Friday, February 27, 2009


I was checking out Paul Parker's Hello VĂ©lo ( blog the other day and noticed he had all sorts of pics and videos up of the bikes he is works on. It was all pretty nice stuff. I thought "Hey! Maybe I should document some of what I do on a daily basis and throw it up on the interwebz". But I do not always work on nice stuff. And to be honest working on nice stuff can be kinda boring, sterile, predictable, or incredibly frustrating when its 2nd rate performance belies its astronomical price tag.

So here is the Heap. This bike is probably 25 years old. The frame has already broken once and been rewelded because it has a lot of sentimental value to its owner. It gets ridden every goddamn day. Other wrenches at the shop see this bike and shudder, and to be fair I used to do the same when dealing with this velocipede and others of its ilk. But no more. These daily-drivers and their workhorses share a sacred bond like pets and their owners, and too many bike shops and employees are willing to piss all over that bond in the name of progress.

I called a lady yesterday because she needed a new set of pedals on her bike (which was in similar condition). When I told her I was from the bike shop the first thing she said was "I'm sorry!". Why? Why are you apologizing, I asked. Because over the years she had so many different people at the shop berate her for riding a piece of shit, she was expecting the same treatment. But it is HER piece of shit and she loves it, and she spent the last 14 years slowly and artfully turning it into a piece of shit. I respect that love and I respect that process. So if anybody is willing to put a few hundred bucks into their old klunker, I am no longer going to question it, so long as they know what the limitations of their bike are. Would you tell Lassie's owner to put her down because a new pup is significantly cheaper than surgery, and the dog is 15 years old? No, that is the owner's decision to make, and a difficult one at that.

So have some respect, fellow wrenches.


Thought of the Day

As industrial loft space in large urban centres (pop. >1000000) becomes increasingly unaffordable and less "authentic", hipster decentralization occurs as industrial decay in small cities (pop. 100000-500000) is revamped for mass consumption and sold for prices resembling reasonable.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Snowflake becomes blizzard

I was all set to blog about my experience yesterday at the iCycle race on the ice rink at Dufferin Grove park last night. It was my first time racing in such an event, and I managed to claw my way on to the podium (only because of my fellow competitors got a flat and dropped out after he had lapped me). But then something happened; the after-party which featured a ton of cheap/free beer.

Now, I am no stranger to drinking excessively. It has been over a decade since experiencing my first terrible hangover, courtesy of Goldschlager nicked from my friend's parents' liquor cabinet when the party ran dry. One would think that as a 15 year old, bringing up bile flecked with bits of gold, in terrible pain, unable to eat, drink or hide the obvious root of the problem from my own parents, that I would have learned my lesson. Fire hot, no touch. Pretty simple stuff.

So how is it then, that 11 years and countless hangovers later, I found myself getting out of bed at 10am, praying that my roomie had not yet gotten up to discover the puke on the floor of the dining room that I was fairly certain I had left there the night before? (Luckily he had not, and I did a fantastic job cleaning it up, splitting headache and all, fitting pennance for the excesses of the previous night) What the hell is wrong with me? And why are there so many others like me?

These are all, of course, rhetorical questions. I drank too much after eating too little and exerting myself; had that ratio been tweaked slightly things would have likely played out differently. Putting myself into such a situation was a bad judgement call, but sometime between lying on a piece of cardboard with a bubble wrap pillow at work and writing this much of the blog entry it hit me; I got hungover because I drank too much, but I did not drink too much because I wanted to be drunker. There were no self-esteem issues at play here as there were in the past. The beer was not being consumed to facilitate overtures to members of the opposite sex. I was not attempting to keep up to my friends in a blind attempt to assert my masculinity through alcohol consumption. No, I straight up just had a few too many. And I can remember the last time that I was this hungover about 4 months ago, and I was actually taking it easy that night. (no, really!)

It used to be that I would find myself staring at the ceiling with every cell in my body screaming for help, but unable to oblige, because I had made the conscious decision that I was gonna get wasted. And I would make that decision because of some lack or want or void that I could not define, so I decided to fill it with alcohol because it was the easiest thing to do at the time. I am glad to say that now with an amazing girlfriend, steady job doing what I love, stable family situation, and a renewed commitment to riding my bike, that void has shrunk to the point that it is imperceivable. So much so that I am not even going to say "never again", as I have uttered those words too many times before and not meant them. Instead I will say "hopefully not anytime soon" and I won't tempt fate in the mean time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stroke of Genius

I was talking to a friend the other day and she made a comment about attempting to work on her pedal stroke. While most people would find this comment entirely reasonable, innocuous and even commendable, it immediately sent me into a frenzied tirade, as if I was on a mission to keep an innocent pawn from an unspeakably terrible fate. My efforts doubled when she contended that she "had to pull up more" with one of her two legs. Unfortunately I do not think any of the hours I spent putting together tenuous empirical arguments on facebook chat had their intended effect. Not even the logically infallible "I have a perfect pedal stroke. OK well probably pretty close to perfect". That just made me sound like a pompous asshole. (the argument can be made that I am probably pretty close to that as well)

