Winter Cycling Dreams

29 11 2010

Last night, I had a dream that all the snow melted and I didn’t need the studded tires on any of my bikes. I could feel warmth from the sun, I didn’t have to bundle up, and my only concerns were the puddles of melted ice everywhere, and which of my summer bikes I should bring out of storage.

Fall seems like a distant memory.

Alas, I awoke to a winter cycling season that has barely started and a frozen white world with warmth only from my blankets and snuggly kitties. I guess it was still better than the dream I had last week where I was riding through deep snow in the bush to escape the zombie apocalypse. Come to think of it, I could really go for some fun off-road snow biking. Minus the zombies, of course.

Twenty Inch Studded Tires

23 11 2010

It’s cold out there, so cold that it feels like riding straight into a slurpee headache, so cold that a slurpee would actually be 20 degrees warmer than it is outside, so cold that my camera refuses to work. Yesterday’s high was -24C, with a windchill of -34C. When you’re riding into the wind the windchill increases, so I took Porta-Bike on the LRT today to avoid the headwind, turning my usual 80 block commute into a 20 block commute (luckily, I was able to avoid rush hour, when bikes are banned from trains). With a tailwind on the way home, though, I rode the whole way and broke quite a sweat.

It was pretty simple to  make a studded tire for the Porta Bike using wood screws and a semi-nubby tire (anything too fat wouldn’t clear the fender). The first step is to figure out where you want to place the studs so that they’ll be engaged when you need them, but mostly out of the way when you’re rolling straight on smooth pavement. Then, take a drill with a narrow bit and drill pilot holes in the tire and insert the wood screws from the inside. Next, take an old tube the same size or larger than the tire, and cut out the valve stem and cut along the inside edge of the tube to make a a liner to prevent the screw heads from damaging the inner tube.

Once you position the liner & the tube, put the tire back on the wheel and pump it up, you will have a rather scary weapon with the sharp screw heads poking out in all directions. Because you, your other bike’s tires, and your favorite sweater are the ones that’ll most likely be hurt, I recommend grinding the ends down. This will also help with fork & fender clearance issues.

Grinding the sharp screw heads off the studded tire.

Porta-Bike has outperformed my expectations in both packed and loose snow,  it actually seems more stable than my other winter bikes. The coaster brake is also a win for winter, as there’s less to freeze or break, it doesn’t lose power when wet and because front brakes are less useful in treacherous conditions anyway. The only drawback is that the smaller wheels that fit so nicely in the door wells of our new LRT cars  don’t take the bigger bumps of hardened snow & ice as well as larger wheels.

Porta-Bike's new tire bling, making studded tires look cute.

I can see myself riding this bike much more this season, so I’m going to do some research about additional steps I can take to protect this old steel bike from the road salt and sand of an E-Ville winter.

Jasper in the Off Season

22 11 2010

Last week, before the snow flew, my companion and I headed out to Jasper to try to cure an acute case of gottagetouttatownitis before winter settled in. Of course, we brought the bikes.

"I think we took a wrong turn. Let me see the map."

I was expecting to see mountain bikes everywhere, but was surprised to find the town site saturated with pretty cruisers wherever we went. I’ve never seen so many shiny cruisers back home in Edmonton! Some of the hotels even have private cruiser fleets for their guests.

Not only were there cruisers everywhere, nobody bothered locking them up.

It was lovely late fall weather, partly cloudy with the temperature just above freezing, except in the canyons.

Icicle springs in Maligne canyon.

Looks like the guerrilla knitters got to Jasper the bear, but hey, scarves are de rigueur.

Without the throngs of tourists that usually flood the main attractions and clog up the roads, exploring Jasper and the surrounding areas by bicycle was perfect.

Empty parking lot at Maligne canyon, for what is usually a bustling tourist trap.

Rolling down mountain roads.

We tried out some of the gravel trails as well, but found it was too muddy and bumpy to be pleasant on our high pressure slicks.

Bundled up for a cool fall day of biking.

Obligatory scenic photo of an elk's ass.

Bye bye Jasper! Sundown came too early to get enough of you.

