My Pants Are Falling Down and Other Spring Stories.

10 04 2012

Ahhh spring… the season of rebirth, the season of returning warmth, the season of random intense snow storms. For the record, I think that the morning of the latest storm was the worst riding conditions of the winter, and I was very grateful that I still had the Globe set up for winter riding because walking or transit would have been way less fun.

You know it's coming down hard in E-Ville when you can't see the other end of the High Level bridge.

The snow came down so fast it just obliterated every distinctive feature on the ground, but it wasn’t too bad to ride through where it hadn’t been packed into treacherous mounds of ice.

In the winter, there are many commuters who ride this path every day. Even with the snow erasing all traces of where the pavement ends and where the gravelly puddles begin, the regular riders have memorized where the path zigzags.

The nice thing about spring snow is that it’s easy come, easy go, and it melts almost as fast as it comes down. And in no time at all, it’s clear for summer bikes and summer clothes (meaning a lot of the same clothes as I wore in the winter, but less of them at any one time). With my recent weight loss, though, I was not looking forward to having to put away the long johns, because it meant I would have to deal with this:

So, without extra insulating layers, even the skinniest of my skinny jeans are constantly falling down. Also, check the summer bike! Transend makes its first appearance of the season. (PS, nice to see Rast getting up again.)

Um, yeah, so if anybody has any good vegan weight gain strategies (I’m having trouble with this 4 meals a day thing), I’d love to hear them. Food’s cheaper than a new wardrobe, right?

Wardrobe malfunctions can’t ruin the feeling of the first spring rides though, when the loss of of the drag & friction of extra clothing layers & metal tire studs make riding seem effortless. Transend is a heavy bike though (in fact, the heaviest I own), and since it’s not clear enough for the road bike yet, I yearned for a bike that balanced swiftness and utility. In other words, it was time to revive Marjory.

For those of you that don’t know, I crashed my 1982 Canadian-made Raleigh Lenton, dubbed Marjory Stewart Baxter, last fall, and I was very sad. I’d been putting off fixing it all winter, mostly because of the logistics of getting a non-functioning, non-rolling bike to EBC.

While it is possible to bend a steel fork back into shape, I chose not to try because it was bent so badly in two different directions - backwards & splayed, and because a reasonable replacement was available.

I decided to take advantage of of a nice break in the weather to borrow a cargo trailer for some errands, and would haul Marjory into the shop on my last trip. If all went well, I would be done fixing her before it got too late, and be able to ride her home. What I wasn’t planning for was Transend falling onto a cinder block while I was unloading the trailer, breaking an integral plastic bit of the fender stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this had happened until I was on my way with another load, when the now dangling stay was sucked into the disk brake rotor in a series of thunderous whacks, followed by a massive outburst of profanity.

I was in a very dark alley, and I had to take off my front light to assess the situation. I did not like the prospect of pushing the crippled bike and trailer, actually, considering where I was and what time of night it was, it was out of the question. I’m a good scout though, so I had another option – I always carry some zip-ties in my purse.

Zip ties are the duct tape of bike repair. I can't count the number of times that a zip tie has been the difference between me walking or riding home.

After limping back to EBC with Marjory in tow, and already late, I switched into bike mechanic triage mode. Knowing how unlikely it would be to find the replacement part for Transend at the bike co-op, I decided starting with Marjory was the best bet for having a working bike the next day. The fender was mangled beyond repair, but the the rest of the switchover of the fork & headset went off without a hitch. The colour of the new fork is almost a perfect match, and though not quite as stylish, it’s not fucked, which is the most important part.

Marjory Stewart Baxter rides again! AKA obligatory crappy early morning hours photo. Also, the new fork is not bent, it's just at a weird angle. I freaked out a little after I initially saw this picture and double checked.

I rode her home triumphantly, and quickly walked back to the shop to turn my attention to Transend, the silver beast. As expected, I couldn’t find a replacement part, so I re-secured it with zip ties which kept the fender off the tire until I hit the first bump on the way home. At least I had one working bike.

