Thursday, September 30, 2010

Innovations: the good, the bad, and the just plain silly...

Once again, I am pointed at something that is beyond awesome in bike-dom by my friend Katie Malkovsky. She just posted a link to this bike: the B.O.N.D. Bike (Built Of Notorious Deterrents) takes those fantasies all cyclists have at some point (my personal fantasy being the quick-release ballpeen hammer on the handlebars for judicious driver-punishing: scythes on the wheels are another) and, well, just exceeds them. Totally. Check this out:

Wow... Okay, so it's not really for sale. To be fair, the flamethrower might make it a bit too risky to put on the open market. But it's just so much awesome. There are more details about the bike here, including some notes on the building of the thing: it was constructed as a stunt, basically, by a bicycle insurer in the UK, - apparently they took a poll of cyclists, asked what annoys them most about cycling, and invented the ultimate response.

On another note, and also from Katie: she spotted someone in Toronto actually using an ElliptiGo. Her comment was that it looked "totally dorky, and totally fun." I'd have to agree: of all the modifications and alterations from your standard bike shape and mechanics, this one actually looks like it might work, and might be really fun. If, admittedly, dorky.

Not nearly as dorky as the Yike Bike, which strikes me as a strange crossbreed of a bike and a Segway (but cuter, with a sort of cartoon-robot aesthetic. Makes me think of one of the more endearing Transformers):

Granted, you can't fold a Segway. And the way it folds up is really quite slick. Not slick enough to get me on one though. I just wouldn't be able to do it with a straight face.

The ElliptiGo, though, has a certain swooshy grace. And there are things about it that make sense. It has the advantage of not having a seat: anyone who's been on a long run, or gotten on a bike for the first ride of the season, knows that sitting on a bike seat is probably the most painful part. All those folks who use recumbents could use an ElliptiGo for the same reasons: back pain, shoulder pain. But it's certainly not intended to carry any cargo. I know that it's not really being proposed as a replacement for the traditional bike, it's being sold as a cross-training device for marathoners: you run hard, then follow up the run with something that's still cardio but low-impact, without having to give up being outdoors. I don't think the novelty quite justifies the $2200 USD, though: but then I'm not a runner.

And I can't help being reminded of this hilarious video I discovered a little while ago, just to round off this "Captain Video" installment of The Incidental Cyclist:

But you know? I still haven't seen an improvement on the construction of a standard bike. Recumbents kind of scare me (I like being high up enough for cars to see me.) Tricycles are great for stability and cargo, but they're bigger and harder to get through city streets, and I wouldn't take one off the pavement. The spokeless wheels I've seen seem like engineering challenges rather than practicalities (the instant any grit or dirt got into the gears the bike would be out of commission.) There really is a simple rationality to the standard bike. A triangle for strength. Two wheels the same size. The physics are as simple as possible, which is why most people can learn to maintain and repair their own bikes. It all works.

A flamethrower and ejector seat would still rock, though.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Someone stole my name!

Well, okay, they were actually here first. I've known about this for a while, but was reminded when once again today I typed only "the incidental cyclist" into my browser bar and got (just below me on the hit list, which is new) a blog based in North Carolina, also called The Incidental Cyclist. And here I thought I was being so clever.

I remember cyclists in North Carolina. The ones I saw traveled in packs (I know, they're called pelotons or something like that), wore a lot of Spandex, and were just desperately courageous as far as I could tell - none of the roads I saw in NC had much space for bikes, I saw no bike lanes, and everyone else (and I mean everyone else) was in a car. Public transportation was baffling and scarce in Raleigh, where I was staying, and there were no sidewalks anywhere. It was drive in your airconditioned car, or stay home in your airconditioned house. I also recall all the roads being separated from the subdivisions by stands of trees, so that you never really knew where you were: all you could see was forest on either side, and the occasional brick gate announcing the entrance to "Peachtree Heights" or whatever the subdivision was called: no houses. It was actually pretty disconcerting.

