The Fleet Hits the Street

21 04 2010

Nestled deep in the bowels of the Student Union Building (SUB) at the U of A, beyond the “No Bicycles in Building” signs, near a lounge hidden at the end of two narrow hallways, is one of the best kept secrets on campus. The Environmental Coordination Office of Students (ECOS) runs a bike library with a fleet of around 30 bikes that members of the U of A community can borrow for a month at a time, and one of the hats I wear is chief wrench, crank, and maintainer of the fleet. I’ve been working with volunteers throughout the winter rejuvenating and overhauling the green bikes and cobbling together fresh bikes to add to the collection. And now that the weather has turned positively summer like, it’s time to find riders for them.

ECOS bikes ready to roll.

We pulled down all the good-to-go bikes from where they’d been hanging all winter, and seeing them all lined up, ready to take to the streets made me so elated and proud. I couldn’t help but giggle as I gave them a final visual inspection and checked the lights and the bells. Brrrinnng brrrinng hooray!

Packed in like a clown car for two wheelers.

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Back to our Regularly Scheduled Season

10 04 2010

Early April in E-town is more often a time of snow and chills than of anything most people would consider springlike. This year, the snow melted early and the sun has already started sucking what little moisture is left from the parched ground. The last decade has been among the driest on record, and years of drought are  beginning to do permanent damage to Edmonton’s urban forest. Knowing this makes it harder to embrace an earlier retirement of the long underwear for the season, as it comes at the expense of the trees that protect me from the summer sun and break the brutal winter wind.

So, a change in weather is welcomed, but not one involving gale force winds.

A dust cloud rises over downtown. This is taken from the same spot as one of the pictures in the previous post where you can see the skyline.

This is the type of wind that sandblasts you and everything around you with dirt and gravel and sticks and garbage. It’s the type of wind that, when it’s at your back, can blow you up a hill, accelerating without pedaling, and when it’s at your side it can blow you off balance. It’s the kind of wind that will leave you motionless, blind, and breathless should you be so unlucky to have to ride straight into it. It’s the type of wind that evaporates precipitation before it hits the ground and sublimates snow before it can melt and be absorbed by the soil. In short, it’s the last thing this thirsty burg needs.

Street art near bicycle bottleneck.

Having an errand to do, I arrived at EBC just as the first clumps of snow began blowing in horizontally. I was light headed from the wind but ecstatic about the prospect of precipitation that could actually stick. That’s when I saw this old girl that had appeared mysteriously in the yard overnight.

A vintage step-through frame with most of its parts but in very rough shape.

Perhaps it was the prospect of enough moisture to quell the dust storm mixed with the first flashes of fever from an impending flu that made me so infatuated I decided to start fixing her up on the spot. The impression I have is “farm bike,” used & abused for many years before being abandoned, overgrown and partially buried, then rescued, repainted but never given more “maintenance” than the occasional shots of WD-40. I was hoping to restore her into a stylin’ ride for EBC to sell to a very lucky someone, and eagerly began cleaning, sanding, and replacing spokes and bearings. However, everything I’ve taken apart so far has revealed major issues with this bike, including bent frame & forks, shot rims & worn down hubs, serious enough that it shouldn’t be resold. Still, I want more practice working on these old cruisers, so I’m going to see how far I can get with this one.

Hub crud - one of many reasons you should keep WD-40 away from your bikes.

The hub was encased in an unholy epoxy of balsam poplar sap (and buds) and WD-40. I had scraped off approximately 90% of it before taking the picture above, and was still left with a sticky gungy mess. When I finally did get things clean, I was greeted with a pitted hub and disintegrating cones.

This is what a cone should not look like.

All the poplar-cement (my new least favourite thing found in a hub) removal took a few hours, and I’ve still got much more to do. Here’s hoping for no sap in the bottom bracket. As the snow had started to collect on the bikes outside and the wind was forming it into icy drifts on the side streets, I ended my impromptu repair session to return home to curl up with the kitties and listen to the wind howl.

EBC yard bikes under a blanket of snow. Don't worry, petites bicyclettes, spring is coming and we'll find new homes for you soon.





A Spring Wardrobe Self Portrait Sampler

6 04 2010

It’s been an unusually warm week, the snow is mostly gone, and the wind is whipping up the remaining sand on the roads and driving it into every exposed orifice. It’s a gritty grey and brown season, possibly my least favorite. It’s only saving grace is the temperature, and I feel lighter than air having shed many layers of clothing, riding my new zippy bike with slick tires.

An early spring boomer on the horizon, and the socks that got me more attention than I could handle.

Spring fever seems to have hit drivers hard, ’cause I don’t think it’s the socks that are causing them to hang out their windows yelling various objectionable and objectifying remarks (with the possible exception of the one that yelled something like “yaaah! sexy tights! sexy bike!). Still, being honked at, no matter what the reason, takes a little zip out of my ride.

Behold my upright bike ninja impression. This bike needs some lights (and a name).

Liftoff on a bike so light it feels like it defies gravity. I've been regularly passing fair weather full lycra roadies on multi-thousand dollar bikes.

But how much can one really complain about spring? It means I’m not a lone cyclist anymore. When I ask friends if they want to go on a ride, they respond enthusiastically instead of with the old stink eye. It’s hard to stay in a bad mood when you arrive at a house party to be greeted by a backyard full of bikes and a house full of contagiously exuberant  bike polo players. And it’s impossible to be dour after an easter sunday that included a bike collective jammed full of fascinating women fixing up their rides, followed by a fire & dance party with good friends, on the edge of cliff under the northern lights. Methinks this is just the beginning of a fabulous season.

Welcome back, spring. I’ve missed your gritty glory!