Transitions

28 10 2012

How much time does it take to make a change? It’s fall, and the daytime highs have fallen 30 degrees (centigrade) in thirty days. A month ago, I was frolicking in the woods and wading in the river on my last S24O camping trip of the season and taking midnight joyrides to the city limits on the ’46 CCM.

Ready to head back to civilization.

It was a frolicking barefoot in the woods kind of vibe.

Here’s to midnight joy rides on antique bikes.

Today, I’m trying to remember where I stashed my studded tires.

This is only the beginning…

A month ago, I was working at a factory, while today, between my two part time bikey jobs, I’m a full time bike professional. Ironically, this has meant less commuting and less cycling in general.

“Sometimes the best maps will not guide you, you can’t see what’s round the bend. Sometimes the road leads through dark places. Sometimes the darkness is your friend.”

A month ago I had a rigid regimen and knew where I’d be at any given moment of the week but now I’m exploring the fluidity and freedom of making my own schedule. A month ago I had doubts about my ability to take on this change, but today I’m using skills I wasn’t sure I had, and finding new uses for old talents.

And even though the change in seasons is completely predictable & expected, like the bicycle wheel turns, it’s still a shock to the system. Unlike life, where change can come suddenly and unexpectedly if you’re open to it.

It’s snowing again. I really need to find my studded tires.





Helmets Aren’t Stupid But Using Them as the Sole Measure of Safety Sure Is

27 09 2012

Before I get into this rant, I want to remind everybody that this is my personal blog, and all opinions expressed here are my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the positions of any organizations that I may be affiliated with. So if you’ve got beef with what I’m going to say, direct it at me please.

So, here we go. Helmets. Their use, efficacy and mandated use are possibly the most polarizing issues in the cycling community today. I’ve purposefully avoided directly addressing helmet use in my blog because I don’t want to host a regurgitated, staid debate that does nothing productive and just pisses people off. But something recently happened that I feel compelled to share.

I was excited to hear about an educational bike tour that the city was putting on. I even shared links to the event over facebook and through local bike related organizations, invited friends, and was genuinely looking forward to it. On the day of, I agonized over which bike to take, and decided I’d challenge myself with the old CCM as the organizers classified the difficulty of the ride as “beginner to intermediate.”

The CCM was ready for some river valley adventures.

I rushed to the rendezvous after work and immediately felt out of place. There I was on a single speed loop frame wearing a skirt, and everybody else there (with the exception of the folks I knew) was sporting spandex and fancy road bikes, looking ready for a race. Admittedly, I was confident I wouldn’t be the first one walking once we hit the hills in the  river valley, and was loving the thought of showing this homogenous group what a real cyclist can look like. I’d even brought my tools in case someone broke down.

It wasn’t meant to be, though. As we were socializing before the ride started, one of the organizers approached me and told me that I would not be allowed to participate because I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I was stunned. I thought this was going to be a casual ride, and nowhere on the event publicity had it mentioned that helmets were mandatory. Some of my friends came to my defense and told her that I was a very safe and capable cyclist, but she claimed that if the group were even seen with a non-helmeted rider, it would make them look unsafe and irresponsible.

It was all so arbitrary. They were judging my skill, safety, and whether I was a threat to myself or others by my choice to not wear a styrofoam hat. If I’d been riding a bike with no brakes and flat tires I’d’ve been good to go in their eyes as long as I was wearing the prescribed head gear. Part of me wonders if they would’ve been so hard line if I’d been decked out in cycling gear and riding carbon, but it still boils down to fashion sense and not sporting the right uniform. I have a little bit of experience in organizing group rides myself, and safety is also a priority for me (hey scoffer, I said safety, not legality, they aren’t always the same) as I would feel responsible if something bad happened at my event. This means that if someone’s having mechanical issues, we don’t ride until it’s fixed, or if they’re riding like an idiot, they hear about it. Preventing accidents has way more safety benefits than all of the best protective equipment. That being said, there is one piece of safety equipment that I almost never forget – my gloves.