And in the midst of all that, these not-so-huge roads with not much shoulder and certainly no bike lane managed to also support packs of cyclists. The friends I was staying with called them "the Spandex Menace" because they held up traffic, and also, I think, because it unnerved them to have to manoeuver around the bikes. At the time I wasn't a regular cyclist, so I didn't think much of it, but looking back, I think they must have been pretty committed, to be out there in that heat, that humidity, and on those roads.

Which reminds me of a set of other observations I made this summer, about Aberdeen, Edinburgh, cobblestones, and blue paint: but that's another post entirely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thanks, NCC...

(I'm still mad at you about climbing access to Gatineau Park, but I do have to admit, you make my cycling life easier.)

This sign just went up at Parc Riverain, just off Montreal Road. Note that not only does it say "Don't feed the birds," but the bird pictured is ... yup indeed ... a Canada goose. 

I can't count the number of times I've come swinging down the little slope from Montreal Road on the bike path, happy to have cleared the awkward crosswalk and dodged the riders waiting at the bus stop and the random skaters or bladers or other bikes that tend to behave erratically at that intersection, only to have to come to a screeching halt because there's a flock of goddamn Canada geese wandering across the path, being fed by some well-meaning family, usually with small children who are also wandering across the path. I know it's not a huge inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but between dodging goose droppings (which are large, green, and disgusting, and litter the path throughout the summer) and worrying that one of these days a goose will duck the wrong way and I'll hit it, and worrying that one of these days someone's kid will dart out into the path unexpectedly and I'll hit her, a cyclist can start to get a bit frustrated. 

How many times have I thought to myself, if you must feed the ducks or the geese or the pigeons or the seagulls, can you at least not do it standing on the heavily traveled bike path?

I note that there are no Canada geese on the path these days anyway: think they've already headed out. Funny how you can have them all over the place one day, moving in great landbound flocks all over the grass looking a lot like a herd of dinosaurs, and the next the whole park is empty. And this sign went up just as the geese left - to give people a chance to get used to the new rule? Maybe. Will it be enforced or obeyed? Maybe.

It made me happy to see the sign, though, and I stopped and came back to take a picture. Here's hoping this will eventually discourage the geese, and I'll have to worry less about who would come out best in a collision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Car Free Day!

Photo from Time: European Car Free Day. Whoa.
It's that time again: World Car Free Day! Now somehow, I remember Ottawa doing more for Car Free Day a few years back: I remember having a booth at an all-afternoon info fair on Marion Dewar Plaza, where I was selling the jewelry I used to make out of bits of broken windshield. (Really.) And I remember seeing advertising around town. I even got a Car Free Day T-shirt (it was ugly, but it was.) But this year, it's been pretty quiet. I didn't really know if there was anything going on in Ottawa, which I suppose is a bit of a surprise: what with the NCC's focus on cycling, and the Ottawa Citizen's new policy that 'no cycling story is too small' you'd think more people were thinking bikes, whatever the tone is in City Hall itself. But I didn't know if there was anything planned until a quick Google this morning got me a listing on for a series of events, including a couple of presentations, a parking lot something-or-other at U of O, and a celebratory ride into downtown at - get this - 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Hi, organizers? Just because I ride a bike doesn't mean I want to get on the bike at 6:30 in the morning to meet up with you ten miles from my house at Tunney's Pasture. (And once again I run into the assumption that people who bike are like people who jog: joyful to be up at the crack of dawn and 'pumping that adrenaline.' Remember, cycling is also for us roll-groggily-out-of-bed, stumble-around-looking-for-coffee, hit-the-road-feeling-sloggish-at-nine people too!)

Ah well. It's Car Free Day, and it's a chance to think about how awesome it would be if there were more bike lanes, more and better public transit, and fewer cars. It would be nice if this was a day when you'd actually notice a drop in traffic because people were choosing some other means of transportation, but I didn't really: things seemed pretty much the same as usual. You can't expect miracles, I suppose. In fact, I had the bike path pretty much entirely to myself, maybe because of the misty rainy morning. Have to admit, I enjoyed that. Zipping along over the wet pavement and flattened leaves and dodging puddles, all by myself. Why wouldn't you be car free, when you can?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Whoever Stole Mike's Eyes

To whoever stole my headlights from outside the Mayfair Theatre last night:

Seriously, what the hell? They were worth $12.50 each when they were brand new more than a year ago. I'm trying to imagine you as some desperate, shaking junkie for whom those headlights would mean the difference between spending a night in racking DT agony and getting through the next day. But I know that's probably not the case (especially since I can't imagine there's a huge trade in black-market ten-dollar LED headlights.) Chances are, you were just being opportunistic. 