Cager Rager

20 11 2010

A few weekends ago, a friend and I were riding side by side, in an unfamiliar part of town on a wide, freshly paved, and delightfully car free road, casually chatting and taking in the cool fall air. I had even remarked to my friend what a nice choice in routes this was. As we continued our conversation, waiting for a red light, a car pulled up behind us and the driver started leaning on the horn. As the light turned and we started to inch forward and get back into single file, the driver behind us continued honking and revving her engine. She started yelling “get off the road!” and threateningly accelerating the car in fits and starts, and I was getting really nervous when my friend turned around and hucked a paper coffee cup with the last cold mouthfuls of his morning joe, and hit her car square on the hood.

I neither condone nor condemn his action. It’s not something I would’ve done myself, but I also tend to cheer for people who stand up to bullies, even when escalation is less than pragmatic. This driver was a bully, and bullies don’t like it when they’re challenged.

She flipped out. We let her pass at the first safe point, and she sped by, swerving towards us, then slammed on her brakes and pulled over further up the road. As we rode by, she lunged out of the car and tried to tackle my friend. I’ve never seen an overweight middle aged person fly like that – she probably would have taken my friend down if he was moving slower.

With all our mettle to the pedal, we rode away, but the enraged driver got back in her car and started following us again. The chase was on. We zipped up side streets, down alleys, through a backyard and a school yard, just to have her catch up and cut us off at the pass, screaming about who’s going to pay to fix the scratch on her car (um, if a paper cup can scratch the paint on your car, I suspect that would be the responsibility of whoever did the crappy paint job in the first place). It was both horrifying and cartoonishly ridiculous.

We finally ditched her by darting down a sidewalk beside a major road, opposite to traffic flow, more than two kilometers from where this whole episode started. We rode a lot further, far off our initially planned route before finding a quiet spot to stop and calm our shaken nerves and reassure each other that we were no longer being chased by an enraged person in a Pontiac.

Maybe there’s a moral to this story, that assholery begets assholery. We were assholes for not riding single file, she was an asshole for honking and revving, my friend was an asshole for throwing the coffee cup, she was an asshole for trying to attack him then chasing us. It all becomes a contest of who can be the biggest asshole, and could’ve ended with someone getting hurt. I hope she doesn’t take it out on the next cyclist she encounters.

But it’s not black and white for me. I’ve had enough shit thrown at me from cars that I immediately appreciated the irony in the reversal of the classic drink thrown out of car at cyclist scenario (I know, two wrongs don’t make a right). I’m no angel, but I do try to behave myself on the road and extend as much courtesy to drivers as is safely possible. Perhaps she was in a hurry, or was upset that she was running late and perceived us as a further delay, but that doesn’t explain why she went out of her way to try to attack & chase us down. Why do people so easily commit a greater wrong to prove they’re right?

And now that the weather has turned absolutely Hoth-like, forcing me to take lanes more aggressively than ever, I can’t help worrying about the next driver who snaps because they think I don’t belong there.

Season of Artificial Light

11 11 2010

There’s no more sunlight for pictures on the way home from work, and every commuter on the High Level Bridge has fresh batteries in their headlights (point those things down a little, if you don’t mind). Winter, with its snow and cold, will brighten the darkness and dim the glaring hundred watt lumen uber lights. In the meantime, November is not entirely about dreariness.

A rare day that these lights are actually working and in sync. BTW, this is (accidentally) the best photo of the Art Gallery I've ever taken.

Portabiking through the "waterfall."

I’ve been putting lots of miles on the Porta Bike – it’s just too fun to stop riding, though if I had been riding a faster bike today I would’ve caught a twenty (bill, not bike) blowing in the wind (a faster cyclist got it).

Intergalactic pedal powered transport.

I’m particularly excited about the opportunities for getting into places that aren’t usually bikeable, even if the end result is only weird photos and minor mischief.

New shoes. I got them at a thrift store brand new, but the studs were already starting to fall out in the store. I figured I couldn't go wrong for a new pair of hightops for 8 bucks, but I didn't wear them for months because I was worried about one of those studs ending up in a tire. That would be the ultimate bike fashion fail. Now that I've finally started wearing them, I'm leaving a trail of studs everywhere (and I'm still worried about pulling one out of a tire - I've already pulled two out of the sole of the shoes!).

