Monday, April 30, 2007

the kona and the khs go daytripping

Although I live right in downtown Toronto, I rarely feel like I live in Toronto anymore. First thing every morning I haul ass (via bike & Go Train) out to my job in Oshawa. I get back into the city around 6:30pm and generally head straight home and flake out fairly quickly.

Annalise and I both took the day off today, and luckily we got beautiful weather for it. We rode our bikes around town, and coming along Bloor we passed by the Royal Ontario Museum at Bloor Street & University Avenue. The museum has been undergoing a major transformation recently, with the addition of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal on the north end.

Here are a couple shots from the east, and don't forget that you can click on any of these to enlarge them.:
In this one I even got lucky and fit in a bike courier.

And here are a couple from the west:

The museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind incidentally.
So it is funny how a city grows when you're not paying attention. Before today, if I'd been asked to provide a description of the ROM construction, I'd have said "picture a bunch of steel girders stuck together at weird, random angles". Obviously though, things have been developing. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I like this crystal thingamajiggy, but at least it doesn't look like a bunch of steel glued together anymore.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Smut's Bike Shop

As mentioned a few times before, the name of one of my best friends is Duncan, but I still refer to him by his university nickname of Smut.
When I was at Smut's house turning my Kona into a singlespeed (see below) I took some pictures of his bikes. Going to Smut's place is kind of like going to a bike shop - you can browse bikes there, see how many new parts have been added to one frame, how many taken away from another. It's kind of like the circle of life of bike building.

Smut is actually selling this fuji track pro singlespeed. It's a 49cm frame and he's looking for $1000.00 - the aero bars included. P.S. click on any of these photos to enlarge.
It should be this one actually, though I know he bought the frame etc and then built up the other parts. If you're interested leave a note on the blog and I'll get you in touch. Not that I've ever owned one, but I love Fuji bikes. Look at their cyclocross bikes, just gorgeous.
This is his "good" bike - his Monoc carbon road bike, which, again, is a build up after buying the frame.
A Nashbar frame set up as a singlespeed.
A random old mountain bike frame awaiting more tinkering.
And I couldn't be bothered to take them down, but hanging here are his cyclocross bike (a specialized frame built up), a Giant mountain bike, and another frame yet to be turned into both a piece of art and a mode of transportation.

I am really digging The Weepies and especially like their video for World Spins Madly On.

Monday, April 23, 2007

the great Kona makeover

We had some amazingly summer like weather here in the Greater Toronto Area this weekend, and though I was stuck working on Saturday, on Sunday the great makeover of my old Kona Hahanna mountain bike happened at my friend Duncan's (who I still call by his university nickname of "Smut") house.
I've had the Hahanna since 2001, and have replaced the drivetrain once already. The cassette and derailleurs etc being worn out again, I decided it'd be nice to change it into a single speed (freewheel, not fixed). Smut has built up at least three singlespeeds, plus he has all the various tools, so I took the bike up to his house a few weeks ago, spent some time buying various parts, and we spent yesterday in the sunshine in his driveway doing the rebuild.
Smut didn't have "all" the tools needed though. He'd lost his chainbreaker someplace. This picture below is us trying to convince ourselves we didn't need to run to the bikeshop to buy a new chainbreaker because - our thinking went - we could just hammer the peg out of the chain link. We did end up making the run to the bikeshop.
This is Smut and me at some point during the middle part of the changeover.
And this is the finished product! With a new seat, the rack and fenders off, and new handgrips as well. It is such a sleeker look as a singlespeed. We decided to go with a 44 tooth ring up front, and a 16 tooth cog at the back. The chain tension isn't perfect but I rode home down the Don Valley trail with no problems after the makeover, so all seems to be good.

After leaving Smut's I had a nice "late summer afternoon" ride down the Don Valley trail (for those of you who don't know, the trail goes down a river valley and is bike/pedestrain/roller blader only). I came up Pottery Road (had to walk the bike up the hill) and then down Broadview. Just south of Danforth I stopped and took this photo over the playing field, Don Valley Parkway and the Don Valley River towards downtown. This is actually one of my favourite stretches for nighttime rides. You look out at all the city lights in the office towers in the city core.

