus.

Sculpture garden in the FAB courtyard, where steel goes to rust.

With the huge amount of construction on campus, routes are constantly changing, getting blocked off and detoured. The amount of change certainly keeps things interesting, and the temporary walkways can be a blast.

So, you're not supposed to ride through here, but when it's the middle of the night...

Not long after, with a big yawn I returned home for a second chance at sleep.

The next morning, the city was blanketed with smoke from forest fires 1000km away. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining abut the haze? Well here’s how bad it has to be for an air quality warning:

High Level Bridge disappearing into the smoke.

Everybody’s eyes and throats were burning, and everything smelt like campfire. Worse yet though, is the thought of the destruction in BC causing all this. The pressing question for me was whether or not I should bicycle commute. Sitting across from me in the living room, the answer was obvious, “Poplar, you’re going to work!” (Doesn’t everybody keep their vintage bikes in their living rooms?). There is no way I could ride that bike faster than 15km/h, therefore I wouldn’t be tempted to over-exert myself in the nasty air. I gathered some tools in case the bike acted its age and set off on my longest (non snow storm) commute.

I noticed more people taking it easy on slow bikes than ususal, and so many more people smiled and waved, more cars stopped for me – I’m not sure if was the haze or the bike. Not long after I left home, I realized I had brought neither a water bottle nor a lock, and started worrying I couldn’t safely leave my bike while I picked up something en route to soothe my burning throat. My remedy awaited in Churchill Square in the form of people giving out free mini cans of Sprite. Cold, fizzy, sweet, free liquid? Yes please! I was very happy that my coaster brakes allowed me to drink and cycle safely at the same time. Slow riding was looking better with every revolution of the wheels.

After work, where better to go for eerie, smokey pictures than a cemetery?

Baby graveyard, for extra creepiness.

I like riding in cemeteries. They’re quiet, green, with empty meandering paved roads, plus I find old gravestones fascinating.

Looking for the sun. Looking at the sun.

Next stop, a slow ride to 118th Ave for a gallery opening and some farmer’s market goodness. The guy at the fruit stand really liked my bike. I appreciate that the 118 market is chill enough that I could keep my bike with me, and that the Nina Haggerty allowed me to leave my bike inside.

Loaded up with fresh fruits & veggies and my pink tool bag, riding into the haze again.

After more errands, and some unexpected run-ins with friends, I headed back towards the bridge and the south side.

The sun was just a cold orange disc. I wonder if this it what sunshine on Mars would feel like.

The view of the river valley in the strange orange light was spectacular.

Or maybe this is just a prelude to some sort of post apocalyptic Earth.

Over 48 hours, I rode about 50 slow kilometers on Poplar, and maybe I’m just projecting, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. My 10km commute, not including the extra stops, was only 10 minutes longer than usual, and was far more enjoyable than I expected. I may have to take the slow bike to work again…

Smoke on the water, and fire in the sky...





Dumpster Booty

18 08 2010

Occasionally one will find a dumpster that consistently has such an enormous variety and quantity of non-gross stuff that it turns dumpster diving into pure entertainment.

Last week a companion and I visited such a bin during a longish late night bike ride. As he peered over the top of the industrial sized dumpster he said “Hey, there are bikes in here! A not bad Trek and a three speed.”

“Three speed?! What kind?” I asked as I scrambled up the other side. Few things get my attention like internally geared hubs.

“Shimano.”

“Crappy. Oh wait, how’s the shifter?” One of the ECOS bikes actually needs an old Shimano 3-speed shifter, and I had almost given up hope of finding one. I jumped in and found the bikes tangled up and underneath furniture, the 3-speed hub on a cheap, rusted late 70’s/early 80’s folding bike, but the shifter seemed just fine, so I decided I wasn’t going to leave without it.

Shimano 3-speed and all the fixin's!

With an adjustable wrench and some other dumpster bits we turned into makeshift screwdrivers, I got everything I needed to fix the library bike, plus my companion and I took the seats as well, the folding bike’s seat being similar but slightly wider than Poplar’s current saddle, so hopefully it’ll be a good replacement.

