So, Winter, Eh?

31 10 2012

Given the crazy weather in other parts of the continent right now, I’m going to refrain from the favourite Canadian pastime – complaining about the weather. But, yeah, it snowed, and it’s cold, and it could be a lot worse.

I put a studded tire on Porta-Bike in time for some late night riding in the fresh snow.

S’no problem.

Playing with my new front light.

A flic before crossing The Bridge.

Knowing that the weather in late October here can be a toss-up, back in early fall I committed to doing free bicycle tune ups, outdoors, as part of Sustainability Awareness Week on campus. That gamble sure didn’t pay off. I did have a tent & a heater, but I still couldn’t feel my toes after 4 hours. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t very busy, though I did fix about ten bikes (not including my own), gave a bunch of referrals and talked a lot of winter cycling.

Giving Porta-Bike a little TLC during one of the slower moments of Sub-Zero Bike Repair session.

I’ve been riding the foldie since it snowed because I found that the freezing temperatures have brought out some issues with the Globe (my other winter bike), and I’ll have to replace cables before I can ride it far. Not a big deal, I just need to find some time to dedicate to it. I also have another winter bike on the build, but I am waiting for rims to rebuild the wheels before I can launch it into the great Canadian winter. Stay tuned for more on that one later.

Rolling Through a Wacky Winter

27 02 2012

Living on the northern fringe of the Canadian prairie, winter is a serious affair. It’s seriously long, seriously cold, and requires serious adaptation & preparation to really be able to get out and experience it, whether riding a bike or on foot (or skis, or snowshoes, or skates – so many options!). I have a hypothesis that a portion of the traffic I get on this blog in the winter is from other year-round cyclists, trying to figure out who’s the most hardcore (I nominate this guy).

My studded tires have been grinding more pavement than snow & ice this winter.

Except for the this year. Save a couple of cold snaps that I’ve previously posted about, it’s been the warmest winter in memory, with hardly any snow and many days above freezing.

Reflections on a clear street.

It’s meant that riding through the winter has been super easy, and it seems like I have to go out of my way to find any surface to put my studded tires to work.

Sunset on the Globe.

Even an easy winter has its challenges, though, and with all the clear riding I wasn’t giving my chain as much attention as usual.

Oh chain, how have I abused thee? Let me count the ways...

I gave it a thorough cleaning, but it became obvious that is was too little, too late, and that I needed a new chain. Oh well, there were thousands & thousands of kilometers on that chain (no derailleurs make for longer lasting chain), and I knew its time was near, I was just hoping it’d last the winter. It was also a good excuse to break out Porta-Bike.

Have I mentioned how fun this bike is?

This is hardly winter riding.

And this is just wrong for February in E-Ville.

Riding Porta-Bike is always a joy, and I pumped the tires up hard to try to keep the studs off the ground and maximize zippiness. I had a lovely ride, but on the way home noticed a strange bump every time the back wheel went ’round. I pulled over and found a large bulge in the tire, with one of the screws I used for studs dangling from a screw-head sized hole, and another hole sans screw. The bulge was visibly expanding, and I quickly let air out of the tire to prevent an explosion with screw-stud shrapnel.

I took this pic after letting air out of the tire. It was initially even bigger but diffusing a potential bike bomb trumps diligent blogging.

The next day, I replaced the studded tire with a summer tire and marveled at how close that tire came to letting go. The DIY studded tires were lined with a double layer of inner tube, and I think that’s all that kept it from blowing.

Notice how all of the supporting fibers on the inside of the tire have broken in the area the studs were forced out from. Intact screw-stud at the bottom of the pic.

I figured “No big deal, two studded tires is overkill anyway.” and set off on my daily traverse, enjoying the smoothness of the non-studded tire and riding without a jacket.

So then, of course, this happened:

The deities of winter cycling decree that if you remove your winter tires, it will trigger a surprise snow storm.

In E-Ville, winter’ll catch up with you if you don’t take it seriously, even if it’s just for a day. And now, with more snow in the past 48 hours than the rest of the entire winter, winter’s back with a vengence.


21 12 2011

Combine the unseasonably warm weather with one of the longest nights of the year and you have a recipe for a dark ride through the river valley.

The rain made the wooden bridge shine.

It started to rain just as I left (and December rain in E-Ville is always freezing rain), which soon turned to sleet, which greased up any exposed asphalt and made me second guess whether I should be joy riding in the valley (on a single speed foldie no less) on such a night.

