Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bike Maintenance

There is something to be said for regular bike maintenance. In the winter months I have to say that the commuter bike takes a bit of abuse. This abuse mainly takes the form of neglect. The rains come here in the Pacific Northwest in October and continue until March, with no relief. My only real form of bike maintenance during this time is to add oil to my bitumen covered chain. I have this idea that there is no point to doing any bike related cleaning or maintenance because tomorrow when I ride to work the bike will get covered with grime and all the oil will be washed from where ever it was put the night before. So if my gears start making some noise I just turn up the iPod. The only real issue with this form of denial is that at some point the gears just stop working. Now I have always wanted a single speed, and sometimes I get just what I want, only because the shifters will no longer shift. Now I live half way up a mountain so the practicality of a single speed just isn’t there. So I have felt that the only manifestation of my lack of bike maintenance will be gear related, however I have recently come to the conclusion that this has been a faulty notion.

Over the past couple of months I have noticed that my ride times to and from work have increased substantially. In fact I was getting quite depressed. I would get home at the end of a commute just “cooked”! I was beginning to believe that the aging process was finally catching up to me. I was almost resigned to the fact that “I was getting old!” My ride time home had increased from and average of 38 minutes to an average of 44 minutes, that’s 6 minutes over 15 km’s (with an elevation gain of 300m). There were three possible reasons for this increase in ride time 1. My house was actually getting further from work (strike that one), 2. I was getting older and my advancing age was finally catching up and overtaking me (possible), or 3. My bike needed some maintenance (not possible, I add oil before every ride).

So I was resigned to the fact that I was slowing down. I began making arrangements for an old age home and I was ready to move in. Then last Friday on the way home my gears decided to act up again so I thought it might be time to put the bike up on a stand. Neither wheel spun more than a quarter turn. Is this a problem? Upon further inspection I found that my disk brake pads had worn down so that there was nothing left of them. It turns out that disk brakes tend to get close to the disk as they wear down – who knew? So I bought new pads, installed them and voila, my wheels turn again!

In fact my wheels turn so well that I am once again back. My ride times on Tuesday were the same as they were last summer when I was in good shape. I guess my advancing age hasn’t caught up to me yet. I wonder how much extra training I was getting by having the brakes on the whole time?

So really my lack of bike maintenance is really just another form of training. The worse my bike gets the harder it is so the more training effect I get. It was just part of the plan.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Second Narrows, Iron Workers Memorial Bridge

Here in Vancouver there are three ways to cross Burrard Inlet. There is a Sea Bus from Lonsdale Quay and there are two bridges. A few years ago the Lions Gate bridge underwent a costly refit that changed it from 3 traffic lanes to 3 (wider) traffic lanes. The big improvement was to the sidewalks on either side of the bridge. They were brought up to Provincial standards, almost, for width. When a cyclist approaches another cyclist or a pedestrian there is enough space to pass safely. The other big improvement was to limit cycling on the sidewalk to the same direction as traffic. That is, if you are going south then you have to take the west side walk and when you are travelling north you have to take the east side walk. Although I don't regularly take the Lion's Gate bridge, I have on occasion. It is definitely a treat, compared to the Second Narrows, Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, which is the only other alternative.

The Second Narrows bridge, by contrast, has narrow, dirty and unsafe access for cyclists and pedestrians. I have a short video to prove my point.

As you can see the bridge is too narrow and there is a lot of debris. What I think is worse though is that at either end of the bridge signs have been posted that urge cyclist to yield to oncoming cyclists. Instead of encouraging cyclists to follows the "rules of the road" and go in the same direction as traffic, the Ministry of Highways has said "we don't care about cyclists, we just want to cover our backsides."

There is hardly room for cyclists travelling in one direction while crossing let alone meeting another cyclist coming from the other direction. Both cyclists have to stop and wedge themselves past one another -- this with trucks screaming past on one side and a huge drop to the ocean on the other side.

There has been some media on this as well I cycle across the second narrows bridge daily and follow the direction of traffic (going southbound I ride on the West side of the bridge, going northbound I ride on the East side of the bridge), other cyclist don't. There has been some recent arguments about this published in the North Shore News. In fact the NS News received so many letters in response to an editorial titled "Uphill Bridge Cyclists Should Yield" then a piece was written by Erin McPhee titled "Cyclists Should Go With The Flow" to try and clarify the issue.

The first author believes that it is too far for cyclist to ride "all the way" to the other side of the bridge to access the correct sidewalk and in fact the uphill cyclist should give way to the downhill cyclist. In McPhee's rebuttal she interviewed Patrick Livolsi, regional manager of engineering for the provincial Ministry of Transportation, who stated "Northbound cyclists are to use the east side sidewalk and southbound cyclists should use the west side sidewalk" and that the ministry has posted signs to indicate and promote this mode of passage. This last statement is in fact false. The ministry has posted signs indicating that cyclist should "yield to oncoming traffic", however, these signs are at all four access points to the bridge(that is in BOTH directions). In other words the ministry is not promoting cycling in the same direction as traffic. They are in fact covering themselves by blanketing the whole issue with "everyone should yield".

I guess what we need is some consensus on who should yield and when. The REAL issue is the lack or proper cycling facilities on this crossing and the lack of respect cyclists and pedestrians seem to get in "planning" these bridges.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

NSMBA Vancouver Bike Swap

Here is a good way of getting rid of some of that old gear and helping a good cause. The NSMBA is the North Shores foremost trail maintenance group. They are tireless in their efforts to promote mountain biking and trail access on the Shore. This Swap is in conjunction with the Vancouver Bike Expo so while your buying some recyled equipment you can also drool over the new stuff.


2007 Race Season

Last year I decided that my kids were old enough that I could get back a small portion of my life. I bought a new mountain bike and decided to get back riding with the "boys" on the weekends. So we rode. Life was good. And then one of my buddies talked me into doing the Test of Metal last year. He told me that there was stiff competition -- to register-- and that I had to register at high noon on the first of January. Well an number of computer glitches, and family commitments conspired against me and I registered a full 7 hours after registration opened. Yes I was 150th on the waiting list. The race had sold out in a record 4 hours and 28 minutes. That's 800 spots! I didn't get confirmation that I was in until a week before the race. That made training tough.

This year is different! At 6:00 on January first I was ready for the toughest part of the Test -- registering. This year not even family disasters, or having my parents in town for the holidays could stop me from registering (although they almost did). Once I got to the registration page a few quick refreshes and some typing, a credit card number and I was in. Just like that. no problem this year, in fact I'm number 12. That's the best showing that I can hope for though. The Test of Metal and this years press release tells a story of another record. This year the test sold out in 48 minutes! What is going on? The race is a grueling 67 km. It's 3 -4 hours people.

The good news is that I'm in, the bad news is I need to start training.

Other races that look interesting this year are the other two races that, with the Test of Metal, make up the Hell of a Series, which are the Rat Race and the Gear Jammer. Depending on family vacation schedules I hope to make both of theses races.

Finally there is the infamous North Shore Ripper Series. Last year James of Obsession Bikes and the NSMBA crew did such a great job to make these fun events that I can't miss them this year.

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