So yesterday, while riding up Gerrard on my fixed CX I felt a sensation while pedalling. I had been riding the whole day clipped in on the same bike (~75km) but decided to wear sneakers on the SPDs for the last errand. On the last stretch of uphill I decided to stand up to pedal my moderate 44/17 gear ratio, and I noticed that on the back-end of my pedal stroke I was lifting my foot gently off of the pedal, having it hover at close range from 7-10 o'clock, and making contact again at the top. "A-ha!" my friend is thinking, "you do pull up on the backside of your stroke" which I had vehemently denied earlier. And I would still disagree as a matter of semantics. I lift up my foot. This can be physically conceived as the difference between running up stairs and running on level ground with 30lb weights strapped to your feet.

Why does this even matter when you are riding? How could it possibly be a bad thing to add more force/energy to the pedal stroke anyway? Well, young grasshopper, first let me explain why I think my pedal stroke is pretty close to perfect, even though I have never had any sort of power testing done; I can climb things. Steep ridiculous things. On a SS. In fact the justification I used for my own perfection was climbing a steep muddy hill at Provincial championships 5/6 laps on my SS while at least half the (geared) competition was bailing to run. In truth this says nothing directly about my pedal stroke. What it does say though is that power was being transferred extremely smoothly and efficiently to the ground, allowing the thin tire to stay tractive even on slick muddy grass.

SO? What does any of my braggary have to do with YOUR pedal stroke? Well is optimally efficient power transfer and smoothness the end to which pedal stroke is a means? I feel like to the majority of people that want to improve their pedal stroke, it probably is. So here is why 'pulling up' on the pedals is a waste of time and energy:

-The definition of a smooth pedal stroke is one with minimal fluctuation of power output at the rear wheel
-Power is transferred via chain and cogs from the crank to the rear wheels
-The crank is driven by your legs
-Constant energy output in the direction of the circles traced by the pedal spindles will lead to constant energy output at the wheel
-Energy output at the crank is obtained by adding the simultaneous vectors of the right and left crankarms
-Generally, the vector of each individual crankarm is strongest on the front/downstroke
-The corresponding simultaneous vector on the opposite crankarm is the back/upstroke
-The hardest part of the pedal stroke at which to tramsmit force from legs to cranks is when one side is at 6 and the other at 12 o'clock

So, add it all up and what do you get? If you are actively pulling up on the back side of your pedal stroke, you are adding energy at a point where it is likely already at its peak, therefore exacerbating any fluctuation in power at the wheel that may already exist. All that is necessary is to lift that foot in the same direction you would be pulling, so that it does not exert a negative force against the powerful downstroke of the opposite foot. The most important part of the pedal stroke to focus on is at the top/bottom of the stroke, where the upstroke becomes down and vice-versa. Developing the ability to smoothly transfer power here will translate most easily into improved speed and smoothness on the bike, especially for mountain biking and CX where traction is a big concern.

Let me finish off by saying that to quote Doom, there are "many ways to fillet feline in these days". Proper care must be taken to develop your stroke in many different positions on the bike; seated balanced, seated forward, standing forward, standing balanced, etc. Depending on fatigue and conditions we tend to alter our pedalling quite a bit, but these same principles can and should be applied throughout most of these circumstances.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Subway Challenge

I leaned my bike up against the glass exterior of the wheelchair elevator at Kennedy station around 11:56am. I ditched the long sleeve jersey underneath my jacket, switched out to my thinner gloves and got out my camera so I could duplicate the time and location pics from the four corners ride. But instead of the bike appearing on the LCD display, I got a much more sinister "SYSTEM ERROR". 5 minutes of battery removal and on/off switch flicking had little effect, so I stashed it back in my pocket and tried to get on to Eglinton but went the wrong way. I considered making a mad dash across the road to get to the westbound lanes but common sense prevailed. I backtracked to use the underpass and at 12:03 pm the subway challenge was on.

Being a full time (and then some) bike commuter, I have often marvelled at my own time efficiency in getting from point A to B in the city. Downtown rush-hour is generally a no-brainer as neither cars nor public transit stand a chance against two wheels backed by my legs, lungs, and willingness to bend the Highway Traffic Act to my own advantage. But out in the suburbs, land of big box and 6 lane roads with defacto speed limits of 70km/h, the rules change. How effective would my trifecta of bicycle, body and loose morals be in competition with the TTC out here?

To be honest, I still do not have an answer to that question, because I cannot find anywhere online how long it takes the subway to get from Kennedy Station to Kipling, end-to-end on the Bloor-Danforth line. But determined to embark on a blog-worthy ride on my first day off since my last epic ride, I decided to see how long the journey would take me on the Rossin, my new favourite ride.

