No More Business As Usual.

Last Tuesday evening I went to a meeting about lobbying city council to build a 4 km extension of a cycle lane on Bloor Street in Toronto’s west end. 4km of cycleway in 2019 sounds like such a puny demand but it’s also an indication of the level of consciousness that exists in Toronto that, as one of the more progressive city counsellors (who is a daily cycling commuter) put it, is a demand that is most likely to be rejected by council.

By the time I came out of the meeting, I’d been clearly reminded me of why I avoid them; the tactics, calculations, envy, ambition, the coldness, professionalism, manipulation, lack of sensitivity; all the alienation. The feeling that rather than toppling the status quo, you’re being disempowered and only strengthening it. Is it any wonder that most people disengaged long ago?

Now that’s not to say – well let’s not do anything, there’s no point, it all doom and gloom. I’m definitely not saying that. If there is a positive it is being reminded me of why the grassroots matters. To treat each person I meet for who they are – as friends, as neighbours, as authentic integrated individuals – not by how they can serve my interests.

We need to help each other to develop our understanding, to not be afraid of developing our critical faculties. If we’re not willing to wake up each morning with the realisation that today is an opportunity to grow and change as a person, then what’s the point? You’re already dead. Your just walking through the motions, a zombie, a dinosaur, the living dead.

Somehow it seems we’ve become so attached to things – ideas, opinions, beliefs, values. How are we going to listen to each other if we can’t let go of these? And if we’re not listening to each other, we don’t have much of a relationship do we?

So let’s discover the quality of our relationship. Is the need to understand (and necessity of change) a life or death situation for you or not?

Abandoned Bikes Series.

In case you missed it in a previous post, I’ve been taking some pictures of derelict bikes that are locked up all over Toronto. They are such an interesting reflection of urban decay – look out for more in the coming weeks.

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.

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?

Mandeep.

Over 23% Cycling Mode Share in Toronto (aka Great Aspirations)

Hello Polar Vortex!

Minus 17 degrees Celsius (add 10C on top of that for windchill) and snowy, salty, messy roads. A deep blue sky! Isn’t January a beautiful month to be alive and ride?!?

Great Aspirations.

Talking about beauty, what are our highest aspirations for the city we live in? For it to be a more equal city, a more affordable city, a more connected city, a cleaner city, a friendlier city? A city that helps us to realise our true (mostly hidden) potential? A city that is a very different arrangement from the one which plays its part in contributing to 26 people owning more wealth than the poorest 4,000,000,000?

Not everyone is going to share their highest aspirations. They’ll sound crazy! Not to mention the wounds and disappointment from them being shot down somewhere. But what the heck – when you’re with friends, isn’t sharing aspirations something worth doing – something to live for?

So the current mode share of cycling in Toronto is between 1 and 2%? Current. Today. January 2019. But time does not stand still. Change is inevitable. Toronto is not going to stay between 1 and 2%. The mode share in Vancouver is 6%, Copenhagen is like what, 23%? So those are a couple of targets to get us started on this aspiration trip. (Click on the link for a description of mode share in this snapshot from cycling in Germany).

So what would have to be true to get us to beat this 23% target for cycling mode share in Toronto? That’s what we need to start asking. What do we need to change in the way we’re doing things today? Ready or not, 23% is coming. So let’s go meet it.

Now we’re in the future, at 23% cycling mode share. Let’s start looking back, going in reverse. What did we do to get to 23%? What conversations did we have? What thinking did we change in ourselves and others? What truths did we let go of, so that they were replaced by new truths? Wasn’t it interesting what happened when we somehow got together and became committed to forming a strategy?

Don’t forget to tune in next week!

Reasons to Avoid Good Strategy

With the past weekend’s winter storm, the snowy slushy streets (picture by Kensington Market)…

and the minus -24C nights with frostbite in minutes warnings, it’s a good time to practice my study (dare I say, hobby?) of looking into strategies. Good and bad strategy.

I recently borrowed a book called The elite bicycle : portraits of great marques, makers and designers at the Toronto Public Library. Despite the title (Elite??) there were some good examples of companies that have designed good strategies – like Brooks Saddles, Selle Italia, and Reynolds Tubing. There were some companies that would fit right in with that company – Brompton Bicycles for example? But I also thought of others that really could have been there once but have lost there way – been hampered by lacking good strategy. Raleigh Bicycles?

If the starting point, the foundation of good strategy involves identifying and naming underlying malady or critical obstacle, a lot of people are going to get squeamish. It’s tempting to avoid that kind of painful truth, and maybe even invent a less offensive one. Which obviously does not set the grounding for good strategy!

I’m going to be going into a monthly meeting at BikeSauce in a couple of weeks time to talk about strategy. Of course, I want to explore all the compelling reasons for developing good strategy.

But advocating radical change? I have a feeling that there are going to be uncomfortable moments, that there’s going to be fear and resistance and some not so nice things are going to show up, things we thought would not be in a good place like BikeSauce. In fact, even in an organisation and group of people who are trying to make a positive difference, there are going to be some people wishing that the subject of strategy didn’t come up at all.

Rather than let them lurk in the shadows and sabotage progress, I‘m planning to acknowledge the opposition straight out. I‘m calling it the Reasons to avoid good Strategy, and it goes like this:

Reasons to Avoid Good Strategy

Strategy sounds like something organised, what corporations do, and generals, war. It sounds evil man! And square!

Discipline, cohesion and uncomfortable truth? I dunno man. I kind of got used to the the comfort and convenience of taking the easy way out, where we can all nod our heads paying lip service, ya know?

Hey, aren’t we North Americans? Aren’t we entitled to skip pesky nuisances like strategy and let the rest of the world pick up the tab for our screw ups?

Sure, some people say that not wanting to speak differently unless you know it will go well, and not moving unless you’re guaranteed success is a pathetic and incredibly cowardly approach to life – but there’s a kind of fatalistic beauty in not standing up, in not even bothering at all. Right?

What will happen to the beautiful poses I’ve been perfecting so long? I’d be naked – naked without them!

It’s terrifying. I’m too scared to.

But then where’s our deference/contribution to the Status Quo If we took such a proactive approach?

How can I get over all I know? All the facts and the figures I learned years ago?

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. I may well find out what’s missing at the meeting! But I hope that whoever is there is going to look back on it one day and say – it was *^*#^*! great to have been in that meeting where we could really open up and say how it is and still be accepted. It was such a relief!

Next Week: Reasons to Embrace Good Strategy!