December Skies

28 12 2010

Though it’s halfway through the season of darkness, months of winter riding lay ahead. I’ll take it one sunset at a time.

My only holiday from work this year was being able to leave early enough to catch the last rays of sun on Christmas Eve.

A lot of people are looking back on the year that was. Myself, I’m looking forward to a year in which I can afford to take a real vacation.

I’m Dreaming of a Bike Xmas

24 12 2010

Whether you celebrate it or not, here’s wishing you a joyful season.  May the new year bring you smooth roads, free of glass and wire.

LED wonderland.

Polar Porta Bike

19 12 2010

Between last weekend’s snow and the storm that swallowed up most of this week, we had one day of reprieve. Monday it was warm and clear, which was mighty good timing as it was also the night of EBC‘s Starlight Ride, where a bunch of us rode to the observatory at the U of A to look at the stars, Jupiter and its moons, craters on the moon, as well as spotting a few meteorites along the way.

Polar Porta Bike on the roof of FAB near the observatory.

Over all, more than two dozen people met up at the observatory, most riding (including some folks who were new to winter cycling), and some using transit. The ride was warm compared to standing around on the rooftop, and the little space heater beside the telescope was very much appreciated. With the weather warming up a little, the snow on the roads softened up, creating the strangest gravity defying buildup on my bottom bracket. How does slush get pointy, anyway?

Unnatural brown sugar bottom bracket deposit.

The next day, the snow started to fall again. I was working late when the boss advised me that it was starting to look ugly out there, and that I should head home before it got blustery. I said “sure,” secretly anticipating the fresh snow on relatively empty, post rush hour roads. It was a pretty good ride, except for the dude in the pickup truck who rolled down his window and “Ha-Ha!”ed me Nelson Muntz style. (Let’s see, if I get stuck in a snow drift, I pick up my bike and carry it, if dude in the pickup gets stuck, he has to pay a bunch of cash to wait in the cold for several hours for a tow truck – who should be “ha-ha”ing who?)

This photo does little justice to the huge amounts of snow that had collected on my sweaters.

The snow didn’t stop all night, and the wind soon joined it. By the next morning, anything that had been unburied the night before was whited out, and though the snow was still coming down, it was hard to tell how much of it was falling and how much had already fallen to the ground and was just getting whipped around by the wind.

Sassy surveys the snow that could engulf her over her ears.

I was wishing I could just stay in bed and cuddle the kitties for just one day until the roads were in better condition or people had a chance to clear the sidewalks, but this is one of the busiest weeks of the year where I work, so I still had to get there somehow. I was pretty sure the bike paths wouldn’t be plowed, and even if they were, they would be drifted over in no time, so I opted to hop on the LRT with Porta Bike.

Polar Porta Bike goes multi-modal.

Even though I did have to get off and carry the bike over a few snow banks, riding the bike was still more efficient than if I’d waited for the bus or walked the last leg of my journey. The main streets and bus routes had been plowed, and even though there was still lots of slippery brown sugar and oatmeal snow (this is the kind of oatmeal and brown sugar I prefer not to start my day with, thank-you), the Polar Porta Bike handles it better than any other bike I’ve ridden. After one day of mass transit assisted commutes, I was back biking the full 20km round trip.

I ordered a new set of white nubby tires (this bike would’ve originally come with white tires) and studded both of them, so I now have one of the most unique (and awesome!) winter bikes ever. Between all the studs and the rough road conditions I’m not moving nearly as fast as I’m used to, but I’m still moving and getting to my destinations as reliably as anything fueled by gasoline. I’m so happy with Polar Porta Bike that I even did something I’ve never done before, and added festive decorations to it.

Few sights are as sweet as a plowed bike path after a storm lightly dusted with sparkly snow. Also, white 20" studded tires FTW!

As I write this, the snow is still falling, and the plows are still rolling. A lot of folks have been acting like riding a bike in this weather is a hardship, but in reality it’s so fun! Sure it’s a bit of a workout, but I’m never too cold (actually, I get pretty sweaty), and I always feel better for the exercise. I can’t count the number of times this week I’ve been offered rides by well meaning folks, who think I’m crazy for riding. If only they knew what they were missing. The landscapes covered in sparkly fresh snow alone assure me that I’d be nuts to pass up an opportunity to ride.

Snow Ride

13 12 2010

I love night time rides in fresh snow, while the rest of the city sleeps. The fluffy blanket of sparkly snow covers the streets and absorbs the city noises, and it’s so much easier to ride through before cars and sanders churn it into brown sugar.

Geneva says "Bring it!"

It’s been snowing on and off all weekend, and I’m, no doubt, in for a challenging Monday morning commute. Since I took this photo I’ve made a couple of modifications to the Porta Bike that I’m looking forward to testing out, hopefully earning it the new nickname, the Polar Porta Bike. Pics to come…

Shop Talk

13 12 2010

Warning: this post contains some ugly language that some folks ought to find more offensive than they do.