Regular readers may have noticed that there aren’t any pictures of me wearing a helmet on this blog. In the last 10 years, the only place I’ve worn one is on the bike polo court. I’m not knocking anyone else’s choice to wear a bike helmet because it is just that,  a personal decision. I live on my bike. I’m more comfortable riding than I am walking. Do I need a helmet to walk, even though I’m clumsy sometimes? Of course not! So why would I think I need one to bike? The chance of me falling on my head is equally unlikely. I also know that not everyone has the same amount of practice/skill/balance/confidence/sobriety that I do on a bike, so if they feel safer wearing a helmet, then great! I support anything that helps riders gain confidence.

I could go into how promoting helmet use increases the perception that cycling’s unsafe, or how drivers give more space to riders without helmets, presumably because they either identify them as humans before cyclists, and can therefore better relate to them and their fragility. I could talk about how helmets only seem to be effective in mitigating a very specific and uncommon injury.

For me though, the truth is simpler. I don’t like them. I hate they way they feel, I hate the way they look, I hate how I can’t feel the wind in my hair, I hate how they smell, I hate how bulky they are, and I hate how they effectively increase the diameter of my skull by two inches, making it more likely that I’ll bump my head into things (this was my experience during the few of years of my life that I was wearing a helmet all the time). Because of how integral bikes are in my life now, if I chose to wear a helmet, I’d have to do everything but sleep in it, and for me, the hassle and disincentive to ride far outweigh the potential benefits.

So, I wasn’t allowed to join the ride. There was a bit of a debate with the organizers and my friends stayed back with me in solidarity. Instead, we went on our own rides. I had this urge to take the CCM offroading, and Christal had a new 29er to test out, so we headed for the valley as the other riders walked their bikes down the block.

We can ride if we want to, we can leave your friends behind… (girl without hat & the safety dance).

Christal & her new ride.

I had a good time on our alternative ride. We explored some gorgeous corners of the river valley and challenged ourselves with some fairly difficult single track. Going up steep gravel paths definitely wasn’t the CCM’s thing, but otherwise it rode fine. “Gravel, pffft,” says the tenacious old bike, “when I was young all the roads were gravel or dirt. You kids today have it too easy!”

OK, so I wouldn’t want to bike here every day, especially with this bike, but I still had an awesome time. I felt so old-school. It reminded me of being a kid and exploring the ravines on my old mixte.

From what I heard back from the people that stayed on the main tour, it was also a really good experience with exceptionally knowledgeable guides (minus their views on bike helmets, of course). I haven’t singled out the event for criticism because I want to see more events (educational bike tours) like this, and I don’t want to start up petty beef with the organizers when they’re doing something that I really support, it’s just this one stupid little thing…

One of my friends wrote a lovely letter, expressing his displeasure with how this was handled. The response wasn’t the one I was hoping for, but it was the one I expected. In the future, it will be clearly expressed in all promotional materials that helmets are mandatory, and the organizers will have some extras on hand in case anybody shows up without one. In other words, the helmet fixation will continue.





Restoring a Canadian Classic – The ’46 CCM Loop Frame

15 08 2012

The Raving Bike Fiend had offered me this bike some time ago, knowing that I have a soft spot for loop frames, the ability to properly fix it up, and that my own vintage CCM, Poplar, was in extremely poor condition and I was spending more time fixing it than riding it. But with both of us living car free, transporting a non-functional bike cross town can get a little complicated. With a big trip on the horizon, though, he got his car rolling again and outfitted it with the necessities: racks for multiple bikes.

Keith loads up the ’46 CCM and le Mercier beside it to get me & my bikes home. This would be the first time in months that I’d stepped into an automobile.

The bike was given to Keith by another BikeWorks volunteer, whose grandmother was the original owner. In remarkably good shape, the burgundy rims still had their original white pinstriping, though the striping on the frame hasn’t fared as well over the decades and the white paint on the chain guard and fenders was particularly rough. It was missing a pedal, chain, grips, saddle and seatpost but still had all its integral components. However, the important question was how it looked on the inside.

