Friday, December 16, 2011

Nothing says DIY like a cut up pop bottle

It rained on Thursday. It was actually pretty gross. But I was on my way downtown to meet a friend for lunch, so I got myself kitted up in my rain jacket and rain pants (even with a hole worn in the butt after a couple of winters, they're keeping me dry) and got on the road. And as I was cruising down the long, downhill bit of Bank Street between Heron and Riverside, I realized that what I really dislike about riding in the rain isn't the cold, or the wet, or the slow seep of the damp through my left boot (the one I keep down when I'm coasting.) These things I can shrug off, with my bright red rainjacket and black rainpants on. No, it's the Evil Fountain that I really dislike.

The Evil Fountain is created as my front tire goes through a puddle, or, increasingly as it gets colder, a pool of slush. It throws the dirty water up across my chest in a cascade of grit; it spatters the skin under my chin, chucks sand and salt and probably bits of dead squirrel into my mouth, and flings droplets of water up under my glasses and into my eyes, forcing me to squint and blink. It also coats my glasses in a layer of cold water, which, combined with the condensation from my breath, makes it a toss-up for me whether I leave the glasses on and peer through the distortion, or push them down on my nose and try to look over them with my astigmatic natural vision (which is not great.)

I know, I should just get a front fender. The problem is that I often - more often in the winter - am offered rides home from late night poetry shows and meetings, and frankly, I'm usually inclined to take them up on it. Particularly if it's started to snow. And in that case, I usually wind up having to pop off my quick-release front wheel in order to stash Mike in the back end or the trunk of my friend's car. And the last time I tried that with a fender attached to the front fork, it didn't end well for the fender. So I gave up, accepting that my rear fender might defend my back from the skunk stripe, but my face was going to have to look out for itself.

And then, riding down Bank Street on Thursday, I realized that I didn't even have to buy a fender. I could thwart the Evil Fountain all on my own. I even had an empty tonic water bottle waiting at home to be DIY-ed. And this is what I came up with:

It might be hard to see, like trying to photograph a jellyfish, but what I did was to take the pop bottle, cut it apart, slice out a section of the side that was about 10" or so long, round off the corners, and then poke holes in it right where the mounting braze-ons are for your average bottle holder or U-lock mount. Then I just poked the screws through the holes, and bolted a piece of cut-up plastic bottle onto my bike in a position that I think (I haven't tested it yet) will defeat the Evil Fountain. At least mostly.

And, as I pointed out to the friend I was having lunch with, not only is it free, but it makes Mike even less stealable than he was before. Hardly anyone wants to steal a beaten-up, elderly, road-weary $50 mountain bike with mismatched crank arms. How much less desirable is the same bike, with a chunk of plastic bottle bolted to it? I win.

Assuming this thing works to keep the water, slush and squirrel bits off my face.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I know it won't last, this stretch of time where the streets are more or less dry, and the air's clean and crisp, and the snow hasn't taken over the bike lanes and edges of the street, but I have to say I'm enjoying it. I know the snow will come though, and lately I've spotted a few things online that almost make me look forward to it, if only for the chance to get my hands all DIY dirty.

The idea of 'zip tie snow tires' has been making the rounds, and I said today on Twitter that I was looking forward to trying them. Then remembered: I've got your garden-variety rim brakes, which means the ties would get in the way of brakes, of course. Duh, and drat, I thought, there goes an opportunity to be all clever.

But never fear! You can also, if the idea doesn't freak you out too much, stud your own tires: if the thought of having screw heads up against your inner tube ready to pinch it freaks you out, you could always do what I did when my sidewalls wore thin a year or so ago: build "boots" for the tire, by duct-taping a strip of cardboard in to keep the tire safe from the screw heads. (I once lined most of a sidewall with duct tape as a stopgap measure when my inner tube was actually peeking out through the tire in one place.)

Then there's the step-by-step chain maintenance recently posted at Cyclopunk. It's part one of a series of winterproofing tutorials, and it's thorough. The diagram of the chain parts, in particular, I found really interesting: I'm now planning to take some time out, take my chain apart, and get ready for the grit and salt onslaught. I'm gonna need a chain tool. But it's about time I took my chain apart anyway.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Thanks to my friend Pearl, who sent me this video: more bike art! And this one's quite gorgeous . . . The artist's idea was to create animation that could be filmed in realtime (for a dissertation project - he's studying animation.) So he turned a bike into a Phantakistoscope (I just learned that word! It's like a zoetrope, but flat.)

While it's also just plain beautiful (and I like things that make art with bicycles; it reminds me of how simple a machine, and how elegant, a bike is) it's also making my brain boggle with the design of it. Apparently you have to film this to be able to see it: the human eye just sees a blurry mess. Once you add the frame rate of the camera (25fps) the separate parts of the image resolve into the animated image. And only (as you can see) when the wheel is rotating at a particular speed.

