Friday, June 29, 2007

loneliness of the long distance runner

I'm off to Bancroft for this Canadian long weekend. I'm taking the new 'cross bike up and planning to give it a workout on some dirt roads and then finally write a review of it next week.
Thinking of long weekends makes me think of the Work Less Party. If you haven't read this post yet, give it a go, and think to yourself "Wow, Conrad is out of his mind, but I wish he was Prime Minister."

I've been thinking about one of my favourite books recently, probably because I just got hooked on Shelfari (I'm on there as "Tuco" if you decide to register).

I thought I'd copy this passage for the hill climbers out there - for those of you who enjoy suffering, who know that you aren't truly alive unless you can feel your life draining away. The reason I think it's appropriate is that when we're climbing those hills, we're alone with whatever is driving us, and maybe, as the old Mexican man speaking to Billy says, that isn't a good thing.

Disclaimer - Cormac McCarthy is a famous stylist. The lack of punctuation is intentional. (And I think "huerfano" means "orphan").

He told the boy that although he was huerfano still he must cease his wanderings and make for himself some place in the world because to wander in this way would become for him a passion and by this passion he would become estranged from men and so ultimately from himself. He said that the world could only be known as it existed in men's hearts. For while it seemed a place which contained men it was in reality a place contained within them and therefore to know it one must look there and come to know those hearts and to do this one must live with men and not simply pass among them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

one speed fits all

If you have followed my blog very closely, you might remember that I once owned four bikes, none of them being singlespeeds, and I now own three and a half bikes, all but one of them being singlespeeds. (the half bike refers to a steel frame I was recently given which I'm currently building into another singlespeed).

I thought I'd try and explain why this is a good thing. First a disclaimer though, I have NOT gone fixed. My two singlespeeds, along with the one I'm building, are freewheel singlespeeds.

Part of the joy of singlespeeds is taking the simplicity of biking and making it even simpler. You look down and only see your brake cables jutting away from your bars, not the four cables you'd see if you had gear shifters as well.

On the road you notice that you have far less to worry about. Coming up to a yellow light you don't shift down in anticipation of starting again when the light turns green, and you don't shift up as you're leaving the intersection and picking up speed. You just pedal. A little bit less. A little bit more.

A few weeks ago, when I was on my Kona hahanna singlespeed, I was trailing a cyclist through Toronto who was on a mountain bike that definitely needed a tune up. I wasn't in a rush so I was just doing the biking version of ambling along, hanging about 10 or 15 metres off his back wheel. His chain was rubbing something the whole time and giving off that light twitter of chain on metal. And when he shifted it took fifteen seconds of clickety-clackety for the gear to hit home. Meanwhile I was behind him riding along in perfect silence. Just turning the pedals. a little bit less. a little bit more.

I've got both my singles set up with a 44 tooth ring in the front and a 15 tooth cog in the back. both my bikes are WAY faster than they were before, though I have to admit that they also have new wheels which are much better than the wheels they'd had previously.
The Cannondale, pictured above, just FLIES these days. I have Easton Circuit wheels on it, which a local shop was selling for 1/2 off their regular price. The Circuits are basically an entry-to-midlevel road wheel, but goddamn, they spin up quick and just LOVE to hold on to their momentum.

Yesterday, for example, I was on the Cannondale heading west on the Danforth from Main Street around 5:30pm. The Danforth at 5:30 puts a cyclist into that position where the best way for you to survive the traffic is to be FASTER than the damned traffic - i.e. going faster than the cars so they won't even think twice about squeezing around you. With the Cannondale set up as it is, and with the new wheels, I was frequently looking down and seeing my speedometer at 42 and 43km.

The drawbacks of singlespeeds are obviously hills and intersections, but heck, even the hills aren't as big a problem as you'd think, unless you're trying to go up the Scarborough Bluffs hill or up Pottery Road.

Anyway - I totally recommend getting your hands on a singlespeed. And if you have an old mountain bike with worn out gears, the BEST thing you can do to give it a new life is just to strip everything off it, then put on a new ring, cog, chain and tensioner, and ride around like a kid again.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"forward leaning" intelligence

I've stated before how boggled I am by the fact that George Bush hasn't been impeached. It seems to me to be a no-brainer, and watching a CBC Fifth Estate special recently got me thinking about this again.

The special is on Google Video and is titled the Lies that led to War. Basically Bob McKeown takes - point by point - every reason that the Bush administration gave for going to war in Iraq, and assesses how much truth actually lay behind each of the reasons.

And, if you care, here are some of back stories on George and his administration.

This image came from this video on You Tube.
I also really like Will Ferrell as Bush speaking about climate change.