Because the bike was still there, and the back tire was still there, even though it's a quick-release and wasn't locked to the frame like the front tire. Even the seat was still there. But what really gets me is it wasn't just a whim. A couple of months ago I was coming out of my writing group at Mother Tongue Books and a passing guy, with some of his friends, reached out and switched my headlights on as he passed. I guess he thought it was funny. I called out something like "Gee, thanks for switching those on for me, it saves me so much effort," just to let him know that the bike's owner had watched him do it. It didn't seem to have much effect. But at least I called him on it.

But this isn't that kind of whim. Because you didn't just take the headlights off; slide them out of their housings and walk off with them, the way you might if you were a little drunk and saw the opportunity and thought it was a good joke. Nope. The mountings were gone, too: so you actually had to use a screwdriver to get them loose and remove them.

And you had to stand on Bank Street, in front of a movie theatre, in the streetlights, to do it. And wasn't there anyone walking by? It was (I think) something like 10:00 at night. So that means you actually thought, well, if anyone sees me they'll just assume it's my bike if I'm taking the headlights off - if I take anything else they'll realize I'm a thief. So at least I know that you know what you are.

What does it take to stand on a sidewalk and blithely remove something from someone's bike? With a screwdriver? I know, I'm lucky it wasn't a set of bolt cutters and I still have my bike. I'm lucky you didn't decide to pop off the seat, or take the back tire, while you were roaming Bank Street looking for random bike parts to steal. I still have Mike and I'm very grateful for that. But this, and you, are still so petty. So damn small.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stolen Bike in TO!

I know, there's other tragedies in the world. But here's the back story - part of my job at the Writers Festival is to be their Social Media person: I manage the Festival's Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and all that stuff. I'm still not sure I 'get' Twitter, but there are some people that I usually enjoy reading in their 140-character bursts, and "the Walrus tweeter" is one of them: the Walrus Magazine has useful and fun and entertaining things to say.

And this morning I see that the Walrus tweeter (Stacey May Fowles) has had her bike stolen. So. If you're in Toronto, and you see this beautiful bubblegum pink Simple Seven cruiser, get in touch with her mom.

Within moments, of course, she was getting responses: the message was forwarded with comments like "have you seen @MissStaceyMay's bike? help find it:"@bikerevolution posted back to tell her "here are 10 things you can do to get your bike back."

And I'm passing the word on as well! She's a fellow literary cyclist, after all. It seems so strange that my brother lived for about a year near Jane and Dundas with a gorgeous hybrid that he parked, unlocked, in the yard behind his house, and never had it taken: it's like a tornado, I suppose. There are higher risk zones (I wouldn't sink a lot of money into trailer parks in Kansas and I wouldn't leave my bike unlocked in the Market at 3 a.m.), but in the end you really have no idea if you're in the path or not.

(Added September 22: Stacey is now doing a piece on bike theft - you can contact her at and let her know what your bike means to you, and tell her your bike theft stories if, sadly, you have them.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Days like today I wish I had Harry Potter magic. You know. There's the sort of rain coming down that Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams once, wonderfully, named 'blatter' - heavy, cold, big, surly rain. It's windy, and the wind is chilly. And the cars going by you on the road are amplified by a factor of about 300% by the hishing of their tires on the wet pavement. And I just wish I had one good Impervius charm. The one Hermione uses so the rain will stay off Harry's glasses. Impervius. Impervius! Damn you, Impervius!

The rest of me is fine, actually. Now that it's really fall, I can pack my rain gear (which I wrote about glowingly back when I first discovered its true awesomeness a year ago) and suit up before heading home, if it happens to be blattering out. My feet stay dry. My ass stays dry. My clothes stay dry. Okay, my hands are a little cold, but we aren't quite to gloves weather yet. I haven't caved that far to the approach of winter.