So after warming up on the way to Kennedy, I blasted off along Eglinton, the first leg of my strategically planned cross-town time trial route. Directness and efficiency were my main concerns here, so sticking to Eglinton as far as possible where lights are few and far between made a lot of sense. I saw Warden fly by after 4 minutes and Vic Park well under 10. Some nice downhill rollers followed and I found myself spun out and pulling up to Don Mills (lines up around Greenwood) under 15. I was still flying past Leslie, but traffic congestion started taking its toll around Laird. No worries though as I had planned on getting myself on to St. Clair anyway, so I did it through quiet sidestreets in Leaside.

I cannot recall exactly when I crossed Yonge St. but I think it was around 24/25min. 30 mins saw me cruising up to Bathurst, and shortly thereafter I was cursing my judgement as I hit the massive clusterfuck of construction that is currently Corso Italia. I made the most of it, navigating the poorly cordoned-off outer lanes and trying to avoid potholes. I hopped on to the streetcar right-of-way where it was freshly completed and followed it to Caledonia where I got back on the road. Construction soon ended, and I picked up the pace again, crossing Keele at about 41mins. St. Clair ends at Scarlett Rd, where I turned on to Dundas West for the remainder of the ride to Kipling. A wrong turn at the highly confusing Dundas/Bloor interchange set me back a minute, but I rolled up to the Kipling Kiss'n'Ride at 1pm exactly, 57mins an 30km after leaving Kennedy.

How I know it was really windy yesterday

The large green plastic table that was on my deck is now in the backyard upside down.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


With ergonomic shaping and innovative graphics DUCO is set to take over.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On my porch @ -1min

Wow, it has been almost a year since my last (and only) blog update! Lots of new and exciting things have happened in that time, but we can get to that later, because I WENT ON A BIG RIDE.

I have ridden outside of the Metropolitan Toronto city limits at numerous different junctures in time and space. But I have had this idea of doing a single ride that would touch every border. These rides would be near infinitely variable as any street could be taken in any direction for any duration, so long as each limit got hit once. As well, since the distances between the limits are constant, the distance of any such ride would be approximately equal to double the width of the city plus the length of the long as it begins and ends in the same spot (which could be ANYWHERE in Toronto).

Etobicoke Creek/Lake Ontario @ 55mins

So, I had this idea in my head I have been incubating for like four or five years, and Sunday night I compulsively g-mapped it out (as I have been known to do), but a slight variation where the ride hits the four corners of the city. It measured out to about 120km. I woke up the next morning still determined to ride that route but realizing that I would have a hard time completing it in much less than 6 hours if I took out the MTB as I had been lately. SS cross? Still has knobby tires on it and geared a little low. I considered slapping SPDs on the beater (50/17 fixed), but I was still not sure I would get the speed I was looking for. Hmmmmmm........

Albion and Steeles @ 1h47m

Well, why not Andrew? Why not just take out the Rossin track bike that you have owned for about a year, and ridden a bunch on the rollers (once at the track) and swore you would never ride in the city because of its lack of handbrake and handbrake compatibility? You won't even have to switch pedals!

So it was, and I geared up ready to push 48/15 to the furthest reaches of my town as fast as I could. I was fueled by a massive Dorito binge the night before, and 2 eggs, 2 hashbrowns, a small piece of bread and cup of coffee. Got out the door at 11:30.

Steeles and Scar./Pickering Townline @ 3h16m

Started out along the Martin Goodman a few clicks from my house. Pretty much smooth going except for some icy patches in the shade of the Gardiner. Got out on the Lakeshore @ Humber and kept a pretty steady pace out to the creek. Headed down some sidestreet to snap my picture and boogied back up to Browns Line.

From here up to Albion and Steeles, puddle was the name of the game. My feet were soaked through but luckily it was warm enough to be extremely uncomfortable but not dangerous. And believe it or not it was also the name of the game for the next 35km on Steeles. The last 5km on Steeles was all about riding on the furthest right 6" of the road, and trying to avoid the soft dirt shoulder.

Rouge River/Lake Ontario @ 3h50m

I was feeling a little weak heading back down south to the lake, so I stopped in at a convenience store as soon as I made contact with civilization. To whatever extent Altona and Kingston Rd can be considered civilization. I wolfed down a king sized Snickers while loitering in the store then set about the final jaunt down to the Rouge. At this point I was seriously considering hopping on the GO Train at Rouge Hill, but after crossing the river and getting on to Lawrence the sugar-high kicked in and I made a decent pace back to Chalet Crunk.

Door to door @ 4h45m

I got home, glad I finally made it happen. My average moving speed was probably between 28-29km/h which I am satisfied with. Happier still that it got my ass in gear to blog about it.