Things started getting dicey after this picture was taken.

I’ve said it many times – freezing rain is my least favorite riding condition – specifically, when freezing rain forms a very thin but effective coating on hard surfaces that renders tire studs useless. As I rolled over the black roads and paths, I could feel my back tire slipping back and forth, and hoped I wouldn’t have to try to stop, because I doubted if I could and still remain upright.

Once I got into the shaded ravine where the trees protected the last snow we had from disappearing, the freezing precipitation formed a hard crust that my studded tires easily bit into, creating perfect traction. If I had been walking, it would’ve been a much different story.

The sepia glow of darkness in a city lit with sodium streetlights.

Through the night, the rain turned to  snow, and I awakened on the shortest day to the sun reflecting off a blinding white landscape. And even though the worst of winter still lays ahead, I can at least look forward to every day being a little bit brighter.

Arctic High

25 11 2011

One of the nicest things about northern prairie winters is that the sun still shines and brightens the short days, reflecting and sparkling off of brilliant snow. The catch? Those sunny days happen when the air is so cold that it can’t even hold enough humidity to condense a cloud, meaning that many of the coldest days are sunny ones.

Mid afternoon, -20C, sun is low, not a cloud in the sky.

The equipment needed for enjoying such a day is simple: warm clothing (with a sleeve big enough to keep my P&S camera warm) and studded tires to navigate the snow that’s been packed down solid and polished to ice.

The only 20" studded tires you'll ever see are DIY. Edit - apparently Schwalbe makes 20" studded tires, but DIY is the only way I've seen metal on a 20.

Sudden cold snaps in November also make for slow days at the bike shop, leaving time for Porta-Bike pampering. After taking these pictures, I overhauled its bottom bracket and coaster hub. The best part was finally finding the proper cotter pin for the left crank. In the picture below, you can see that the cranks are not aligned 180 degrees from each other, but I am proud to say that now, for the first time since I cobbled this bike together, the cranks are perfectly aligned. Additionally, the rubber plug I made last year for the bottom bracket hole seems to be working well, and the old grease was still pretty clean.

Polar Porta Bike - now pronounced with a preceding kazoo flourish.

At least this first wintery blast didn’t last long, and it’s made the last few days, with their average, near freezing temperatures, seem balmy in comparison.

Cold sun.

I’ve been helping out a lot of other people get into winter cycling lately, but I’ve also become increasingly disconnected with some of my fellow citizens. Cycling year round is  normal to me. Spending time outside, no matter what the weather, is normal to me. So I’m finding it difficult to understand how someone can live their life in a winter city and feel entitled to a 21 degree, climate enclosed shell 24-7, and balk and complain should they ever have to feel the wind for thirty seconds because of the absence of indoor parking. These are the same folks that tell me it’s impossible to ride my bike in the winter (or for transportation, period) despite the fact that I”m successfully doing it, and have been doing long enough that the incomprehension now runs both ways.

It’s Baaaack!

15 11 2011

Winter, that is.

And the Polar Porta-Bike.

Porta-Bike, where the bike path runs along the LRT tracks. And see - a train!

I put the studded tires on last weekend because of the threat of freezing rain, but on Monday morning it felt like overkill as I plodded into work on the clear & dry streets. An unexpected snow storm (ha! – like you wouldn’t expect a November snow storm in E-Ville) descended on the city by evening, turning the streets into an Ice Capades Demolition Derby. On my little winter special though, I was the most stable vehicle on the road, further insulated by a thin layer of smugness.

This year set a record for the latest first snow of the season, and it was almost like everyone (myself included) were just hoping it wouldn’t snow at all this year. That would’ve been nice, but back in reality, riding single speed foldies through snowy winter wonderland Mill Creek Ravine after dark is pretty nice too.

Let’s Be Friends!

12 07 2011

Last month, a little gold folding bike from the ’70’s was donated to EBC. The CCM Traveler was in rough shape, but the shiny gold paint under all the dirt and car stickers looked promising, so I decided to clean it up and give it a makeover to create a quirky sweet bike like my own Porta-Bike.

Porta-Bike meets Goldy Foldy. I think they want to be friends.

The wheels needed replacing, so I salvaged a set of purple rims and white tires that were too sexy for the kids’ bike they were on. Add some white pedals, a white saddle and overhaul most of the bearings, and an uber-cool one-of-a-kind bike was born.

The 20 inch white tire club.