But I wear glasses. And even if I didn't wear glasses, the rain splattering into my face would be making me blink and squint anyway. Maybe the glasses help with the blinking - at the expense of having my field of vision blocked by the droplets of water clinging to the lenses.

There are things I always find myself wishing drivers knew when it rains like this, too. I wish they knew that I'm blinking and squinting (and often pursing my lips up like a hooting chimpanzee: don't ask why, I don't know, it's a reflexive thing, probably to keep the rain from bouncing up under my glasses, or up my nose) and so my vision is rather significantly impaired. I wish they knew that I would love to be able to swerve out further into the road to avoid the puddles that will spray water up into my face (thus further impairing my vision.) I wish that they knew that I will also swerve to avoid the puddles because you can't see the pavement through the puddles, and so can't see whatever potholes might be lurking beneath them. And I wish they knew how damn loud and scary they are in the rain.

But I don't suppose they need to know how smug I felt this afternoon coming up Alta Vista, when I just kept on rolling past all the cars that were crawling along: I got up that street faster than any of the folks that were high and dry... and busy stepping on the brake, then backing off, then stepping on the brake again. So okay, the Impervius charm doesn't work on the rain. But it does seem to work on gridlock.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

KENK: The Animated Graphic Novel

As I was posting the Writers Festival schedule, I spotted this co-production we're doing with the Ottawa Animation Festival: a screening of the film based on the graphic novel Kenk. I have to say I'm interested, and kind of bummed that I'll be working that night at the Festival, so won't be able to go. I've been hearing, off and on, about the graphic novel, and I'd love to check out the film.

Who or what is Kenk, I hear some people (who probably don't live in Ontario) asking? Igor Kenk is, or was, according to the New York Times, "the world's most prolific bicycle thief." He worked out of The Bicycle Clinic on Queen St. W. in Toronto for years until eventually he was raided in 2008 and almost 3,000 bikes were confiscated by the police. Since then he's sort of become something of a legend. I don't live in Toronto, so I don't feel the same kind of visceral reaction to his very existence that I gather some Torontonian cyclists do. But I do remember a piece on CBC Radio dating from when he was raided: the documentary followed cyclists walking through the yard full of confiscated bikes looking for something they recognized, like survivors walking around a battlefield looking for their loved ones. And the graphic novel, which apparently reads like a documentary, draws heavily on extensive interviews with Kenk himself.

I'm fascinated. With luck, the book, at least, will be available at the Festival. If not, I suppose there's always the option of ordering it in through my favorite bookstore... And if I do get a chance to see the film, I'll let you know what I think!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do The Test

Two separate people in the last couple of days have either posted this video on Facebook and mentioned me, or sent it to me as a message. I love that my friends think about me. (And I did have the video somewhat ruined for me by my younger sister's profession. But I'll say no more, cause, you know, spoilers and that.)

Monday, September 13, 2010


A friend just posted me a link to these wall clocks on oh, if I had the cash (does anyone out there want to make a humble blogger very, very happy?) Or, alternatively, if I had a spare gear crank and one of those clock kits you get at Michaels... wait a minute... All I need is the part and, well, you know, no one's claimed that green Bonelli that's been sitting at the Billings Bridge Mall for six months or more...

The lower one is probably the coolest, what with the attached crank arm and all. Looks more like a bike part. But I also kinda like the one that has the Mac OSX CD in it too. Since I bike to work, and work on a Mac.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Mystery of the 3iCycle

One night, months ago now, I was in the Market and spotted a large glass storefront-style window that opened on a mostly empty shop floor with several of these yellow bike cabs parked in it. I couldn't tell through the window what the logo on them was, or if I could, "3i" meant so little to me that the information slipped right out of my head. I thought I'd look it up later, and figure out what they were about, since I'd never actually seen one in use.

That was quite a while back, and I didn't see the cabs, or think about them again, until I was on my way to work a few mornings ago and found myself behind this one, near Overbrook:

So I took a picture. It turned off the path shortly afterward. And I was still curious - I've only seen one of these so far, but there was a fleet in that strange shop space in the Market, so what's the deal? (I know that Toronto has bike cabs that are paid for by the city, so you can just hop in one, go wherever you want, and hop back out. I think it's brilliant. But as I'd never seen these yellow creatures beetling around Ottawa, I wasn't sure if that's what they were, back when I first saw them. In fact, I wasn't sure if they actually worked or were some kind of mockup.)