Amongst the other random crap, I also found an old vegetarian cookbook and a comic book from the eighties called CARtoons (cuz it’s about cars, get it?)

CARtoons 1980's vs CARtoons 2000's

I grabbed it because I thought it would be a nice juxtaposition to Andy Singer’s CARtoons. I still have no idea what to do with 2 iron-on transfers.

Evolution of CARtoons 1980's to CARtoons 2000's (with a BMX'er cameo). Click on the image to enlarge to read.

My bike takes me places your auto will never go. Go BMX kids!





Haze

6 08 2010

Air quality warnings are pretty rare in prairie cities. Where there aren’t hills to trap the pollution of daily city life and it all just disperses over the plains, it takes fairly specific meteorologic circumstances for enough to build up to cause a problem. This past week featured the first warnings I remember in ages, and today was the haziest day yet.

Hot, humid & so hazy you can't see the downtown skyline.

Rather than last week’s temperature inversion, today’s haze was blamed on forest fires, and Environment Canada says that it’s not bad enough to issue an advisory. I wonder how much my throat and eyes would hurt if it were warning-worthy. Alas, I can’t do any more than complain, and wish that the haze will subside so that I can see the stars and enjoy the northern lights (biggest solar storm in a decade and I can’t see ‘em for the brown haze) during the last hot nights of summer, and ride home from work under a blue sky instead of a brownish glare.





Rebirth of a Vintage Canadian Bicycle

3 08 2010

Last spring, I found an an old CCM with a Garry head badge at EBC in extremely rough shape and began fixing it up.  It was initially intended to be sold at EBC, but there is so much damage to the frame, hubs and wheels that it couldn’t be sold as a practical, rideable bike. I dubbed her “Poplar” and decided to follow through on the repairs anyway, so I could learn more about vintage bikes and hopefully get at least one sweet ride out of her instead of going into the scrap metal heap. My one sweet ride came via Critical Lass. The second time I rode her, to the Bikeology Festival, her tire exploded on the way home, during a sudden downpour.

Bam! And, there's no fixing that tire. BTW, nobody believes those are mechanic's hands, my secret is Worx and good keratin production genes.

Replacing a tire is not a big deal, except Poplar has 28″ Canadian size tires, and I had to wait close to a month for a new specimen of that oddball sized rubber.

Canadian size - translates to "good luck finding a replacement"

Canadian size, made in Sweden? The replacement tire was made in Taiwan.

After changing the tire, I decided to work on six decades of rust using the secret recipe for rust removal from Loop Frame Love: aluminum foil and lemon juice.

To the left, clean but rusty rim. To the right, shiny after being rubbed with aluminum foil moistened with lemon juice.

There was a point, possibly even on the first night I worked on this bike, that I knew I’d spend more time fixing it up than I would riding her. So far, I’ve overhauled both hubs, trued the wheels (which included some serious banging to bend back the rims), replaced a bunch of spokes, tightened the bottom bracket, spent hours and hours scraping off 60 years of WD-40, poplar sap and weed overgrowth, bent the fork, the rear triangle and both sets of dropouts back into shape, and replaced the grips and pedals. I have used more brute force on this bike than any other I’ve ever worked on (which is pretty amazing, given my experience with winter bikes), but there are still things, like the bent steerer tube now mounted permanently in the head tube, that no amount of muscle can fix.

New tire & new shine! I also added a basket that, fittingly, had bent stays that also can't take a load.

I feel like I want to take this bike to some sort of completion, not necessarily restored to its original state, given the state of the frame it just wouldn’t be worth the investment, but restored to a semblance of both function and prettiness (BTW, I’d be very interested to find a set of 1/2 inch rubber pedals). This will never be a bike I’d feel comfortable riding fast or far from home, but I think I do want to take the last major step in sprucing her up and give her a new paint job. There is burgundy paint underneath the green, and on the fork there is a sparkly blue paint under the burgundy and green, so I’ll take that into account when I decide what colours her new look will include. She’s a delightful little bicycle, and I hope she has at least a couple more special occasion rides left in her.








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