The first step was to replace the missing components and get it ready for a test ride. Keith gave me a new old stock CCM seat post and I lucked out tremendously and found a Wrights leather saddle (history note – Wrights was an English manufacturer that was bought out by Brooks in 1962). With a brand new 1/8″ chain, it was starting to look like a whole bicycle again but started getting complicated when I went to install pedals.

I had found an appropriate set of 1/2″ pedals and had them ready to go when, after much grunting, swearing and penetrating lube to get the old one off, surprise! I discovered one side of the 1 piece crank was drilled 1/2″ and the other side was drilled 9/16″. WTH? Why would anybody do that? Did they start on the right side before realizing the left side was reverse threaded and needed a special tap? Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use the awesome pedals, I headed to the parts room to see if, by some major minor miracle, I could find a matched pair of mismatched pedals. Luck was on my side again, and you wouldn’t know they weren’t a pair by looking at them.

Keith had mentioned some concerns about the coaster hub, so I started the overhauls with that. Old CCM coaster hubs are fairly different than any other coaster hubs I’ve worked on, so if any of the parts were worn, finding spares would be an issue. Though very grimy on the outside, I was pleasantly surprised to find pretty clean lube and all the parts in excellent condition when I opened it up. When I tell people that hubs can outlast bikes if they’re taken care of properly, this is exactly what I’m talking about. This 66 year old hub was in better condition than a lot of 2 year old hubs I’ve seen.

A large part of a project like this is cleaning. There’s a nice cog under all that caked on grime, waiting to be exposed with degreaser and some elbow grease.

The parts of the coaster hub before reassembly. If you look carefully, you’ll see that every part, even the nuts, are stamped “CCM.” I don’t know why, but it makes my heart skip a beat in joy.

Reassembled and shined up CCM coaster hub. Made in Canada, patented 1937.

My next priority was to repack the headset, which felt a little loose. No surprise that the stem was corroded in place inside the steerer tube, but after much grunting, swearing and malleting, I got it out. The wedge part actually had rustcicles growing from it! I disassembled the headset and set the fork aside to clean the cups when I heard the sound of running water. It turned out the steering column on the fork was full of water, which was now running across the bench and onto the floor. At least that explained the rustcicles.

Despite the watery surprise on the inside, the races, cups and chrome were in beautiful shape underneath the grime. Also, this is by far the best photo of anything I have ever taken inside BikeWorks.

The headset itself was in fine shape, and I didn’t have any other issues repacking it. While I had the front wheel off, I repacked the bearings in it too, and like the back, it looked like it had been maintained regularly and would see many more decades of use.

The headbadge has seen better days, my guess is because of a basket. Notice how the paint is unevenly faded where parts of the badge have chipped away.

After all of that was reassembled, I could finally put on my grips. I wanted something special that would still be appropriate to the bike while fitting within my next to nothing budget and vegan values. I decided to go with cork stained to match the saddle, as described in Lovely Bicycle and in the subsequent comments.

Two light coats of all in one Minwax stain/sealer on plain light beige cork. I then used a layer of double sided tape to keep the grips in place.

The last major thing to do was the bottom bracket. After finding all that water in the steerer tube, I was really worried about what awaited me in the bottom bracket, especially considering the bike had been sitting outside with an open seat tube for an indeterminate amount of time. Bugs, leaves, sand were some of the things I expected, but all I found was enamel that had chipped off of the inside of the bottom bracket shell. There was a very small amount of pitting starting on the races, but it should be OK with diligent maintenance to keep it from getting worse.

The last step was take it for a late night test ride!

The wolf was also excited about this old school bike and wanted to take it for a test ride too.