And finally, just for interest's sake - a Newsweek poll about a week ago shows bush's approval rating at 26% - the lowest of any president since Nixon, who resigned so that he couldn't be impeached.

And even though places like Vermont want to impeach Bush, I took a look at the U.S. Constitution, and from what I can see it is the Senate which has the power to impeach the President, but there can be no conviction without the agreement of 2/3's of the senators. Since the senate currently has 49 republicans, 49 democrats, and two independents, I guess the democrats don't feel like they have the numbers to actually get a conviction.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I am a philosopher, and it would be improper for me to recant

Here's a weekend smorgasbord of lots of things I've been meaning to mention but never have:

Sci-fi author Orson Scott Card wrote an interesting article in May about one of my favourite topics - Peak Oil.
Card's article is on The Ornery American and covers a lot of interesting points:
That's why I said we have to change our social expectations. We have to make it a mark of shame to be stuck in a neighborhood where the lots are so huge that you can't walk in order to get anywhere.
It's already a huge inconvenience and expense. I daresay most readers of this column spend most of their gas money and transportation time on two things: Shopping and commuting. And how much of that is spent just getting out of your neighborhood?

[We need] Neighborhoods where everybody walks to school on sidewalks, and shops on foot or on bicycles (or has purchases delivered). You know, the neighborhoods in It's a Wonderful Life.
Those neighborhoods have disappeared, at first because everybody wanted to appear rich, and later because local governments legislated to make everything more convenient for drivers.
We need to get government to stop forcing all developers to follow the car-centered pattern of development, and to start requiring that new developments be foot-friendly and connected rather than islanded.

I love this photo, which I found on Move.

Here are some 1 Less Car stickers. Anybody know a place in Toronto that has stuff like this? Does Urbane?

I'm enjoying popping over to Veg*Triathlete's blog and really dig the concept of the Bike Library that she devotes some time to. You can check out a bike for six months by putting down a deposit, and if you end up wanting to keep the bike, the library just keeps your deposit. Pretty cool. Kind of like Toronto's Bike Pirates.

Via One Planet One Gear, I came across the Cycling Tattoo Gallery, and now I'm thinking about getting a tattoo.
No offense, but I don't actually like many of the ones on the tattoo gallery. They're very loud.

That's it - have a great weekend everyone!

"Well, my dear Pangloss," Candide said. "After you were hanged, dissected, beaten black and blue, and had to row in the galleys, did you continue to believe that everything is for the best in the world?"

"I am still of my former opinion," Pangloss replied, "for I am a philosopher after all, and it would be improper for me to recant, as Leibniz cannot be wrong. Preestablished harmony is the most beautiful thing in the world, as are the plenum and subtle matter."*

*Plenum denotes the conception of space as entirely filled with matter. Leibniz wrote in Monadology (1714), entry 61, "As all is a plenum, all matter is connected."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Of bike revolutions and cycling petitions

A coworker, who thinks I'm a bit more of a bike rebel than I really am, saw this story in the Toronto Star yesterday, and when I arrived she said "let's see your hands" - jokingly expecting to find my hands covered in pink paint.

Nope, wasn't me.

To tell you the truth, I kind of feel that the bike war in Toronto has already been won, due to the simple fact that it is actually being waged. I mean, we already cycle in Toronto, more or less happily. We have bike lanes, we've been promised loads more bike lanes and actually have the money for them, and most importantly, there already exists a cycling culture in Toronto.

After I spend my working day in Whitby/Oshawa, and I get off the Go Train with my bike in Toronto, I breathe a big sigh of relief to be back on the Toronto streets, because I feel like I (as a cyclist) truly belong on these streets.

This "sense of belonging" is sure as hell not the case in Whitby/Oshawa. The "Bike Revolution" that we're all hungering for will not really have reached critical mass until places like Durham actually start installing bike lanes. Durham Region is the home of General Motors. There are no bike lanes here, no bike parking posts, the only cyclists I ever see are either roadies on their way to the country roads north of the city, or they're riders up on the sidewalk scared to death to share the road with the cars.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we do need to keep fighting the war in Toronto, but at least we know that the war is "on" in this city. Out in Durham, which does actually have a cycling plan, (though the implementation timelines for bikelanes etc range up to 20 years) the war hasn't even begun yet.

But maybe our petition will help!!!
I've been monitoring the House of Commons debates for a while now, and Olivia Chow has finally been able to present our
cycling petition to the House.

In case that link stops working, you could use this search page to type in cycling and find the mention of the petition on June 18.

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the next petition, which is close to 200 pages, comes from over 3,000 Canadians from cities coast to coast, like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax.