It didn’t take long for Goldy Foldy to sell, and it’s been at its new home for a while now, but, hopefully, Porta-Bike will get a chance to go for a ride with the Goldy Foldy again.

A Little Orange Sign and a Little Orange Bike

18 04 2011

It’s federal election time here in Canada, and I’m proud to be living in the only riding in Alberta that didn’t elect a conservative representative last time around. Of course, I’m cheering on NDP incumbent Linda Duncan again.

A little orange bike and a litle orange sign (and yes, it snowed again).

Though I’ve been politically active all my adult life, and have worked on many campaigns (though not this one, I should clarify), this is actually my first lawn sign. Or, I guess I should say was my first lawn sign. Less than 12 hours after this picture was taken, the sign disappeared. I hope it was someone from Linda Duncan’s campaign that took it to put somewhere that there isn’t an orange sign on every second house on the block (I heard that they had already run out of signs), but I have my doubts, especially considering it disappeared overnight/early morning and, coincidentally, there was a conservative flyer stuffed in my mailbox.

S’pose I should be glad they took the sign, and not the bike.

Bumpy, Bumpy Roads

19 01 2011

Snow, and cold, and more snow, and more cold, have been the story of my life for the past couple of weeks. E-ville’s seen the biggest January snow storm in 20 years, followed by more snow almost every day and temperatures in the -20’s (before windchill). This is a winter city, though, and we don’t take snow days. I’ve ridden every day, though about half my trips included bringing my bike onto the train.

The first day of the big dump, I took a fall on a major thoroughfare while riding Porta-Bike (first fall of the winter, and first fall on that bike). Falling in traffic is always terrifying, and my first instinct is to get my ass up and out of the road, before checking if me & my bike are OK. As I was climbing over the 3 foot high windrow, dragging Porta-Bike behind me, some dudes in a car drove past and pointed and “ha-ha”ed me (Muntzed twice in one month – what is wrong with people?!?). I ended up with a few small bruises, but the bike seemed to take the worst of the fall, with one of the cotter pins loosening up.

I limped it to EBC, as I knew there was another problem festering that I needed to deal with. The bike once had a built in generator and there are holes in the frame where the wires used to run in and out, including one directly above the bottom bracket. When I initially cobbled the bike together, I never expected to be riding it as much as I have, never mind as a winter bike, and didn’t bother to plug it. The bottom bracket had already started to feel gritty, so I knew I’d better overhaul it and plug the hole before replacing the cotter pin.

Hole in frame successfully plugged with a screw and a piece of tube.

Random fun fact – no two nuts on Porta-Bike are the same size, and there is a mix of metric and imperial to keep it interesting. Oh, the joys of frankenbikes.

This is what the parts of the bottom bracket and cranks look like when they're not on the bike. I don't usually use those plastic bottom bracket condom things, but I dug one out in case the plug didn't hold.

With new grease and bearings (and a new cotter pin that took way too long to find) I was back on the street with Polar Porta Bike, the brown sugar slayer. A local street style blogger even stopped me for a picture on a cold afternoon (this is what bike style at -20 looks like, note the frost in my hair and scarf).

As the snow continued to pile up faster than the plows could remove it, cars and feet packed it down, turning every surface hard and bumpy, with textures ranging from washboard to mogul. When I first contemplated winterizing the folding bike, Ravingbikefiend warned me that the biggest reason he didn’t ride any of his 20″ wheels in winter was because of how the bumps jarred his back. After a few days, the thrill of quasi-bmx riding was replaced by my lower back screaming for mercy (the fall didn’t help, either), and I realized I needed to get on a full sized bike again.

Snow ridin' on the Glow-Bee

The Glow-Bee has needed some additional tweaking for its first winter. I discovered the cushy air sprung saddle I love so much turns rock solid when it gets cold, so I’ve temporarily replaced it with a less comfortable but much springier (and squeakier) old-school sprung saddle. I’ve also added a second studded tire on the back, making this the first winter I’ve ridden with two studded tires. It’s still not as stable as Polar Porta-Bike, but it’s faster and has gears, so it’ll do.

All this snow's been good for the snowshoe hares. They can walk on top of the snow and it lets them eat higher branches that they couldn't reach before.

The weather forecast is finally looking up, and near freezing temperatures will feel balmy compared to what it has been. Now, I’m looking forward to enjoying it (and marveling at all the mountains of snow higher than my head), instead of just bearing the ride.

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!

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.