Ride Like a Girl

5 03 2016

Cycling in the winter – as a practitioner and an advocate, it’s a topic I’m always interested to read other people’s takes on. The media represents winter cycling in predictable ways such as during a snow storm, “look at the tough/poor cyclist in the storm” pics, or vaguely supportive pieces including tips for winter riding, or first hand accounts of reporters doing it for the first time. The comments sections are even more rote, so I came up with this to spice up the experience:

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It’s winter cycling comments BINGO!

Meanwhile, I’ve been living with the side effects of making over my fatbike with a very eyepopping and gendered colour.

Pink in the pines. (Actually they're spruce, but pines sounds better).

Pink in the pines. (Actually they’re spruce, but pines sounds better).

I chose bright pink over equally bright green or orange – but really it could have gone any way. I’ve already got another bike with fluorescent green tires, and the only reason I didn’t go orange was because with my blue rims, it would emulate the colours of the local last place professional hockey team. This would’ve resulted in a barrage of drunken pickup truck passengers shouting “Goilers!” on any game night or in the rare event that they actually win. I don’t like getting anything shouted at me from pickup trucks, thank you very much.

Riding on water.

Riding on water.

Colours carry so much symbolism, and no colour in western culture is as heavily weighted as pink. I honestly didn’t expect the colour to completely take over. Nobody notices anymore that the rims are shiny blue and the frame is white.

So now I’m the woman with the pink fatbike. So much for being inconspicuous. Part of the appeal of getting a fatbike was being able to access areas that are hard to access, and the ability to not stand out can be helpful in that regard. Every time I ride it, people stop me to compliment my bike, or ask questions, or do U-turns mid block on 4 lane streets to say “cool bike!” (or just try to make themselves feel smart with passive aggressive statements-as-questions that they clearly don’t want a response to).

Look, I'm not entering!

Look, I’m not entering!

The main objective, though, is to bring joy, and I don’t say that lightly. With the fun, the exercise (especially in winter), the fresh air, the nourishing escapes from life’s stresses, this bike has been one of the best investments in my mental health I’ve ever made. Just looking at it makes me smile.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

So, may as well go fabulous all the way. After all we’re talking here about an entire season in which the landscape is regularly covered in glitter!

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura on a perfect winter day.

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura pogies on a perfect winter day.

My plain black pogies were warm, but their look ultimately utilitarian.

Check out the frosted tips!

The black pogies reduce the visual lightness (if you can say that about a fatbike) of the bike.

I decided that custom pogies would be a nice touch, and had a little time over Xmas holidays to make it happen. The fabric I decided upon was perfect, except a certain cat became completely obsessed with it and kept running off with pieces as I was trying to sew.

Meet my sewing assistant.

Meet my sewing assistant.

The end product was a pair of bright pink, faux fur pogies, so glam that they distract from the huge pink tires. (Those same huge tires that a certain tubby cat tried to climb up to try to chew on the fur.)

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Now the pogies were getting all the attention and comments. My partner, out cycling with me one day, asked “is this what it’s like to be famous?” after being stopped for the umpteenth time to be complemented on my “mitts.”

One night, headed to the sketchy corner convenience store on an errand (the one-stop-shop for munchies, crack pipes, and knives in the neighbourhood), I was stopped by the local constabulary who happen to patrol the area by fatbike.

“That is the girliest fatbike I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one of the cops.

“Uh, haha, thanks?” They stopped me all authoritarian like to comment on my bike? As I turned toward them, they recognized me from my job at a local not-for-profit, changed their tone a little, offered to come by work with some donations, and then turned their attention to creeping the patrons of the neighbouring head shop. Awkward (which I guess is the best one can ask for in a police interaction). This creates additional complications to exploring and testing limits, so to speak, and will ensure I’m on my best behavior riding this bike, at least until I unpink it. If my fattie ever gets stolen, those dudes had better be on it.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the original impetus to get a second set of tires was to add studs to grip ice. I was surprised how long this winter I didn’t need them, but when January rains ended the perfect winter riding conditions, I knew it was time to add metal.

First you drill the tires, then you put the screws in...

Does this still look “girly?” Does it roll like Furiosa?

There’s something confidence inspiring about having 7 dozen steel spikes protruding from each pink balloon tire, and I’m not just talking about ice. But still, bring on the ice, because ice is awesome!