All these repairs took several nights, and I had been riding the bike back & forth to the shop without grips & overhauls, but that first guilt-free ride when you know you’re not pushing your luck by getting on an unfinished bike is something special. The bike is heavy and clunky, and I think I may need to look at the coaster brake again because it occasionally makes an unhappy noise, and the saddle squeaks like crazy, but  it’s still a joy to ride. Upright, lady like and attention getting, the bike turns heads and I’ve gotten many compliments on it from random strangers. Because the frame isn’t bent, it handles much better than Poplar, and the gear ratio feels just right. The tires are in fair condition, but I know I’ll have to be on the lookout for appropriate replacements. The wheels could also do with a truing, which I’ll do when I replace the tires.

I don’t care how late it is, I need to test ride this baby.

I fix enough bikes to know that some are more satisfying than others. This one was off the scale. I’m sure at least one of you wants to know if and what I’ll name this bike. For something that’s survived so well intact and potentially still has a long life ahead of it, it feels kind of presumptuous to give it a quirky moniker. But as I reread this post, an underlying theme of luck comes up, so I think I may use that as inspiration for a name.





24 Hours in the Slow Lane

21 08 2010

It was one of those restless summer weeknights where adventure and responsibility fight for the attention of the insomniac mind, when I decided I needed to ride. I often feel that I have to go farther away to find fresh scenery, and to push myself to go harder and longer, but this night I felt bored with that prospect, and instead opted take Poplar (my 1950’s loop frame bike) for a tootle.

The University of Alberta campus is close to home, packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and is delightfully abandoned and quiet after midnight, making it the perfect place for a slow late night ride (so long as campus 5-0 didn’t bust me for riding without lights or a bell).

View from a parkade top. Also, check out the reflective design on my hoodie!

I wanted to top a parkade on Poplar mostly because I wanted to feel what it’s like to do it on a single speed with a coaster brake. Turns out it was no problem at all, and I therefore have no reason to feel bad about any time in the past where I may have “encouraged” anyone else on such a bike to do it. 😛

I wonder if, in the 70's it was some art or design student's project to paint large circles at the top of a parkade...

Coasting down the ramps of the empty parkade, ducking my head because the ceiling seemed too close, I inadvertently rode into a photo shoot for a shiny black SUV. What an ad that would’ve made – sleek new car in huge empty space-age garage, and suddenly appears yours truly, smiling and rattling and rolling on a rusty 60 year old cycle. That image kept me giggling as I rolled down to street level and set off to explore more of campus.

Sculpture garden in the FAB courtyard, where steel goes to rust.

With the huge amount of construction on campus, routes are constantly changing, getting blocked off and detoured. The amount of change certainly keeps things interesting, and the temporary walkways can be a blast.

So, you're not supposed to ride through here, but when it's the middle of the night...

Not long after, with a big yawn I returned home for a second chance at sleep.

The next morning, the city was blanketed with smoke from forest fires 1000km away. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining abut the haze? Well here’s how bad it has to be for an air quality warning:

High Level Bridge disappearing into the smoke.

Everybody’s eyes and throats were burning, and everything smelt like campfire. Worse yet though, is the thought of the destruction in BC causing all this. The pressing question for me was whether or not I should bicycle commute. Sitting across from me in the living room, the answer was obvious, “Poplar, you’re going to work!” (Doesn’t everybody keep their vintage bikes in their living rooms?). There is no way I could ride that bike faster than 15km/h, therefore I wouldn’t be tempted to over-exert myself in the nasty air. I gathered some tools in case the bike acted its age and set off on my longest (non snow storm) commute.

I noticed more people taking it easy on slow bikes than ususal, and so many more people smiled and waved, more cars stopped for me – I’m not sure if was the haze or the bike. Not long after I left home, I realized I had brought neither a water bottle nor a lock, and started worrying I couldn’t safely leave my bike while I picked up something en route to soothe my burning throat. My remedy awaited in Churchill Square in the form of people giving out free mini cans of Sprite. Cold, fizzy, sweet, free liquid? Yes please! I was very happy that my coaster brakes allowed me to drink and cycle safely at the same time. Slow riding was looking better with every revolution of the wheels.