And, just for the hell of it, here's the Don Valley Parkway, River, and bike trail (the thin path you see to the left of the river), taken from the Gerrard Street bridge. When the Becel Ride for the Heart happens every June, this is the road which gets entirely closed down to highway traffic and opened up to thousands of cyclists instead.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Seabiscuit attacks the peloton

I was reading Minus Car's blog and he has a great link to a video on a site called Glumberg where a horse jumps a fence and joins a passing cycling race.

The french commentators that you hear in the video make me think of
this Monty Python classic.

A recent Newsweek article mentioned a website I'd never heard of called Grist. It is meant to be an environmental blog but with a bit of a lighter tone than most of the "we're all gonna die" stuff that is out there.
A year or two ago Chevrolet made it possible for people to design their own tv ads for the new Chevy Tahoe. Grist heard about this and directed lots of their readers to the Chevrolet "build an ad" site, and some awesome commercials got put together. If you go to You Tube and just search chevy tahoe about 1/3 of the hits will be these Chevy spoof ads.
I personally like this one with it's Ali G tone, and this "the earth is your bitch" one, but there are lots to choose from.

Anyone heard of Sprol? It's a site devoted to the worst places/practices on earth. One thing they do is use Google Maps to show how terrible suburban sprawl has become, how much smaller seas have gotten etc.

And just as a throw in - I dug up these peak oil quotes a while back from U.S. Navy & Army reports, saved them, and then forgot about them.

The doubling of oil prices from 2003-2005 is not an anomaly, but a picture of the future. Oil production is approaching its peak; low growth in availability can be expected for the next 5 to 10 years. As worldwide petroleum production peaks, geopolitics and market economics will cause even more significant price increases and
security risks. One can only speculate at the outcome from this scenario as world petroleum production declines. The disruption of world oil markets may also affect world natural gas markets since most of the natural gas reserves are collocated with the oil reserves.... The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close.... World oil production is at or near its peak and current world demand exceeds the supply. Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations. U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers, September 2005

The disparity between increasing production and declining reserves can have only one outcome: a practical supply limit will be reached and future supply to meet conventional oil demand will not be available. The question is when peak production will occur and what will be its ramifications. Whether the peak occurs sooner or
later is a matter of relative urgency. . . . In spite of projections for growth of non-OPEC supply, it appears that non-OPEC and non-Former Soviet Union countries have peaked and are currently declining. The production cycle of countries . . . and the cumulative quantities produced reasonably follow Hubbert’s model. . . . The
Nation must start now to respond to peaking global oil production to offset adverse economic and national security impacts.
Strategic Significance of America's Shale Oil Resource. Vol. 1, Assessment of
Strategic Issues. Office of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Petroleum Reserves,
Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, U.S. Department of Energy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Living more locally

Peak oil is back on my mind - largely because Darren sent me a couple peak oil youtube links recently, and because of a shopping trip I made yesterday.

My girlfriend (who was interviewed on CBC's Fresh Air this morning about June Callwood's death) and I, and our friend who has a membership card, went to a Costco yesterday. It was my first time, and I swear to God, I walked through the place (pushing the cart - which was my assigned job) in a state of shock. If you've never been, visualize the biggest warehouse in the entire world crammed full of gazillions of consumer products, and tons of food in SUPERSIZE quantities (for example, we bought about 30 roles of toilet paper yesterday).

Anyway, I went to Costco and the thought that struck me almost immediately was "this is wrong! No one really needs this crap, and it's just going to end up in landfills anyway. We need to raise the gas tax, which will also end up raising the price of consumer crap like this, put some of these companies out of business, reduce the amount of Swiffers and Cuisinarts which get made, and we'll have fewer problems."

So Costco basically made me wish that peak oil was here already.

And then today I watched Matt Simmons on the Bloomberg Report (interview actually took place a few months ago), predicting that we were actually at peak oil already, and that a barrel of oil could be at $300.00 very soon.

And when I searched "peak oil" on you tube, this video came up. It is really good, and discusses how Cuba is basically a post peak oil society already, and MUCH the better for it.

The video is half an hour long, but I highly recommend giving it a watch. The interview covers a lot of the issues that North American society will have to deal with as the price of oil rises.

Peak Oil is fascinating. No one argues that it won't happen at all, because obviously the earth will one day produce the most oil it ever will, and thereafter produce less and less each day as we gradually use it up.