Sometimes, when you’re fixing bikes, the most frustrating situations are simple repairs requiring a part you can’t find. After checking my neighbourhood bike shop without any success, I figured a trip to a shop that sells lots of Giants was in order and took the long slow ride to Western Cycle, where they not only had the part, but they insisted on installing it right there and not charging me for it! Thanks a bunch guys! For someone who’s used to being the one on their knees, getting dirty, fixing someone else’s bike, it was a treat to be able to keep my hands clean for a day.





Last Dance With Marjory

26 10 2011

In the week before I had the accident on Marjory, I had been riding her quite a bit, her fenders protecting me from the autumn rains and her upright riding position allowing me to enjoy all the fall color. And I’d taken a lot of pictures.

Time out by the tamaracks.

Rainy days don't get me down.

Wheee! Zooming down a hill!

Marjory, you were a damn fine bike.

I already miss this bike a lot. There is a silver lining, though. It appears that I’ll be able to fix her, I’ll just need to find a new (to her) fork and probably a front fender. So the hunt is on. This is a fairly common style & color of bike, and EBC actually scrapped a very similar frame days before my accident, so I know there’s potential for one showing up. If I find a similar frame in a different color, I may just transfer the wheels and other upgrades onto it. Either way, it’s a winter project now.

Some way, some how, Marjory will be reborn. Good bikes never die.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty much recovered from the crash, and am back to my usual level of crankiness (pun intended).





Cyclist Down

8 10 2011

JRA is an often unhelpful story every mechanic has heard as they try to figure out what caused the broken bike in front of them.

“What happened?’

“I was just riding along…”

Bikes just don’t spontaneously destruct without warning. Mechanical failures either start small and are detectable before they become a threat to the rider, or are precipitated by some sort of impact. Keeping this in mind, here’s my story:

Yesterday, I was just riding along when, I guess the most accurate way to describe it would be, my bike crashed me. I was riding on the sidewalk (which I rarely do) at a decent pace, and somehow my front wheel came off. I crashed into the pavement with my right arm and shoulder taking the brunt of the fall, but also landing on my face & snapping back my neck.

Talk about taking it with a stiff upper lip. How I lost all the skin here, but only had minor road rash elsewhere is a mystery.

As I sat, dazed, on the sidewalk, a guy with thick framed glasses and skinny jeans who happened to be driving by when I crashed, jumped out of his car to assist me. He asked if I was OK and if I needed help, and was genuinely concerned that I’d broken my neck. I started going through a mental checklist of body parts, making sure each one was working properly. “I think I’m OK,” I said as he retrieved my shoes, which had flown off my feet in the crash. I didn’t even realize I was in stocking feet until he handed them to me.

He asked me if he should call for help, and I said I’d better call a friend for a ride instead, at which point he left and I fished my phone out of my pannier and began making desperate calls.

After arranging for a co-worker to pick up me and my bike, and with the help of a random homeless-seeming guy, I started to assess the damage as I waited. Poor Marjory. My new helper was trying to put her back together, but I could see that the front fork was now splayed out twice as wide as usual and significantly bent backwards, so I told him not to bother.

This picture does no justice to how fucked the fork is. Marjory, you were a damn good bike.

Best case scenario: I’ll have to replace the fork. Hopefully, there wasn’t any other damage to the frame and this will be the case. Worst case scenario: frame also bent beyond repair, in which case I’ll salvage the new alloy wheels, sweet tires, shifters, drive train, and salmon brake pads for the next bike. I still need to carefully examine the bike to determine what is salvageable, but it’s safe to say it’s done for the season. The basket and water bottle (which had been sitting in the basket) were also broken.

And me? I’m thankful this didn’t happen in traffic. Twenty-four hours later I’m quite sore, have bruises on both my legs and arms, and have no skin on my lip in what looks like the world’s nastiest cold sore. My neck is sore, but I’ve done worse at Megadeth concerts. My upper arm and shoulder are the worst, and while I have full strength and motion in them, it feels like they’ll be hurting for a while. Hopefully there aren’t any other insidious injuries that show up later. I used to practice martial arts, and I’m pretty confident that I would have been much worse off in this crash if I hadn’t trained breakfalls into my muscle memory. And, because I know some of y’all are thinking it, I was not wearing a helmet and it wouldn’t have helped a lick if I had been wearing one in this crash. I was back on a bicycle (albeit trepidly) within a few hours of getting home.