Porta Bike's now sporting a basket courtesy of the dumpster score the other week.

Did I mention I love this bike? I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s like the perfect balance between ease and eccentricity. I’m even contemplating winterizing it.

Concentrated Awesome in 20″ Wheels

9 11 2010

People dump bikes outside the gates of the local bicycle co-op all the time, so often that it’s a regular chore to haul them in every time we open the gates. Last week, I was greeted by an old folding bike in really rough shape, wheels tossed into the garbage bin. The slightly faded coral red frame caught my attention, and since it turned into a slow day at the shop, I decided to try to make it rideable.

Meet the Eaton Road King Porta Bike, made in Hungary.

The initial inspection revealed the frame’s fatal flaw – a home welding job is all that’s holding the front crossbar to the folding plate and the resulting angle of the tube is slightly, but noticeably off.

Porta-Bike's scarred heart.

The weld seemed to be holding, so I decided to take a chance on investing the work to fix it up. The first step was to rebuild the bottom bracket that had been left in a disgraceful state. The adjustable cup was missing, the threads of the shell were stripped out, and the spindle was attached to crank arms of 2 different sizes. Luckily, EBC is fully equipped with tools and old parts, and I’m equipped with the know-how to use them.

Yep, it's cottered, but it's too pretty to replace.

I straightened out and reattached the fenders, overhauled the coaster hub, added pedals, grips, tires, changed the seat, removed the remains of a built in generator system and, since I’ve taken these pictures, overhauled the headset and embarked on a campaign of rust removal and shine-up. I still need to find a suitable replacement for the quick release levers on the seat, stem, and fold, which are made of a plastic that is so degraded that it comes off in massive amounts of white powder every time they’re touched.

But why put so much work into a bike with a broken heart, who’s frame could fracture again tomorrow?

The answer is simple: this bike is an absolute joy to ride.


It’s peppy, responsive, and maneuverable, and the riding position is comfortably upright. It’s a bike that gets in and out of tight places with ease.

Twenty inch wheels don't feel small.

I now understand why Keith and some of the other EBC mechanics are so crazy for their twenty’s: while riding one of those bikes it’s impossible to not be happy. Sure it’s a little demanding of the mechanic who wants to race over the High Level Bridge on it, cranking 120rpm, but my other bikes have been easy on me lately and I need a change and a challenge, and perhaps some adventures on a bicycle with a tragic past.

What's more fun than a jeep with two steering wheels that only travels around in imaginationland? Porta-Bike, that's what!

I Know Where I Won’t Be This Weekend

5 11 2010

Dear biggest bike shop in town,

When I first heard about the expo you’re putting on this weekend, I was excited about getting my bike geek on and checking out what’s new this year. That quickly changed when I saw the featured event:

Pork Chop Throw-Down
Prize: Trek Ticket Frame
Raw Round – Bring in a wrapped pork chop to be judged on cut, freshness, tenderness, fat content, appearance.
Cooked Round – Eligible pork chops will be cooked by a trained cook. Entries prepared similarly for fairness.
Judges will choose a pork chop winner based on best tasting.

Really? You couldn’t think of any other way to tap the obnoxious hipster market that was, say, even slightly related to bicycles? Do you realize how disgusting this sounds to someone who doesn’t eat swine, whether for religious, ethical, health or environmental reasons? There may not be as many vegetarians among off-roaders (the prize is a fancy downhill frame) as there are among utility & commuter cyclists, but why set yourself up to alienate a potentially large number of customers (who also buy a lot of bike accessories)?

My first reaction was “Eww.” Then “Gross.” Followed by, “Eww, what does this have to do with bikes anyway?” Followed by a shudder and “Eww” again. I’m afraid my visceral reaction to an event where everyone is encouraged to pack raw pork has outweighed any curiosity I had about shiny new components and gold medalists.

So, sorry, biggest bike shop in town. I don’t know what you were thinking, but it seems my hopes that you had grown a clue about catering to everyday cyclists were premature. You won’t see me this weekend.


E-Ville Rider