The Power of Volunteering Commitment

On Thursday night (March 28th) we had the second strategy meeting at bikeSauce. I had a feeling that the turnout was going to be something of a challenge; the novelty of a first meeting had brought together ten of us, but with a second meeting novelty begins to turn into commitment and commitment isn’t perceived to be easy – either too hard or too scary.

As it turned out, there were three of who turned up – Ned, Geoff and I – and that was pretty good as far as I was concerned. It made the meeting go faster – we even finished early – and we touched the core of what the meeting was about; improving communications within and outside bikeSauce, and winning new volunteers for the cause who stay the distance.

Most people think of bikeSauce as being a bike shop, and it often flies under the radar that it is as much of a volunteer shop as it is a bike shop. Everyone at bikeSauce is a volunteer and is there because they want to be – it’s a 100 volunteer run organisation. There are some really dedicated people who keep the enterprise running – but the fact is, every organisation needs new people, new ideas, new challenges. It’s a two way street.

Artists, graphic designers, screen printers, writers, computer systems developers, advocates, strategists, people creating the magical experience of communal eating would all be welcomed with open arms. I see so many tremendous opportunities but it amazes me at times how the people who could make a meaningful difference have not connected yet.

But as the saying goes, if it was so easy, everyone would be doing it. Maybe because it’s hard to spot the opportunity is what makes the people who do stand out – after all, it says a lot about a person’s character that they’re going to do something even though they’re not being told and/or paid to do it. Solidarity still exists as does sacrifice. Both of those have mattered tremendously in our leaps in humanity and they matter tremendously now. As much as we may need it, radical change is rarely ever wanted or funded. Stand out now.

Spring Bike Maintenance

Saturday morning started off brisk – minus 7 degrees, plus probably something of a windchill, but the sun was out and the ale was so blue and so beautiful. I set off from home with the two pairs of Jagwire brake pads I bought earlier in the week. The destination: bikeSauce. The mission: replace the break pads, brake cables and housing.

The ride was pleasant. The streets were pretty quiet. A lot of potholes but almost all the ice banks had gone. Still a lot of riders haven’t been tempted to get their bikes on the road – so there was still some of the novelty and acknowledgment of passing other cyclists on the route.

I got into bikeSauce just before 12.30pm. Jessie was there with a couple of people in the shop. The man was cashing out, while the woman – her name was Ashley – had her yellow mountain bike on the stand and a bottom bracket challenge in her hands.

I put the Devinci up on the stand and made a cup of tea. A man and his son turned up – they were looking for a road bike for the teenage son – maybe so he could make a trip and tour around Niagara with some friends. Are you sure you need a road bike? was the general gist. It seemed he was set on that so there was the usual suggestions – try another day, check out Craigslist, consider buying a new bike and here are some suggested bikes and local bike shops.

Then with tea drunk and conversation over, there were a couple of bikes sitting out front with Ready to Test Ride labels taped onto the saddles. Might as well test these out, I said to Jessie. I was heading for the door with the Trek City hybrid and pass Sam on the way in. – Going for a test ride. – Enjoy

The Trek passed and Sam and I came up with a price – $120 – priced to sell. I took the Giant Mountain bike out but the saddle was too low so I came pack within a minute. Not sure about the shifting I said. You take it out. Sam raised the saddle and went out with it for a couple of minutes. It came back a fail – lots of skipping and the chain dropped he said. I filled out the comments in the checklist and Sam took it back down to the basement.

Now it was time to work on my own bike. The rear cables and housing hadn’t been changed for three years and there wasn’t a rush this Saturday afternoon. Someone put on some tunes, Jessie said so I went up to the computer and put on She Bangs The Druns. It sounded very springlike. The Stone Roses, Jessie said, have a question, half a declaration. In either case, he liked it. Then Albert came in at 3pm, “covering for Brad.”

There was a certain point in the afternoon when the sun was coming in and everyone was in the shop, working on some part of the process, not complete but somehow perfect, and I thought, there’s no other place, no other situation I’d rather be in right now than this one. It just seemed so perfect.

Raleigh Bicycles and the Missing Middle: A Strange Social Analogy?

Being Bike Friendly at VIA Rail?

With spring only a week away, I thought it was time to start making plans for a bikepacking trip in May. My trips to and in Québec the last couple of years have been absolute highlights of the year. One of the great benefits I’ve been able to enjoy in 2017 and 2018 was VIA Rail’s checked baggage service for at least one train each day for all stations between Toronto and Montréal. Basically, you could turn up with your bike, pay the luggage agent $25 and they would take your bike and load it onto the luggage car with bike racks and return it to you at your destination. A bike valet like no other.

(Tips courtesy of Bicycling magazine issue 1, 2019)

Well it turns out, no longer. I came across the change while looking into dates online and so, to get an insight on what was going on, I cycled down to Union Station and spoke to a lady at the VIA rail service desks. Apparently there have been cutbacks – not enough people were using the checked baggage service – and an absolute gem of a service has been reduced.