Where the argument lies is in how quickly we reach peak oil, and therefore how badly it hits us. Because the data is very unreliable, even the most interested petroleum analysts don't know how much oil there really is in the earth. So maybe we won't reach maximum production until 2050, by which time we will have wind/solar/clean coal/safe nuclear etc working perfectly and "peak oil" almost becomes a non issue.

Or we may have hit peak oil a year ago and we'll only realize it when OPEC starts increasing the price of oil by $5.00 / barrel every week.

If it hits hard it would brutally affect the poor, cause thousands of deaths, ruin emergency services and hospital services and basically leave people starving in their homes.
Which makes you wonder why it isn't a bigger topic of discussion in the mass media. But, oh yeah, mass media - they just want to increase their advertising revenues and the best way of doing that is to talk about popular stories like Britney Spears shaving her head, so why would they cover peak oil? It's too much of a downer.

The facts however are that oil IS a finite resource; that NO type of alternative energy (or combination thereof) can actually do what oil does for us; and that the price of oil is going to rise drastically, making life very difficult for a person who lives in a suberb and relies on his/her car to get to work and get to the supermarket.

But the real issue is food. Picture farmers being unable to drive their tractors, picture them unable to afford the petroleum based fertilizers which allow them to produce such vast quantities of crops. Think of the average distance that most of the food in your apartment travelled to get into your refrigerator (those grapes from California, that soy milk from the midwest).

None of that will be possible in a world faced with oil shortages. And the solution, as has happened in Cuba, is to live more locally, to survive on the food which can be grown within approximately 100 Miles of where you live.
Incidentally, you might like to have the Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook on your bookshelf to deal with all this.

Countries might break up as peak oil becomes pervasive - especially Canada. What point would a massive federal government have in a society where local communities have to provide - on their own - waste disposal, medical care, education etc? Why would Atlantic Canada care about B.C.? Why would Alberta care about Quebec?

My hometown will be ruined by peak oil. In Bancroft there is no public transportation whatsoever, there is no cycling infrastructure, the land is totally unsuitable for large scale farming, the winters are very cold, the town council has allowed big box stores to pop up north of the town, which means there's no central "downtown" anymore, and to shop, to work, to bank, to visit friends and attend social events, everyone depends on their car because the distances are great and there are no other transportation options.

Something I think we have to be very active in avoiding is letting our society get captured and screwed again by big business. Bil Oil and the Big Three already suckered us into paying THEM in return for suburban sprawl, climate change, soaring diabetes and obesity rates. Big Agriculture suckered us into an environmentally destructive (and largely unnecessary) meat centred diet because American farmers in the 1940's knew they could sell more corn by selling it first to the meat industry than to consumers directly.
(By the way, when it started becoming evident in the 1970's that a meat rich diet was unhealthy, a few American politicans took baby steps towards recommending that people cut down on meat. What happened? The meat industry's lobby went ballistic, attacked the politicans in question, and made sure that the diet recommendations which were released would continue to allow them to make big profits at the expense of Americans' health.)

So, beware of Big Oil and the Big Three morphing themselves into Big Nuclear and Big Coal. Or more insidiously, letting themselves falsely become "Big Green" and promoting crap like the Clean Air Act, which Canada's governing Conservative Party tried to pawn off on the country a few months back. (Luckily the Conservatives got blasted from every direction for the Act and have been forced to toughen up their approach to environmental protection).

The reasons peak oil is fascinating are endless. It's scary as hell, but there is also some hope. Living more locally, knowing where your food came from, living sustainably, not watching Entertainment Tonight anymore but having some musical friends over to play guitar around a campfire. Being healthy due to the all the exercise you get, and the fact that you won't be ingesting all the carcinogens in factory farmed meat anymore. A lot of good stuff could happen.

Except the price of bikes will go up, and I still haven't bought a cyclocross bike.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Slightly unstuck in time

Kurt Vonnegut has passed away. If you want to hear something strangely beautiful, this page has a link to Vonnegut reading from Slaughterhouse-Five. It's the part where Billy Pilgrim comes unstuck in time and watches a WW II movie backwards, so that the fighter planes suck their bullets OUT of the big slow moving bombers, and the anti-aircraft gunners on the ground do the same, and when the bombers fly backwards into the base, and the bombs are unloaded, they eventually get turned back into their raw materials and put back in the ground, where they'll never do anyone any harm.