How cool is that?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Boiling a frog

There I was this morning, heading along a slush-filled bike lane on the first properly snowy ride of the year, blinking snowflakes out of my eyes and cursing my steamed-up glasses, with a small fountain of slush being cast up onto my chest, neck, and face by the front wheel (I lost the fender the last time I tried to take the wheel off to put the bike in a car.) And I thought to myself, this is it, finally. Winter cycling. How did I get here again?

I ride year round. This will be my third winter doing it. And I was talking to a friend at lunch today about the mentality. Sure, when people see me and my bike in the elevator of my apartment building and say things like, "Wow, you must be very brave," I do feel a little badass. And when I wheel the bike out, put it on the street, wonder what the hell I think I'm doing, and then find myself warming up a few minutes into the ride, I feel kind of badass. Even when I'm cursing and spitting salty road grit out of my mouth, I'm also thinking, somewhere in my subconscious, that I'm a badass.

But in reality, when it's summer and I'm cruising along the bike paths with my shorts and sandals on, and I even think about winter, I feel something akin to panic. I clench up just thinking about the extra waterproof pants and the hat under the helmet and the cold fingers, wrestling with the handlebars in the snow, the narrow slippery streets, and the grit that gets into everything. I don't like the idea at all. Yet here I am, at the beginning of December, with damp gloves and slush all down my front, and I'm not really all that miserable.

The thing is, riding in the winter is like boiling a frog. No, really. When I said that to my friend at lunch, I swear she nearly dropped her spoon. But here's the idea. They say - because of course I've never tried it - that if you drop a frog into hot or boiling water, it will jump out (or, at least, it'll try... I'm trying not to evoke any really nasty mental images here.) But if you put the frog in cool water, and gradually raise the temperature, it will just swim around, not noticing, until it eventually expires (once again, trying to avoid the mental images.)

It's the same with winter riding. The first year, I just failed to set a date after which I would stop riding. Some people stop when it starts getting dark too early. Some people stop when the snow stays down. I used to stop on November first, when I'd buy my first bus pass of the winter. But once those cut-off times are gone, it's a gradual thing, like the water around the poor doomed frog.

At first, you notice when the shorts are no longer possible, and you have to remember to tuck in or clip your pant legs. And then there's the moment when you find your gloves, and get the windbreaker out. And then there's switching the windbreaker for the winter coat, and then comes the day when you have to find the winter gloves because the fall gloves are too thin. Then you see your breath, and remember to try and breathe in such a way that it doesn't fog up your glasses. And before you know it, you're looking for the hat you wear under the helmet, and stashing the waterproof pants somewhere you can easily get them out, because you're going to need them most days. And by the time you're used to all that, a little extra snow and slush just seems to be business as usual. And voila, poor boiled frog; you're cycling through the winter. All because no single change in the weather was big enough to make you hang the bike up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The most annoying comment

I know I shouldn't read the comments. It's the cardinal rule of using the Internet, really: Don't Read The Comments. It's guaranteed to do nothing but annoy or frustrate you, or convince you that really, after all, the species probably isn't worth saving.

But I do read the comments. You probably do too. It's a sick fascination. It's like stopping to watch accidents or couples fighting in public. And then I find bits of those comments - at least, the ones on articles about cycling - circling my brain as I ride along on my bike, in lieu of snatches of music. One of them has been particularly persistent recently, and I feel I have to get this out of my system. You've probably seen something like it posted on some cycling article somewhere:

"Bikes and cars don't belong on the streets together. Physics will win every time."

Okay, I have to ask. What does that even mean? It's trotted out in the comments with odd regularity, with a sense that the author is nodding sagely as he or she types, and it makes about as much sense as "God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve."  And its sheer meaninglessness has caused it to get stuck in my head worse than the jingliest of tunes.

It feels to me like it's dressing up a hidden sense of superiority - cars are bigger and more powerful and I drive a car therefore I'm bigger and more powerful - in the guise of concern for the cyclists. Because, apparently, Physics Will Always Win.

Well, then, folks, Physics is out to get us, and the human race is screwed. I mean, if Physics Will Always Win, then we have no right to put ourselves inside vehicles that travel in excess of 80 km/h (I'm talking within the city here) because Physics will be a bitch and a half when it catches up with us. Not to mention cars shouldn't be anywhere near large stationary objects like buildings and concrete bollards, because Physics will eat them. Not to mention - since Gravity is probably in league with Physics - we shouldn't have tall buildings with balconies, because if we were to fall off, Gravity - and Physics - would just outright kill us. And then there are airplanes. . . which are sort of like a clever human trap dreamed up over drinks one night by Physics, Gravity and Meteorology.

In fact, Physics is shaping up to be Public Enemy #1. Never mind the cyclists, we're all in the line of fire. Physics is out to exterminate the entire human race. Maybe even all life on Earth. I say we fight back. Down with Physics!

(Seriously? Physics isn't the problem when cyclists and cars share the road. People are.)