Getting back to what I was saying earlier, about just riding along, the mechanic in me HAS to figure out why my bike failed. I think the most likely scenario is that the axle nuts were loose, causing the wheel to fall off, which is a very humiliating thing for me to admit. Every time someone else’s bike is presented to me, I check that the axle nuts or quick releases are properly tightened. Every bike library bike I work on gets the same check every month when it’s returned. I put every nut, bolt, and ball bearing in Marjory with my own two hands, but the truth is that I don’t know whether her axle nuts were loosening, because I haven’t checked them since I put new tires on her last spring. And considering that I knew that she had wheels that didn’t match the dropout widths and that it could result in exactly this sort of accident, I should have known better and been regularly pulling out the wrenches.





Hauling Stuff

8 06 2011

I have been working what seems like a tonne of events all over the city with Edmonton Bicycle Commuters lately, doing free mechanical checks on bikes. Sometimes, this also involves getting all the tools, stands, signs, supplies and propaganda to the site on an EBC trailer.

Marjory is easily up to the task of hauling 50 pounds on a 5 foot trailer.

Now that it’s Bike Month, the frenetic pace of events has increased for everybody associated with the utilitarian cycling scene in E-town, scenes like the one above will be repeated almost daily.

Meanwhile, to thank Marjory for all her hard work, I’ve got her a special treat: a set of white wall Schwalbe Delta Cruisers. Pictures coming soon!





Spring Scenes

28 04 2011

Finally, FINALLY, this long E-Ville winter has let up. The robins have returned and most of the snow has finally melted. More cyclists are popping up, the bike paths are mostly clear, and the city’s finally making a little bit of progress (hey, every bit helps) in cleaning the streets and filling the potholes.

Street art is also starting to pop up again. Hooray!

This past week, I took two epic rides in honor of me getting older. The first was with a half dozen of my closest friends, followed by a lovely dinner. The idea was to meet up in a park near my workplace and set forth from there. I was so stoked for just a simple ride with good friends for the first time after such a brutal winter, I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about a bike ride.

So, of course, I also ended up getting my first flat tire in forever on the way to work. The back wheel that came with the Transend included a “self-healing” tube filled with tire slime, which bled fluorescent green slime reminiscent of you can’t do that on television all over the back end of my bike and into a small pool on the ground. Given the quarter inch long shark tooth shaped piece of metal that was completely embedded in the tire, the slime probably slowed the release of air enough to get me down the road instead of immediately and completely deflating. Still, I was on the cusp of an epic ride with a flat tire and a bike that looked like it ran over a gremlin, and though I had a pump and a patch kit, the patches wouldn’t stick to slime so I would need a new tube.

Luckily, my friends are awesome. I sent out text messages with my tube size, pumped up my tire after work and set off, hoping the tire would hold air long enough to get to the rendezvous point in the park.

Transend, ready for service!

Eventually, someone showed up with a tube, and we fixed up the bike, and even though we spent way more time hanging around the park and less time riding than originally planned, it was still a lovely evening. Thanks everyone for an awesome birthday! (And special thanks to Geneva for pumping my tire up to 60psi with the little frame pump!)

Bathroom break in the valley. There were ski racks, but no bike racks.

This week I also hit the highway and made my first ride out of the city of the year to see my folks.

On the shoulder of the highway. Nothing but rumble strips and a white line between me and 120kmh traffic. At least most of the gravel's gone.

Within city limits, the shoulder of the highway was still covered in an inch or two of gravel, and it was a tough slog, especially on Marjory, but after I passed the county line it looked like there had been some effort made to clear the winter debris. Riding in the city all winter is good exercise, but you never have the chance to just ride flat out for miles and miles, and I was a little surprised at how winded I got on some of the long overpasses. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride.