For something kind of sad, read this excerpt from his memoirs.

Why are Vonnegut's comments in the above article sad? Well, he speaks a lot of truth about things that are wrong in the world.

I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".

George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

Vonnegut must have loved this 2004 story, which I only heard about today from a comment on the posting below about SUV's. The country that calls itself the "home of the free" is not so free for activist cyclists at Republican Party conventions. Bikes Against Bush is a great idea, but be careful of cops controlled by the Republican Party keeping you under surveillance and arresting you when the timing is right.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I just found an article called Making the Streets Safer for Cycling by Andrew Curry in the March 26, 2007 U.S. News & World Report.

There are quite a few good lines in it - I've bolded my favourites. I wonder if I'll ever make my millions and be able to move to Holland or one of the other meccas of cycling. It'd be so much different from biking in Scarborough and Whitby.


Every 10th trip in Berlin is made by bike. With more than 500 miles of bike lanes and paths, rush hour in this German city of 3.4 million can be a blur of two-wheeled commuters, from suited businessmen to mothers hauling toddlers in specially designed trailers. Schools of sightseers on guided bike tours are a common sight-as are tired tourists returning to their hotels in velotaxis (cabs in which the driver pedals). Even politicians ride to work, leaning their bikes against the marble walls of parliament buildings.

Heidi Wright of the German parliament's transportation committee says cycle-friendly policies make a difference. With government support, one of Germany's biggest health insurance companies offers premium discounts for people who bike to work. A dozen federally supported cycling routes crisscross the country, promoting tourism. And simple solutions--from funding bike lanes and bike racks to requiring bigger mirrors to help trucks see bikers--combine to make riding more appealing.

Life cycle. As densely populated cities across Europe battle traffic, booming bike use couldn't be better timed. Studies have shown that for trips under 3 miles, bicycles are often the fastest alternative. Cycling mileage in London has doubled since the city began charging those who drive cars downtown up to $16 a day. High gas taxes all over Europe encourage more drivers to leave their cars parked. "Quality of life increases when cycling increases," says Wright. "We need to get that into the heads of mayors and politicians."

But even Germany will have a hard time catching up to Europe's cycling capital, Holland. Beginning in the 1970s, Dutch politicians and planners made cycling a priority. "The Netherlands has the highest share of cycling as a mode of transport in the world," says Roelof Wittink, a cycling advocate in Utrecht. More than a quarter of all trips taken in the Netherlands are by bike. Cycling's huge popularity with commuters has forced planners to tackle problems unimaginable elsewhere, like creating space for the 20,000 bicycles left at the Utrecht train station daily. Cycling is so common that the tag "cyclist" has no meaning, Wittink says: "Everyone is doing it-young people, retired people, mothers, ministers, members of the royal family."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Who, me?

There is an article in the Toronto Star today titled Land yachts popular today despite gas prices. The point being that despite everything we know about the automobile and climate change, and despite slowly rising gas prices, people are still buying SUV's like crazy.

The following quote from the article makes it fairly clear what we all know, the enemy is not so much Ford and GM, as it is us, the people who keep buying their cars:
As noted here before, no meaningful change in buying habits or driving patterns will occur without a carbon tax that puts a price on personal contributions to global warming, and to the strife in Nigeria, Sudan, the Middle East and other regions where despotic regimes use fossil-fuel wealth to finance the suppression of domestic populations and to lure Western governments into ethnic quagmires.

It's too easy to heap scorn on auto makers for failing to embrace the 21st century. (And I've done my share of that.) Pogo was right: on this issue, the enemy is us.

At the New York show, Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally was asked about the dearth of fuel-efficient offerings. He passed the buck to consumers, where, alas, it belongs. Auto buyers are going to determine questions of energy use and the environment.

"The cars you see here today," the Ford CEO told reporters, "are what customers want. The customers are going to decide, not Ford."

A little while back I wrote about how George Bush had worn me out. I should have more accurately written that the American people have worn me out. Why are Pelosi and the Democrats so afraid to start impeachment precedings on this jackass? He lied to every single soldier in America and said "this is why I need you to go to war, now go do it", when the reasons he gave are well documented as being fictional.

So I feel worn out by Bush and the Democrats, and I feel fairly worn out by all of us in fact. I don't see how buying an SUV in this day and age is not tantamount to pointing a shotgun at the head of a polar bear cub and pulling the trigger. "I drive an SUV" to me is the same statement as "I don't care how many species go extinct by the end of this century".

