When Your Bikey Job Has You Working on Everything BUT Bikes

20 01 2014

This past fall, the folks at the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society learned that BikeWorks South, a fixture of the cycling community located just off Whyte Avenue for more than a decade, would have to say goodbye to its old home. This means that much of the responsibility for finding and renovating a new space falls on my shoulders. For the purposes of this blog, it has meant that I’ve been too preoccupied to update it, in case you were wondering where I’ve been.

It’s exciting times, and every step of the way has brought new challenges and lessons. It’s an opportunity to build a better BikeWorks: more accessible, no more alley entrance or navigating through a bike pile to get in, store front, windows!

Around the same time that we were scrambling, looking for a new space, one of the coolest video stores in town was, unfortunately, going the way of the video store. Videodrome’s end was a sad moment for supporters of local, independent businesses but marked an opportunity for EBC, and we secured a long term lease on the space.

Next task: turn a video store into the best community bike shop on the continent (aim high). Considering I have exactly zero experience in renovations, this was going to mean a crash course in everything from ceiling to floor in order to scale a learning curve with the profile of a cliff. Luckily, there are many knowledgeable volunteers who’ve stepped forward to help out and show us how to do things right as the bulk of the work is being done by volunteers with experience ranging from none to extensive.
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Day one. This is what we started with: grungy carpet, the remains of a front counter and security system, a pink ceiling…
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…windows on three sides, and a whole lot of open space. I’d never noticed the windows when it was the Videodrome as there was shelving blocking it. They’re glorious!
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First step, paint the ceiling and ductwork yellow. This was especially urgent as it was a dirty pastel pink.
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Next, tear up the carpet and the counter ruins and scrape the carpet adhesive. We started with floor scrapers but after a whole day’s work by a small army of volunteers, we’d only cleared a small portion of the floor.

Time to bring in the heavy machinery, but first, a screening of Triplets of Bellevue on the translucent plastic protecting the windows.
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We brought in a floor grinder to obliterate the stubborn carpet adhesive and polish up the concrete.
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It was still a tonne of work grinding and then cleaning up the 250 pounds of sand it took to remove the glue. The concrete had to be clean enough to eat off of when the sealer was applied. The tedious work was rewarded with richly patina-ed stone-looking floor. I must admit, though, that pushing around that piece of machinery was pretty fun.

Painting came next. No meek colours allowed.
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The colour scheme pays heed to our old shop and helps create a glowing, welcoming and energetic mood.
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There was a back room that we felt would be more useful if it was part of the main space, and I’m all for tearing down walls, so…
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Thanks to some very committed volunteers, we lost the excess wall and gained a pretty and functional design feature.
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At this point, the space is really taking shape. Don and Bruce have been integral to keeping the renovations on track and have already lent their decades of experience and hundreds hours of volunteer labour.
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Bruce salvaged steel countertop from a former Vic Comp science lab that they’ve turned into the parts washing and hand washing stations.

The last week has been especially hectic because last Saturday was moving day. I was too busy directing the steady stream of volunteers bearing crates of parts and tools and other what-nots to take any pictures, so you’ll have to be satisfied with these before and after panoramas. (Click on the picture to enlarge.) At least the weather cooperated with a spring-like January day.
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Yep, there’s enough stuff to set up a community bike shop in that mess. The wheels and bikes will come after we get a handle on the storage situation for everything else.

This story is still in progress and I learn something new every day. I keep getting more excited about the new shop and all the possibilities. There will be more repair stations and more space to work, we have a really cool bike storage system in the works, the place will be bright and accessible, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  For many of the volunteers who helped with the move last weekend, it was the first time they had seen the new BikeWorks South. The reactions were fantastic and the enthusiasm contagious. March, when we plan to open our doors, is not so far away.
We’ve been raising money with an indiegogo campaign, and though we reached our funding goal the day before moving day, we have big plans for any additional funds. Plus, there’s some really cool swag to be had. Be sure to check it out here:
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/opening-a-new-bikeworks-south





Biking Through Blizzards in the Coldest Place on Earth

13 01 2014

As hard as winter has come on this year, this past week has really taken the cake (except I started writing this post last month and got sidetracked). The work week began with blizzard warnings and ended with windchill warnings as the coldest temperatures in the world were registered in this province. In E-Ville, though, life doesn’t stop for the weather, and bicycle is still the best way to get around.