After work, where better to go for eerie, smokey pictures than a cemetery?

Baby graveyard, for extra creepiness.

I like riding in cemeteries. They’re quiet, green, with empty meandering paved roads, plus I find old gravestones fascinating.

Looking for the sun. Looking at the sun.

Next stop, a slow ride to 118th Ave for a gallery opening and some farmer’s market goodness. The guy at the fruit stand really liked my bike. I appreciate that the 118 market is chill enough that I could keep my bike with me, and that the Nina Haggerty allowed me to leave my bike inside.

Loaded up with fresh fruits & veggies and my pink tool bag, riding into the haze again.

After more errands, and some unexpected run-ins with friends, I headed back towards the bridge and the south side.

The sun was just a cold orange disc. I wonder if this it what sunshine on Mars would feel like.

The view of the river valley in the strange orange light was spectacular.

Or maybe this is just a prelude to some sort of post apocalyptic Earth.

Over 48 hours, I rode about 50 slow kilometers on Poplar, and maybe I’m just projecting, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. My 10km commute, not including the extra stops, was only 10 minutes longer than usual, and was far more enjoyable than I expected. I may have to take the slow bike to work again…

Smoke on the water, and fire in the sky...





Rebirth of a Vintage Canadian Bicycle

3 08 2010

Last spring, I found an an old CCM with a Garry head badge at EBC in extremely rough shape and began fixing it up.  It was initially intended to be sold at EBC, but there is so much damage to the frame, hubs and wheels that it couldn’t be sold as a practical, rideable bike. I dubbed her “Poplar” and decided to follow through on the repairs anyway, so I could learn more about vintage bikes and hopefully get at least one sweet ride out of her instead of going into the scrap metal heap. My one sweet ride came via Critical Lass. The second time I rode her, to the Bikeology Festival, her tire exploded on the way home, during a sudden downpour.

Bam! And, there's no fixing that tire. BTW, nobody believes those are mechanic's hands, my secret is Worx and good keratin production genes.

Replacing a tire is not a big deal, except Poplar has 28″ Canadian size tires, and I had to wait close to a month for a new specimen of that oddball sized rubber.

Canadian size - translates to "good luck finding a replacement"

Canadian size, made in Sweden? The replacement tire was made in Taiwan.

After changing the tire, I decided to work on six decades of rust using the secret recipe for rust removal from Loop Frame Love: aluminum foil and lemon juice.

To the left, clean but rusty rim. To the right, shiny after being rubbed with aluminum foil moistened with lemon juice.

There was a point, possibly even on the first night I worked on this bike, that I knew I’d spend more time fixing it up than I would riding her. So far, I’ve overhauled both hubs, trued the wheels (which included some serious banging to bend back the rims), replaced a bunch of spokes, tightened the bottom bracket, spent hours and hours scraping off 60 years of WD-40, poplar sap and weed overgrowth, bent the fork, the rear triangle and both sets of dropouts back into shape, and replaced the grips and pedals. I have used more brute force on this bike than any other I’ve ever worked on (which is pretty amazing, given my experience with winter bikes), but there are still things, like the bent steerer tube now mounted permanently in the head tube, that no amount of muscle can fix.

New tire & new shine! I also added a basket that, fittingly, had bent stays that also can't take a load.

I feel like I want to take this bike to some sort of completion, not necessarily restored to its original state, given the state of the frame it just wouldn’t be worth the investment, but restored to a semblance of both function and prettiness (BTW, I’d be very interested to find a set of 1/2 inch rubber pedals). This will never be a bike I’d feel comfortable riding fast or far from home, but I think I do want to take the last major step in sprucing her up and give her a new paint job. There is burgundy paint underneath the green, and on the fork there is a sparkly blue paint under the burgundy and green, so I’ll take that into account when I decide what colours her new look will include. She’s a delightful little bicycle, and I hope she has at least a couple more special occasion rides left in her.