And so on. It's almost too depressing to write about, and I'm sure not very interesting to read, either. At least there are people like this out there, figuring out how to hook a side-car up to their bike, and groups like this fighting to make North American streets safe for cyclists with side-cars to ride on.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What we ride & who we are

So I'm anticipating some changes occurring in my life this summer (the likelihood that I'll be moving out of Toronto for a new job is very high), and I guess the idea of "change" has made me very reflective lately.

What happens when a cyclist gets reflective?

I used to own a mess of bikes like this:
Two of those are my girlfriends', but still that was four for me (my Cannondale is almost completely hidden in the back left of this picture). This picture was true of our holdings up until basically two weeks ago.

But, although I once did duathlons fairly seriously and could claim to actually NEED my 2004 Cervelo Team Soloist, I don't quite feel that way anymore. The Soloist is the kind of bike you need to WIN bike races. I'm certainly not going to win any races from here on out, and therefore my Cannondale (see below) will serve me just fine for racing and long rides, so I just sold my Cervelo to a former student of mine from my Donning days at New College at U of T.
(Although you can kind of see it in the above picture, a better picture of the Cervelo is way back in my very first "tuco rides" post).

And if you notice the blue bike at the very front of the above picture, that is the Kona Dew Deluxe which I bought in the fall to survive winter commuting this year. The Dew Deluxe is fine and dandy, but tomorrow I'm taking it to Peterborough to give to my little brother to get him kick-started as a bicycle commuter.

So as of tomorrow I'll have cut my bike collection in half.

These are the bikes I still have:
The hard-working Cannondale that I bought off one of my best friends (yes, those are downtube shifters).

The 2001 Kona Hahanna which must have upwards of 15 000km on it. The Kona is currently at the above-mentioned best friend's house awaiting to be turned into a single-speed with a brand new back wheel, new saddle, new drive train bits, and eventually completely new brakes.

To answer my own question, I guess when a cyclist gets reflective he takes a hard look at the bikes he owns and asks himself that toughest of all questions - "Which of these do I need, and which do I just want?"

For me, getting rid of the Cervelo (a decision I'd been waffling over for at least a year) means that I'm no longer serious about racing (and I was always a better runner than a cyclist anyway), and therefore need good commuting bikes more than good racing bikes.

The Dew Deluxe wasn't such a tough decision. I didn't love it. My brother needed it. Although it has fenders and a rack, I can get by with my other two bikes, and so it's gone.

The lucky thing in getting rid of bikes is that you have room to buy a new bike. I foresee one of these in my future, although perhaps not this summer.

This is a Kona Major Jake - Kona's top cyclocross bike. It's around $2300.00 Canadian but it has great components, wheels, carbon fork and seat-stays and a light-weight aluminum cross frame. Basically this could be my all-round bike (long day rides, races, all-season commuting) and I'd have the other two for random sub-in duty.

If you can know a man by the company he keeps, you'll know a cyclist by the bikes that he rides.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Natural consequences of being inept

When you subscribe to much of what Noam Chomsky preaches about mass media, then you basically believe that mainstream newspapers and news outlets will NEVER talk about really important stories because it will piss off their main advertisers and they'll lose money.
For example, how often have you seen peak oil, factory farming conditions, or (back in 2002/2003) the invasion of Iraq, really discussed and criticized in the mainstream media?

BUT - back to back yesterday and today I've seen two topics discussed in places where I never thought it would happen.

The Toronto Star today has a piece on the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals trying to get university food providers to offer free-range/organic eggs in their cafeterias as an option besides eggs from factory farms.

And - peak oil was seriously discussed on CNBC on the weekend.

Holy jumping. North America might actually be heading towards democracy.

Although I have some news about the bikes in the house (those which have left and are leaving), I might save that for another post.

Note on today's post-title

A co-worker and I bailed out a couple students last week (i.e. doing some printing for them because they were basically too dumb to get their stuff organized), and afterwards we were discussing whether or not we had really done them a favour.

My co-worker's line was "they should really learn the natural consequences of being inept" and (though this is the subtext) not relying on the kindness of strangers to bail them out when they're morons.

The natural consequences of being inept - I just thought that was a well-turned phrase, gracias.