The petitioners want the federal government to legitimize cycling as the preferred means of transportation and to make it a part of the solution to climate change.

The 3,000 Canadians want the federal government to offer a tax credit to bicycle commuters similar to that offered to public transit users; set up a program similar to Britain's cycle to work initiative, that the employer purchase a bike and claim the tax back from the government and sell the bike to the employee at a tax free price; offer tax incentives to employers who set up bike lockers and showers for employees; and the removal of the GST from bikes and bike accessories.

Last weekend many parts of southern Ontario experienced smog days. The time for action is now.

And that's it.
As I've written before, dozens of petitions get read in the House everyday. If we want this one to mean anything, it has to be followed up. Someone out there write the next one. Let's do the side-guards thing, let's demand that it be mandatory for all new roads to have bikelanes, let's ask for all Go Train stations to have bike lanes leading from them into their respective city centers. Let's make the words "Mr. Speaker, I have another petition regarding cycling" to be heard in the House of Commons on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

when a single speed is really a three-speed

The biggest bike story in my life recently has been my destruction of the hardest working bike that I have, and my frustrated attempts to bring it back to life.

I think the rebirth has finally happened however. In this picture (below) you can see the hole I dug myself with this bike. When you are trying to straighten your non-replaceable derailleur hanger and it snaps off entirely - AND you obviously have a vertical dropout - you're pretty stuck for choices regarding what to do with your bike. You can no longer have gears for one thing (unless you want to buy some sort of fancy hub). So you have to set it up as a single-speed, and since you don't have a derailleur hanger and therefore can't use a chain tensioner (see my posts about my Kona singlespeed for tensioner pictures), and you have a vertical dropout, you are going to have a heck of a tough time getting the chain tension right.
I played around (a lot!) with different chainring and cog sizes, trying to get a match which would give me nice chain tension, but nothing was working. So - despite having read some negative stuff about them online, I went with a half-link. If you click on this picture and go over to the Flickr site, and choose the LARGE image of this picture, you'll see the half link a lot better.
I've ridden the Cannondale twice now set up like this, and so far everything is working great. I'm using a 44tooth chainring up front, and a 15 tooth cog on the back, and it seems like a nice gear to me. And the bike just flys right now. It's obviously lighter without the extra drivetrain components, but I also have brand new Easton Circuit wheels on the bike, and these wheels spin up really fast and then just zip along the road, so I'm pretty darn happy with the bike.
All these pictures from today and yesterday were taken outside the UOIT Library incidentally.

And what does the title of this post mean? Now that I have two bikes set up as singlespeeds (neither of them fixed incidentally), I've decided that you have three speeds when you're riding a single gear bike:

Go Harder

Monday, June 11, 2007

Testing your new cross bike at the golf course

The bicycle shopping is over. I just bought a 2006 Jamis Nova. And just in case that link gets archived soon here's the link to the 2007 model.
Pretty much as soon as I test rode the Nova I decided it was the bike for me. I never even bothered to try a Kona Jake the Snake because, despite the great price point ($1500.00 Canadian for Shimano 105, lightweight aluminum frame, carbon fork), I really didn't want to own a third Kona - especially a neon lime green one.

Having decided upon the Nova however I had to hunt around to find a good price, because the MSRP for the 2007 model is $1919.00 Canadian, which seems really out in left field, especially when it is about $420.00 more than the fairly similar Kona. I called a few shops that were listed as being Jamis dealers, but Jamis bikes really haven't hit the Canadian market at all, so nobody had one, and when I asked about ordering they just said they'd maybe bring one in at the $1919.00 price.

But Gino at the Cyclepath up in Willowdale (they're at 5330 Yonge Street - I'd link to their website but they don't have one) answered the phone and offered to check out the availability of 2006 models in Jamis warehouses in Canada, and if he could find one he'd sell it to me for $1600.00.
Lo and behold he did find one, and I've ridden the new bike three times now, including the ride home from the shop, which took me into the Don Valley Golf Course.

I didn't actually mean to be in the golf course. In the middle section of Toronto, when you're going north & south, your big problem is getting under or over the 401 highway without dealing with on and offramps and having cars merging with you at 50 to 80km / hour. I always used to just go up and down Yonge street to get across the 401, but the last couple of times I did it were fairly nerve-wracking, and so I was determined to find a better way this time.

In theory the better way meant going along Shepherd a bit, riding through Earl Bales park, and finding my way up onto the bike path that my map said would lead me safely across the 401 via Avenue Road.
But, I got lost in the park.
I was going south along a paved trail through the trees, and suddenly the pavement died and I'm in dirt and mud. I walk along a bit with the bike, hoping the trail will pick up, and to my left I notice that there's a high fence, and on the other side of the fence I see another paved trail.
I figure that I've taken a wrong turn and should have been on THAT paved trail the whole time, so coming to a gap in the fence I push the Jamis through and walk onto the trail to discover that I'm on the Don Valley Golf Course and the paved trail is just the one that golfers drive their carts on.