With the snow coming down and drifting on Monday night, I had to ride cross town. As I’ve always said, riding through fresh snow isn’t a problem, it’s when the cars start packing it down and churning it into oatmeal that things start getting dicey. Still better than waiting in the cold for a delayed bus.
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A little trail maintenance is a nice touch, though.
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And while the approaches to the High Level Bridge were drifted over and close to impossible to navigate, the upwind side of the bridge deck stayed clear.
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With days of warnings of the storm, the streets were empty, the desolation more striking than the bitter wind.

It’s all enough to make a girl stud a green tire for her fixte.
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For the record, I haven’t used my front brake since I installed the studded tire up front, though I have had a couple of hilarious slow motion falls into snowbanks while getting my riding boots caught in the pedal straps.
My long awaited bottom bracket and large track cog came in time to witness more than double the average snowfall through the the first months of winter. Unfortunately, it appears that Shimano doesn’t test their grease in E-Ville conditions as the bottom bracket starts getting extremely stiff below -15C. I’ve compensated by bringing the bike indoors whenever possible. We got long runner mats for the living and dining rooms to deal with all the slop melting off the bikes. 

Blizzards, too, must pass, usually not without some subsequent arctic air.
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I celebrated the cold snap with vegan Froyo for me and my sweetie. When it’s this cold, it’s very easy to transport without it spilling or melting.
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Life is sweet. Cold and sweet.





Positron-ic!

1 02 2011

In the late 70’s, Shimano introduced its first mass market attempt at indexed derailleur shifting, Positron. There were several versions of it, starting with a dual cable version, and none of them stuck around for very long. The consensus of most of the research I’ve done on it is “good riddance.”

As I’ve been fixing up more bikes to add to the ECOS bike library, I came across one with this evolutionary dead end of a gearing system (version II to be exact). It was a cute little cruiser with a quirky shifter, and in the rush to get it stripped down and painted green, I initially didn’t realize how much of an oddball I had on my hands.

The Positron shifter. Chunky but still pretty cute, eh?

The more I examined it, the stranger it got. My second clue that I wasn’t dealing with anything like I’d ever repaired before came when I saw the “cable,” which technically isn’t a cable but a thick wire. On the derailleur, there is only one limit screw, and no springs. In the shifter, there’s neither friction nor a clicking mechanism to keep it in place. I also found that the freewheel was quite stiff, so I ran a whole bunch of oil through it and let it work through while I hit the books (er, interweb)  to try to figure out how to make it all function.

The Positron II derailleur. Notice the single limit screw and the solid wire instead of cable.

Positron is different than modern derailleurs that use a spring to return the derailleur to “normal” (high gear, except on low-normal derailleurs) when tension is relaxed on the cable. There is no tension on the Positron wire, instead it works by directly pushing and pulling the derailleur back and forth. There are five notches in the derailleur, which hold it in gear instead of springing back into high when the tension is released.

The Positron derailleur from the back. Note the saw toothed indexing mechanism that clicks each gear into place. In modern systems, the indexing action is in the shifter.

And the freewheel? It’s supposed to be stiff (though this bike may now have the loosest one around). If you’ve ever had a stiff freewheel, you know how annoying it can be as it either shifts itself into higher gears as you’re slowing down or just throws off the chain. But this doesn’t seem to be an issue with the Positron because of the lack of derailleur spring.

This springlessness also changes the strategy for adjusting the gears. After making sure the frame and derailleur were properly aligned (and bending both back into shape), I set the wire “tension” by moving the derailleur into the lowest gear and pulling the shifter down as low as it would go and tightening the pinch bolt. Then, I set the limit screw, which corresponds to the highest gear. Once I quit trying to set it up like conventional gearing, the shifter worked beautifully.

ECOS bike #38, ready to roll.

When I first met this bike, it was a sad little rusty brown Venture with a misaligned frame. Now, after a whole lot of elbow grease, it has been reborn as ECOS bike #38, ready to be loaned out and ridden again by a U of A student this spring. I took her for a little test ride in the basement corridors of SUB, and it made me glow inside when two different people randomly came up to me and said “nice bike,” (I wish I had a “before” picture). And it’s such a sweet ride – both peppy and comfortably upright, it reminded me of Marjory.

I’ll worry about it, though. The chances of finding a replacement Positron part, should I ever need one, are slim to none, and it would be easier to replace the shifter, cable, derailleur and freewheel with something more common (an old SunTour friction setup would be nice) in that situation. None of the sources on the net I looked at had any love for Positron, and even though it’s working well now, it will still need to stand up to the (often surprising) rigors of an existence in a bike share program. In the meantime, I hope many people will have the chance to enjoy this authentic 70’s ride, and I hope that Positron won’t live up to its reputation.





It’s My Blog-aversery!

12 01 2011

Apologies in advance for a self indulgent post.

I’ve been blogging for a year! How time flies!