Aka rollin' on a river.

Heading up the creek without a paddle.

Depending on conditions, you don’t necessarily need studded tires to ride over frozen bodies of water, but what a game changer. It feels like my tires are velcroed to the ice.

Aka still rollin on a river.

Winter makes pathways out of rivers. And rivers are pretty flat, so woohoo!

Riding on the river has been my favourite thing year. Splashing over the gravel beds and beaches through the summer, and navigating around ice flows and over outfalls in the winter. The river is the reason for and life blood of this city, but once you are actually on it, the city fades away.

Following a lone coyote track in the dying light through tonnes of giant chunks of ice stacked by the river’s force, I passed the point of no return. In an alien landscape I would have balked at had I been able to properly see what I was getting into, I found riding skills and confidence I never knew I had. Getting safely home came down to the river, me, and my bike – pink didn’t matter. This is what riding like a girl is about.





The Pink Rubber Effect

5 12 2015

Given the choice between riding and writing about riding, it’s no wonder that I’ve been choosing the former for my sparse spare time lately. When I last checked into this blog, I was just beginning to explore fatbiking. In the interim, I’ve had a lot of fun on those four inch tires, and have got more spring, summer, and fall mileage than I ever expected.

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This is what happens when you try to commute by fatbike.

On a fat bike, the journey between two points is never a straight line.

With winter approaching, however, I had to be honest with myself. As much as the fatbike is the best thing ever on snow, it’s the worst thing ever when it turns to ice. I needed studded tires if I didn’t want to be slip sliding falling around between snow storms.
And so it started innocently enough, searching for reasonably priced tires that I could put studs in and wouldn’t suck for winter.

Here is how it turned out:

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My already flashy fatbike is now predominantly shocking pink.

I’m already used to this bike getting a lot of attention, but I didn’t foresee what would happen next.

The day after changing the tires over my boyfriend and I went out for dinner where we sat beside the window to keep an eye on our locked bikes. Watching the passersby we witnessed many double and triple takes, people stopping dead in their tracks to turn around to get another look, people getting so distracted that they tripped or bumped into other folks. As the new pink rubber glowed in the darkness, I wondered what exactly I had created, while the boy wondered if its mere appearance could cause a car accident.

The next day, the snow began.

Working late across town, I had the bright idea of taking the scenic route home through 8″ of fresh snow, forgetting how much extra effort that would actually take.

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Scenic route

I was less than halfway home before starting to feel the bonk, and by the time I was off the trail and back onto relatively easier car packed snow, I was struggling not to collapse. The streets otherwise deserted, a pickup pulled up to a 4-way stop sign just ahead of me, to my right. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I waited for the pickup to go, but it didn’t move. I motioned to the driver to go, as he clearly had the right of way. Stillness. Finally he rolled down his window.

“Go ahead,” I said, motioning again.

“No,” he said, “You go. I want to check out your cool bike!”

Momentarily stunned by his words, the likes of which I’d never had directed at me from a driver during a snow storm, I wobbled forward in front of his truck.

“Awesome tires!”

“Thanks,” I said, as I waved and trudged on.

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The fatbike rolls beautifully over the oatmeal snow that currently infests all of the side streets while the colour scheme pops from the grey winter scenery. So I’ve been riding it a lot lately.

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The other day, I was riding past a playground. A family was trying to enjoy a sunny winter day, except for a screaming, crying toddler. As I slowed and redirected to give them a wide berth, the older child caught sight of me.

“Look at the bike!”

Then the adult, “Oh, look at the bike!”

And then, silence.

I slowed my pace right down to stretch out the moment, wondering what other strange powers beyond quelling tantrums these giant pink tires bestowed.

As I said, I’m used to people commenting on or asking me about my fatbike. Though 80% of the comments amount to “that looks good for winter” and “that must be hard to pedal,” they are still overwhelmingly positive. Since the makeover, I’ve heard “nice tires,” a lot, but some of the reactions have been much less predictable.

Waiting at a red light, a random dude crosses the street in front of me.

“Nice tires!”

“Thanks.”

“They look really tastey.”

“Huh?”

“Like, I could eat them! I want to eat your tires!”

“Um…”

“Mmmmmmmm! Yum yum yum!”