Anyway - long story short - I knew that the golf course actually stretched out underneath the 401, and that the course's parking lot led you out onto Yonge street, and from there I could just bike easily downtown on Yonge. So there was no way I was going back into Earl Bales park and spend half an hour fiddling around trying to find the trails that my bike map was talking about. So I hammered through the golf course (trying to keep to treelines when the cart paths vanished) and found my way up the 18th fairway to the clubhouse and the parking lot and then Yonge Street and then I rode home from there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

oh to be a zapatista

A post over at You Just Don’t Want to got me thinking about what it's like to be a cyclist, or a vegan/vegetarian, or a cycling vegan, here in North America. More accurately I've been wondering why we choose these lifestyles.

Cycling and vegetarianism go hand-in-hand very nicely. If you’re worried about your health you might choose one or the other, or both. If you’re worried about the environment you might choose one or the other, or both.

The other reason for you to choose these lifestyles is because they’re a great way for you to fight the power – to have a little rebel yell in your life.

Everyone who is on two wheels knows that every time you buy a tank of gas, you’re putting money into the pockets of companies which have to value profits over people and the planet, otherwise they’d go out of business. I’ll resist saying that this makes them evil, but they’re pretty darn close to evil, especially when oil execs sit in backrooms with Cheney in 2001 poring over maps of Iraq saying “we want this and this and this, so get us a war started” (this happened by the way, read Linda McQuaig’s It’s the Crude, Dude).

So you travel by two wheels instead of four because you’re appalled by the fact that North American governments rolled over for Ford and Firestone back in the 1940’s – saying “yes” to a style of life which would ruin the environment, create urban sprawl, destroy farmland, and start wars that had their origins in North America’s dependence upon foreign oil.

In a very similar way, going vegetarian is great way to say “no” to big business and it's ties to governments as well. I’ve written about the origins of the modern north American diet before, both on this blog and over on my veggie blog.
Basically, North Americans are eating an incredibly unhealthy diet because it is the best way for the fast food outlets and various agricultural groups to make money. The standard diet has terrible environmental consequences, turns animals into bio-products, and isn't very healthy for us either - unfortunately it makes money for Tyson and other companies and that's why it exists as it does.

So anyway, what does it mean to be a cyclist, or a vegetarian, or both, in North America? What does it mean to do your reading, to think about what is right and wrong, to think about what your lifestyle choices mean?

Well, I don't think it means that we're all Canadian or American versions of Subcomondante Marcos, but it does mean something. At the very least, it means that you're a thinker, not a consumer.

We learned a long time ago that we should never subject ourselves to the schedules of the powerful. We had to follow our own calendar and impose it on those above.

We want a world where many worlds are possible.

The great world power has not yet found the weapon to destroy dreams.

Subcomondate Marcos.

Friday, June 01, 2007

And so it was I entered the broken world

I love the splash page of fearlessgearless. Before you click on the tank, make three guesses about where the link will send you.
I didn't do the Ride for the Heart this past weekend. I've done it several times now, but this year I wasn't all that bothered for some reason. Plus, as I was riding my Kona singlespeed to work last week, it struck me that I didn't actually possess a bike that could handle the hilly ride up the Don Valley Parkway. This due to the dumb crash I had on the Cannondale a few weeks ago.
But, annalise and I did walk over to a bridge and took some photos of the riders passing below us.

I had a frustrating weekend with the Cannondale. The crash warped my derailleur, but even worse it cracked and bent my aluminum and non-replaceable derailleur hanger. I was trying to bend the hanger out and away from the casette when it snapped off entirely. So in my grand plan of turning the bike into a singlespeed, I don't have the chain tensioner option.
I also don't want to buy one of those White Industry hubs (and pay someone to build a wheel around it for me) to get the chain tension right, AND, although a half-link would appear to make my life easier, I've read some negative things about half-links and am worried I'll get stuck in the middle of Whitby with a broken chain if I try to use one.
On Sunday my friend Duncan and I played around with different combinations of chainrings and cogs trying to find a match which would give good chain tension, but nothing worked. Tonight I'm going back to Urbane and hope that they'll let me return the 44 tooth ring I bought for a 42 and I'll try the combinations again with that.

P.S. - for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm thinking about doing a quick "singlespeed for dummies like me" post soon to show a) why singlespeed is so awesome and b) how hard it is mechanically to achieve.