After listening to my query and feeling my disappointment, the lady playing the role of a ticket agent suggested I write to the company president to express my views and any request. So that’s something I feel I have to do, lest they cut the service altogether, as apparently happened to the Toronto to Ottawa service. With 6000 km of what’s considered the world’s greatest cycling network at stake, there’s no way that communication is not going to be soon rolling its way to Vélo Québec of which I am a member, and to Yves the Via Rail president If you’re in Toronto, I say use it man, use it, don’t lose it!

Update: 15/03/2019 – What they didn’t mention at Union Station was that VIA have ordered new bicycle friendly trains for the Windsor to Québec City corridor – though these aren’t scheduled to start arriving til 2022!)

Raleigh and the Missing Middle?

In other bike related stuff, I made a pit stop visit to a local bike shop in order to pick up a waterproof saddle cover on clearout, as well as the chance to maybe shoot the breeze and the conversation swung round towards Raleigh Bicycles, which this particular shop had been carrying for a number of years. I had actually come oh so close to buying the Raleigh Furley in 2015 and the Raleigh Roper in 2016, two bikes which Raleigh don’t make any more, much to the shop’s chagrin.

(The now discontinued Raleigh Furley & Raleigh Roper of 2016/2017 above).

Those were two unique bikes that offered something really different from the market norm – good chromoly steel frames and forks, the flexibility to set up as Single Speed, 1X or 2X, wide 35mm+ tyres and coming in around the $1000 CAD mark. In an age when practically every decent bike on offer sub $1000 is aluminium (often with carbon fork) – these Raleighs were something different alright and the Roper just the bike I’d take home today.

Well, the view from the LBS is that apparently Raleigh North America were not making satisfactory numbers for their parent company Accell plc in Europe – which meant new management being parachuted into North American operations, some kind of business unit separation/restructuring and them squeezing out the middle class of the bicycle range for the high end Tamlands and Willards and the low end department store type bikes. It’s something of a bizarre analogy/reflection of society’s hollowing out of the middle. So yeah man, they axed the middle, and this shop is all about the middle. They made the choice for us and we could be seeing Raleigh as a brand disappearing from North America, a hundred year brand. It’s no fun watching them twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns.

I paid a visit to the Raleigh USA and Raleigh Canada website with the question – where’s the innovation? And it’s looking pretty austere – so there’s another letter to be written and sent.

Does anyone know how to realise that they have something precious and it needs to be tended because those are the things that are worth fighting for regardless of the result? What’s the Strategy?


The Proof is in The Now

I haven’t spoken with Greg since I met him a couple of weeks ago at The Sanctuary. I’ve been reflecting on our conversation and I’d like to offer something more concrete in our next exchange. I read through The Creative Destruction of New York Citybook. The contents weren’t particularly surprising, but it did connect how many of the pieces fit together and reinforce each other. Certain visions of the city have it easy, it says, while others don’t really stand a chance. But there was also a reminder in the book that the elite city is a policy choice, not some inevitable God given mandate. 

So when I do respond to Greg, I’d like to help, I’d like to make progress. There are so many people working so hard and achieving so little. I’ve already made the choice that homelessness and unaffordable housing in Toronto (Montreal, London, Manchester, Paris….) in 2019 is a disgrace. What appeal is there to accept disgrace?

You wonder – how are we even in this situation anyway? Surely because we as a collective are choosing it, in our vain attempts to fulfil our self-deceptions. After all, we know who have the abilities to solve it if were devoted to solving it. Again, it’s an utter disgrace that we’re at this point. 

There are causes and there are solutions and there’s a lot of confusion. It’s not that we are just confused about the symptoms of homelessness or unaffordable housing; too many people are confused about what’s at the root; confused about greed, confused about what it means to be human, confused about the goal of being human (to be unconditional lovers?). As much as we claim that we are sophisticated and civilised as a species, doesn’t it seem that actually were (still? more?) primitive and barbarous? The saying is that man’s glory is that he can rise above the animal but that man’s tragedy is that he can fall below the animal. Do you really want to be on earth for 80 years and at the end of it, show that you used that time to fall below the animal?

I think we need to be clear about what the goal is – end homelessness now, end unaffordable housing now, end greed now  – and do we need to be clearer about why we need to do that? Evidently it’s still not clear enough for most people. You’d have thought with 80,000 years of human experience behind us, we’d have figured out that death is inevitable and that greed by its nature is addictive and insatiable and a sickness – so why are we still letting greed set the rules? Obviously there’s a lot of opposition to changing that regime, but I don’t know if there’s anyway around that; do you? It seems like it’s a fight that needs to be fought.  So maybe the fight – and the reason it’s being fought – needs to be made clearer to everyone?