At which point, the line between funny and creepy being crossed, I jumped the red light.





This One Got Fat

28 02 2015

In the creepy half century old cycling training slash horror film, we learn that any small mistake whilst riding your bike will be rewarded with maiming or death. Fifty years later, the perception that only one in eight monkey children will return unscathed from a spontaneous ride to the park is more pervasive than ever, and the younger generation is being robbed of the freedom and independence that bikes afforded their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods in the name of averting statistically insignificant risks. Much of North American society continues to try to box in cycling as a recreational activity that requires special equipment and a designated place to ride, rather than an activity which can be both utilitarian and fun that can occur in any public (or private) space. This has resulted in the continued preoccupation with road and mountain bikes, racing gear, gram counting, spandex, Strava, etc. For someone who’s more interested in getting from point A to B cheaply and efficiently while fully participating in her urban community, it means I am really not interested in a significant segment of cycling culture.
Enter the fat bike.
It wasn’t that long ago that winter cycling was the exclusive domain of hard core cranks, eccentrics and idealists, or down & out folks who didn’t have any other transportation options. Within a few short years, fat biking has transformed riding in the winter into a legitimized form of recreation. “Normal” people are paying big bucks to slowly trudge through the snow and cold on oversized tires because it’s plain old giddy fun. I’ve been an all weather cyclist for a decade and a half, and as much as I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been chiefly for transportation. A change in occupation no longer saw me commuting 20km a day, and this past summer, when I embarked on long rides that I used to do with ease, I had to admit I’d lost much fitness and conditioning. There’s a twisted irony in riding less because I was spending so much time getting other people on bikes, and winter brings no incentives for long joy rides…
So, I got a fat bike.

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The day after it was delivered it snowed heavily, and I had to ride across town. Like many winter bike commuters, I have enviously scoped out the fat bike jockeys effortlessly riding through heavy snowfalls and sketchy street clearing, outpacing car and bicycle alike. To my astoundment, I got to my destination early that day, clocking a summer time in the middle of a winter storm.
The fat bike is a game changer for commuting on heavy snow days, but even in the northern outpost of E-Ville, those days number only a handful. As much as we like to complain about snow clearing, everybody is usually moving normally within 24 hours of a storm because it’s winter and we’re used to it. Most of my winter commuting is done on either packed snow or streets where the friction of car tires has sublimated the snow to the bare asphalt. When that packed snow gets icy, the fat tires that float so well over the loose stuff easily lose traction, while a narrower studded tire provides far more stability. On the bare pavement they drag as if you were riding on water balloons. When riding on the streets, I find myself seeking out the bumpy, cookie dough conditions I used to always avoid on the residential roads, alleys, between the tire ruts, on the shoulders and filling the painted bike lanes.
I didn’t buy this bike to commute on, though. I bought it to have fun on, to explore the great trails of this city’s valley and ravines, to get off the well trodden path, to rekindle the joy of cycling.

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And I’m not the only one. I was floored to find that the city is even giving consideration to winter trail riders.

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Winter specific trail markers

In summer, this ski trail is the bike path, with bikes not allowed on the walking trail on the right. There is also no way these paths would be used for commuting/transportation, as they only connect two river valley parks in a roundabout way. This is purely for enjoyment and exercise.

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Having never owned a mountain bike, if I felt the desire to go off the beaten path, I’d usually make do on a hybrid, or take a hike. The last few years, however, between a chronic back problem that can make it difficult to walk and a growing interest in road and city bikes, I was losing touch with the wild places that nourished my soul.

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This bike has opened up the extensive river valley and ravine trails and taken me places I’ve never considered riding before, especially in the winter.

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The day I took a ride down Mill Creek, on Mill Creek.

Taking a ride down the creek, on the (frozen) creek? Yes please! It was one of my highlights of the season.

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The eight weeks since I got this bike have flown by, and have marked a pronounced change in my attitude towards winter. Between getting excited for fresh snow and secretly wishing for a late spring, the fat bike is a game changer for this winter cyclist.
It’s too bad that most of the fat bikes currently being sold will just be loaded up into pickup trucks to be driven to an “appropriate” trail because they present an opportunity to make your own trail and reinterpret your surroundings from a completely different perspective.
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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.