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.





Breaking Out the Summer Bike

11 03 2010

Three years ago, a couple of friends rescued a rusty old Raleigh from a dumpster,  got her working, dubbed her Marjory Stewart Baxter and gave her a second life. Sadly, they moved away not long after, but left Marjory to me to take care of. I’m so thankful they did, because she’s become my favorite bicycle ever.

Marjory Stewart Baxter and me. From this angle the tires look flat. It's the angle, I swear. Bicycle fashion shots with flat tired bikes are a pet peeve of mine.

That summer, I took a 4 week bicycle mechanics course at EBC where I learned by overhauling every part of that bike, cleaning and regreasing each nook and cranny, replacing all the ball bearings and cables, adjusting and tightening every nut and bolt. I found six different types of (dead) insects in her bottom bracket, including wasps and moths. I spent hours sanding off rust and trying to get those rusty steel wheels true, and I had a pretty good ride to show for it, until I had to replace the tires and found out that her wheels were an oddball 26×1-3/8 (597 instead of 590 for the bike nerds) size that was only manufactured for a few brief years in Canada. This meant any new tires I put on her would not be perfectly round and feel like I was hitting a bump on every revolution of the wheel, not fun.

Eventually, I ordered in some modern cheap alloy 26×1-3/8 wheels. I had to switch out the cones and lock-nuts on the axles to match the dropout widths but is was so worth the hassle. She weighs half as much as before, brakes 10 times better, fits standard tires and with a little love will glide smooth as sorbet for thousands more miles.

So this week, I’m riding Marjory for the first time since fall. How I’ve missed sitting upright on a perfectly balanced bike with a soft cushy seat, the only resistance the wind in my hair as I zip past cyclists with gear more costly than cars. Her only weak point is that her matching pinstriped fenders that gracefully save me from the puddles fit so close they leave no room for winter studs and can completely clog up with snow or mud. I’ve rode her everywhere else possible though, from mountain bike trails (as long as they’re dry) to overnight trips into the countryside, in style.