When I was a kid, my dad was a mechanic, and I spent many hours underfoot in his small business and workshop. I didn’t pay much attention to things mechanical back then (even though I could fill my tires with a compressor before I left elementary school), and besides the air compressor, the only other things I remember are more ephemeral like the grimy concrete floors and the smell of grease and agent orange. And the blatant misogyny, like the walls covered in Sunshine girls and calenders of scantly clad women with power tools, the ubiquitous badly stashed porn, and the never ending disparaging remarks from the guys who worked there about the women in their lives.

All of this left me with a pretty thick skin for boys’ bad behavior in workshops, even leading me to expect it. When I started frequenting the local bicycle co-op, I was just glad that the men’s club I found there was more progressive than the male dominated spaces I remember from my childhood, and tried to brush off the more subtle ways that I felt unwelcome as a female in the shop. For example, the mechanics (though this also goes for pretty much every bike shop I’ve ever been in) would always assume I didn’t know anything, and I would often just go along, buying into the myth that because they were dudes and I wasn’t that I should trust their knowledge over my own.

Another subtle way macho boys clubs exclude anyone who isn’t a macho boy is with the language they use, and unfortunately, I still hear a lot of this in the cycling community today. Need to try harder? Then “Man up!” Didn’t perform to your expectations? Then you’re a “pussy,” or maybe you “pussed out,” “don’t be such a girl,” or perhaps you’re a “sissy,” or a “fag.” Do something stupid? Then you’re a “retard.” Something’s no fun? Then it’s “lame.” Some of you may be thinking “Oh, that’s not serious, it’s just men razzing each other, they do it all the time, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s ironic, feminists have no sense of humor, etc.” Let me spell it out: when I, as a woman, hear this sort of language, it sends a direct message to me that I am not valued for my knowledge & skill, and that I am not wanted in an environment where being like a woman is seen as a detriment. The same goes for queer folks, people with disabilities, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the masculine “norm.”

Boys, the English language is rich and deep, and I think you’ll find there are many ways to engage your competitive spirits without disparaging whole groups of people. You may even find that when you stop behaving like macho stereotypes, people who aren’t macho dudes may be more interested in spending time with you. For bike culture to progress beyond a subcultural fringe, we need to be far more cognizant of how our behavior and the way we communicate creates barriers to the very folk we are trying to win over.

Two years ago, EBC joined in an experiment that has already been running at many bike co-ops across North America and established days when, twice a month,  men aren’t allowed in the shop.

Women & Transgendered peoples' day at Edmonton Bicycle Commuters.

I have helped run these days since the beginning. I do it because I don’t see bike culture changing fast enough away from being a macho boys club. I spend every second Sunday wrenching because I want to know what its like to work in a shop not dominated by testosterone. I do it because the only female hands that have ever worked on any of my bikes are my own, and I don’t want to see another generation of girls grow up thinking that a penis is required equipment for holding a wrench or becoming competent in anything mechanical.

Please don’t misconstrue this rant as painting all men with the same brush, or equating maleness with something negative. I don’t know what I’d do without all the thoughtful, supportive, feminist men in my life, and I’ve been privileged to witness so much positive change in the bicycle scene in the last decade. I’m writing this because we still have far to go and because there are still a small but vocal minority of men who think it’s OK to say and do misogynist BS, especially within a male dominated space. Mostly, I’m writing this in the hopes that the men who hear it and are uncomfortable with it won’t leave it to the only woman in the room to call out chauvinism when it happens.

Another Winter Night

3 12 2010

Last weekend, I finally admitted to myself that all attempts at fixing the zipper on my warm winter boots had failed, and that I couldn’t go all winter trying to keep them closed with reflective ankle straps, so I decided to go shopping. Understand that I’m on a really tight budget right now, so tight that there’s no room for groceries and new boots to coexist. Thankfully, I have some staples in my pantry and a good sense of where to find good food for free, so living without groceries won’t mean going hungry.

These are not the boots I bought.

Snow, porta bike, and new boots.

Later that night, I went dumpstering with some friends (hey, it’s more fun than spending Saturday night at the bar, and end of the month is always rich pickings), and all of us came home with good hauls of stuff. My prize was this pair of leather boots in excellent condition, the perfect size for my feet (plus two pairs of wool socks). They aren’t as warm as the boots I bought, so I think I’ll keep those for when it gets colder again instead of returning them, but what are the odds?

In the picture above, you see a bike that was saved from the scrap heap with a basket pulled from a dumpster as well as the dumpstered boots on a freegan fueled bod. Most people overlook the overwhelming ocean of waste we’re creating, but it’s amazing how much sustenance can be found in other people’s trash. If only there was a way to scavenge gas to heat my house.