And since here I am now with a picture featuring the URL staring me in the face, I looked up the 3i Summit. Turns out it's run by Leadership Ottawa, which I've come across before. And after a little digging, I came across an article from last November about them - with the perhaps overly optimistic title "Green Transportation Comes to Ottawa." They're 3iCycles, and they are, I guess, something along the lines of Toronto's bike cabs. And they apparently hit the streets in spring of 2010, although this is the first one I've actually seen in action. Maybe I just haven't been downtown so much? Or maybe they're not catching on? Has anyone else seen one? What's the deal? Maybe this one is being driven around now because the summit is coming up on November 27th and so it's really more of a moving billboard than an actual working cab?

Maybe I'm being too cynical about them. Here. Have a picture of one with a baby in it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bike Lane Fail #3

This one crosses my mind every morning, on my way to work down Alta Vista. Is there any logic behind having a four-way stop on a street that has a bike lane? Particularly a busy street like Alta Vista?

Generally, I'll obey the rules at a four-way stop when I come across it on a small residential street or country road (I'll pull up, and if I arrive at the same time as a car, the vehicle on the right goes first. Or, to be honest, all the cars go and then I go, because it's just safer and I don't want to hold anyone up, and stopped bikes seem to confuse some drivers.) But you wouldn't put a four-way stop on a multi-lane street. Would you? Just picture it. You arrive at the intersection beside another car, and there's a third car on the cross street. What would you do?

And that's exactly what happens to a bike. Except that you also add the fact that a bike takes much longer to accelerate away from the stop (hence our tendency to treat stop signs like 'yields' - slowing up and looking for oncoming traffic, and stopping fully only if there are other vehicles involved. Now you know.) And if you pull away from the stop at the same time as a car, you're hidden from half the traffic at the intersection... until the car speeds up, at which point you're  now an unexpected bike in the middle of an intersection.

Plus, as far as I know there is no rule governing which vehicle has the right of way at a stop sign if it's on a four-lane street.

What I usually do is go at the same time as the car next to me (making sure, of course, that they're not turning right - don't get me started on the guy that turned right, yesterday, at this very intersection, without signalling. I noticed the car's rightward drift and guessed that he was going to turn, so hit the brakes. But might not have, if he hadn't been clearly edging toward the corner.) I figure it acts as shelter if nothing else. But one day when I did that - slowed up, admittedly without fully stopping, and then cruised through the intersection beside a car that was crossing at the same time as me -  a driver who had been behind me pulled up alongside as I was continuing down the road, to roll his window down and tell me I should have stopped: "a car nearly hit you back there," he said, although I doubt it. Think I would have noticed nearly being hit by a car.

I don't know if there's a solution. But if you think of bikes as traffic, and bike lanes as traffic lanes, there is definitely something awkward and strange about putting a four-way stop in an intersection that amounts to a four-lane road crossing a two-lane. At this particular one, I'd say leave the stop signs up on the generally quiet cross street, and remove the stop signs from Alta Vista. Replace them with yield signs, maybe. Or a traffic circle; seeing as how that stop sign seems, in all honesty, just to be there as a traffic calming measure anyway.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Things that make me smile...

I just came across this entry in one of the blogs I follow, ThumbShift, and I had to pass it along. Not only is the "Mario Kart" bike lane in Portland a heartwarmingly happy example of urban guerilla art, but most of the pictures collected in the post also made me smile. This might be the most obvious example of cyclists owning the space they're given and the space they inhabit. Making their mark on their landscape.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Opposite of Instructive

Last week, as I was attempting to tighten up my brakes (they were starting to bottom out on the handlebars a bit too much for my liking) I discovered a couple of things. One was that the living room of an apartment is never really the most convenient place to work on a bike. I had to prop it up against a doorframe, and then kneel on hardwood to try and get close to the brakes, or stand and lean over the bike awkwardly. The other thing I discovered was that the repair manual I had, which I picked up a while back and found fairly unreadable, but assumed would turn out to be useful when I needed it, was near useless. "Roadside Bicycle Repair" my ass: not sure you can call a book that, if it tells you that shortening your brake cable can only properly be done with (and I quote) "special pliers known as the "fourth hand," a solitary monk among tools serving few other purposes. Only the most devout mechanics take one on the road."

