Riding Into the Past

16 09 2011

No matter the occasion, cycling there is the way to go. Even if it’s an old-west-glam themed wedding in Fort Edmonton Park.

In costume and riding Poplar, my antique loop frame, the park staff were happy to let me ride right up 1905 street to the church and park in front. (Like today, in 1905, bicycles get the best parking spots!)

Checking out the "newest" attraction on 1920 Street.

After the reception, I explored the empty streets of the historical park on two wheels. Usually, bikes are not permitted in the park, but security (who were also riding bikes) didn’t seemed bothered about costumed wedding guests harmlessly gallivanting through the boardwalks and gravel roads in the after-hours. I quite enjoyed riding my bike back in time and through those ghostly streets that represent days long gone.

Poplar is actually much newer than anything that Fort Edmonton Park represents, but it felt right riding that particular bike, like she was going home. Ironically, the only trouble I had with the old rustbucket (I say that lovingly) was when she blew a spoke on freshly paved Keillor Road on the way there. Sigh, always another repair…





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.





On the Curious Behaviour of Trees

20 06 2010

Ubiquitous to this part of the world, aspen poplar are fascinating trees that are scorned and overlooked because they are so common. They spread quickly by suckering, and whole groves of trees can actually be just one single organism, connected underground. In the fall, because of this, entire stands of trees’ leaves will change to gold on the same day, and in turn the golden leaves will all rain down at once in a magical display. And on a hot June day, a forest of poplars will simultaneously release their fluffy seeds, covering the ground like snow.

The poplar fluff angel that made my ride.

Beautiful as this is, the poplar fluff is thicker than usual this year, and it’s a sign of something a little more nefarious under the surface. As the river valley has greened out, to see the amount of trees dead and dying from drought is shocking. All the trees, including the “weedy” poplars, are stressed, and this surplus of seeds is a last ditch effort for forest survival.

Kicking up the fluff.