It's ice lantern making weather (meaning it's freakin' cold but I'm sick of complaining about the cold so I'm going to concentrate on how quick it is to make ice lanterns when it's this cold, instead).

Huge thanks to everyone who’s read, commented or linked to Breaking Chains and Taking Lanes! I feel humbled that so many of you folks like to read my little cycling ditties. Stay tuned for many more bicycle adventures to come, which may or may not include bike-boganning, riding Porta Bike on the roof of a certain E-town landmark, and both riding and skating in a pink tutu.

Porta Bike alight! The ice lanterns slid around in the basket A LOT.

One thing that I’ve enjoyed is seeing the search engine terms that people stumble onto my blog with. Here are the top five most popular:

1 – “breaking chains taking lanes” – Aww, shucks (blushes). You’re really want to read me!

2 – “cygnet bicycle” / “arvon cygnet” – The Cygnet is an amazing bicycle by local master bicycle builder Arvon Stacey that I had the privilege of test riding last summer. More information on Arvon Cycles can be found here and here and here. Recently, Miss Sarah of Girls & Bicycles got to borrow one.

Trying out the Arvon Cygnet on a day that was 55 degrees celsius (that's 100F for those in the states) warmer than it is as I write this.

3 – “green caterpillars” – After making one short post on some unwanted hitchhikers, I’ve discovered that there seems to be such a dearth of information on mysterious green caterpillars that people from all over the world are looking to a bike blog for more information. O-K. This is all I know. But if you’re looking for this information in January, I’m going to assume that your climate is so much different than mine that it won’t be helpful. Unless I’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a green caterpillar conspiracy to take over the planet – that would explain why people everywhere are looking for information on identifying them.

4 – snow storm / winter cycling – Ahhh, now let me tell you about winter cycling

Bike vs blizzard. You may have won this round, blizzard, but I will win the war with my mighty snow shovel, studded tires and angular momentum!

5 – dumpster booty – Aaaarrgh! I hope ye mateys be fellow dumpster pirates, and not just dirty wankers who forgot to turn off safe search.

Some of my other favorite searches from the last year:

“can I bike on shrooms” – Um, yes, you CAN bike on ‘shrooms, but a more pertinent question would be “should I bike on ‘shrooms?”

“folding bikes assholes” – I sure hope I don’t become one of those.

“wd40 poplar sap” – NO! Don’t do it! WD-40 is evil! It won’t remove sap – it’ll just make it more permanent!!

“woody woodpecker bells” – YES!

“how bad is edmonton for cycling” – It’s better than Calgary.

“marjorie stewart baxter hoodie” – Was that you, Chris?

Anyway, thanks for reading, everyone, it’s been a blast! Stay warm and ride on!





An Army of Green Aerial Assault Caterpillars

30 06 2010

A Larger Boxelder Leafroller crowds my poplin.

Word to the wise if you’re riding the river valley trails in Rossdale and Riverdale these days: watch out for green caterpillars parachuting or rappelling out of trees on silk strands with the intent of hitchhiking and possibly grossing you out. They seem to really like bike paths and can be seen in the hundreds, just hangin’.

I grew up in this region, and I don’t have any childhood memories of what’s become an annual creepfest on the flats, and have often pondered why. Turns out my memory is not just selective, and that the masses of larger boxelder leafrollers are a new phenomenon to these parts, the infestation starting in Rossdale in 2005. It almost makes me nostalgic for tent caterpillars – at least they don’t swing down from trees to latch onto you.

I have a skirt full of caterpillars and am trying to stay calm.





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.





A Little Bit of Green

18 03 2010

It's the one day of year green corduroy is THE thing to wear.

I have an emerald corduroy jacket that’s is just a little bit too light to wear on it’s own on that mid March green wearing kind of pseudo holiday, except it was so unseasonably warm today I wore it. It would have worked out well if I didn’t have to work late and ride home after dark,  brrrr. Plus, one of Marjory’s cable stays took a bite out of my tights, so it’s been a fashion fail day all around. Even though every pair of pants I own have a hole in the inner right cuff, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a clothing/bike malfunction.

Marjory's also sporting a touch of green.

This little magnetic character has been tagging along on adventures since a friend stuck him to my bike (ah, steel frames) last year. I call him “Ding Thunk” after an incident last summer when I rode through some really thick bush (yes, on the cruiser) and thought I lost him and broke my bell. For two weeks he clung onto the bottom of the ding dong bell, completely out of sight, making the bell go “ding thunk” every time I rang it. I keep him on the center of the bell now, where he has a better view and doesn’t affect the quality of the ringing.