Well, thank you. Nice to know that to do what I want to do, I'll need a tool that, you assure me, I don't have.

The instructions to go on to say, "Lacking such salvation, your best hope toward redemption arrives with the barrel adjusters, which intervene along the cable's path to lengthen or shorten its housing, effectively decreasing or increasing the distance a cable must travel to execute decisions."

The style goes on like that, incidentally. The slightly-off verbs and prepositions alone are enough to make my little editor's heart want to scream.

I picked the book in question - Roadside Bicycle Repair: A Pocket Manifesto - up in a little indie bookstore because the author, Sam Tracy, had written another, much bigger, book, that the staff in the bookstore said was good. But this one was smaller, cheaper, and easier to include in the bike bag. And it had a very nifty neo-retro-Soviet red-and-black cover. So I picked it up, got it home, and sat down to take a look at it. I got about half a page before I found myself flipping on to another section, due to the prose style mostly, and the lack of comprehensible pictures, and then I decided that I'd just keep it around, and the next time I wanted to work on the bike, I'd break it out and find the section I needed, and then maybe the book would prove to be useful.

So I found the section I needed. How to shorten the brake cable (or, apparently, its 'housing.') I've been biking steadily for three years or so now. I can change and patch my tires, adjust my seat, tighten bolts, install racks and other accessories, swap out pedals, all that sort of thing. But I'm not exactly familiar with all types of bike, or brake. And naming a thing does not mean I will know what it is, or looks like. So, having just mentioned the barrel adjusters, Tracy goes on to say:

"We may find a barrel perched atop the brake itself or riding the lever's tip, but really they show up anywhere along the cable's length."

(Okay, but what do they look like? And where is the tip of the brake lever anyway?)

"We need to wind the barrel adjuster up and out of its base in order to increase the cable's tension and tighten the brakes, and vice versa."

(Vice versa? What? My internal editor is crying.)

"The barrel adjusters governng brake cables wear small nuts or knurled collars around their necks, which are spun all the way down to finalize a given adjustment."

Okay. I'm now officially lost. And there are no pictures. The pictures that there are in this book aren't really all that informative: they show you, in this section, a couple of different styles of brake, but don't identify any of the parts. I'm left wondering who this book is meant for. Not me, apparently, since he only manages to baffle me. But then, people who already know what all of the bits are called and where to find them on their bike probably also already know how they work, and warnings about having your brakes positioned too high (accidentally gouging your sidewalls), or about not riding a bike with a loose wheel, are probably a little beneath them. And dear god, someone should have stopped his prose style before it got as far as "There opens a Pandora's box of loose, loud, and less-effective brakes, against which we set the course of our mechanical energies."

To be fair, there were three pages that seemed pretty clear to me: on patching a tire. It was nice to know how long the liquid rubber needs to set before you put on the patch. An actually useful piece of information, and there was a photograph that illustrated what needed to be done. The initial "flight check" section seemed promising, too, but somewhere between checking to make sure the handlebars aren't loose or wobbling, and "keep an eye out for any tight chain links," he makes another one of those huge leaps over a knowledge gap. Perhaps, Sam, you could tell me how to identify whether a chain link is tight or not? No? Okay, then.

Putting the book down, I went online. It wasn't much more help, but I at least thought I knew where to start. But then, as I was testing the tension on the front brake, I felt the cable give, and the brake handle bottomed out completely. I could hold both brakes down full strength and roll the bike back and forth with no resistance. And when I looked, the front brake's cable looked unpleasantly thin, as though it had frayed down to one small, delicate line. So I swore to myself, packed up my tools, and resigned myself to taking the bus to work the next day, and to taking the bike over to the local bike shop in the afternoon to get someone a little more qualified to replace the cable.

And promised myself I'd find a better repair book.