Later, on a warm spring night, riding with a friend, I decided to stop at a dumpster I know is often good for food and flowers. I needed bread, but I wanted flowers. I guess you can’t always get what you need. I didn’t even have to dismount from the bike, I just stuck my arm in the dumpster and pulled out a dozen long stemmed roses that were laying on top of the rest of the trash.

No bread, but roses for Marjory!

The best things about the arrival of spring are not having to always ride alone, and being able to stop and look for treasure (Terrence and Phillip got one thing right about this canuck) without freezing your butt off.





Last Cruiser Days

25 10 2010

I’ve been riding Marjory this week, knowing that it won’t be long before I have to put her away for the winter. With that 4 letter word that starts with “S” in tomorrow’s forecast, it’s entirely possible that I’ve taken my last ride on her until spring. At least it was a good one.

Moon rises over Marjory.

Through the rolling ridges of Dawson Park (where the guerrilla art installation from last week is still up!), over the fresh tarmac in Riverdale into a breathtaking sunset over the river, followed by the caresses of cool air in Mill Creek Ravine.

I popped into a bustling EBC to say hi to a couple of folks, and was convinced to go on a dumpster raid for what was rumored to be a big score of bikey stuff.

As the sun set and the temperature rapidly dropped, under-dressed and patience running thin, we hit the motherload. Among a smorgasbord of accessories were several matching wicker baskets, each of them broken in a different way, so I grabbed two, making sure there was enough good parts between them to reassemble one working basket.

Squeeks tests out Marjory's new basket.

I put the basket on Marjory to try out (even though I’m not really a fan of baskets for day to day use) and took her out for one last ride. I don’t know why, but suddenly Marjory wasn’t so fast anymore. I didn’t realize how much I relied on seeing the front wheel in my peripheral vision for accurate steering, because it felt clumsy and awkward like the bike had sprouted a cow catcher. A friend who knows my riding style well predicted that I’d end up taking off the basket in no time, but I guess I’ll have to wait for spring to see how long it takes for me to get sick of it.





River Valley Art Gallery

15 10 2010

Yesterday, I found that some art had popped up along one of my favorite trails in the valley. With no camera to document it, I was forced (riding in the river valley on a beautiful fall day – what a hardship) to return today.

Marjory does just fine on this path, thank you.

Along a gravel path, somebody (or bodies) put up a bunch of art that delightfully surprises anyone traveling over the crest of a ridge. I never would have found this spot had I not been traveling by bike.

To whomever did this, it makes me so happy to find such spontaneous awesomeness can still sprout forth from this gray burg. Thank you so much, it made my day, two days in a row.

Cartoon faces overlook the trail.

A bird hides in the trees.

Portrait on Reader's Digest.

I love how this art incorporates its environment.

With the reflection of its surroundings, this piece becomes pure magic.

Have I mentioned how much I love fall riding? No leaves in the valley means more sun as the temperature starts to drop as well as more wildlife sightings. While I was checking out the art today, I saw a pileated woodpecker and two downy woodpeckers, just pecking at trees & dislodging big chunks of bark. Every beautiful day from now until winter is a gift. When the winter comes, I don’t want to have any regrets about fairer days wasted and every cross town commute is another opportunity for a lovely river valley jaunt.

It was one of those match my bike to my outfit kind of days. Come winter they'll be few & far between.





Ducking Out Of The Rain

2 09 2010

When volatile prairie skies bring sudden downpours, knowing a place to take shelter can make surprise rain more bearable. One of my favorite spots is the band shell in Borden Park.

Did you know that at one point, the roof of this band shell was filled with pine cones by some very industrious squirrels?

The local saying, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes,” was pretty spot on today. The sun returned before I even left the band shell, glaring and reflecting off the wet streets, blinding anyone who had the misfortune of heading west.

Look at the road and risk going blind.

Sunbeams dried out my clothes as a rainbow formed over refinery row.

This about sums up my complicated feelings toward E-town.

And suddenly a cool, fall-ish day was unbearably hot, and the shelter I needed was from the sun (at least for the next 15 minutes).





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.





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.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers