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.

Breaking Old Chains

Last Saturday the 6th day of April was the first warm day of spring – a mix of sun and cloud and 14°C.  When I arrived just before 3pm, the shop was busy with all the stands occupied. First things first though, I poured in some water and put the kettle on. Sam and John were busy helping out people at the stands. Brad had just arrived to take over from John. Kathleen was up at the front desk, answering questions about parts and accessories, and cashing people out with their purchases and donations. It had been busy – the racks at the front of the shop had empty spaces and Kathleen said three bikes had been sold since noon.

The coffee was brewed so I poured myself a cup and went up to the front of the shop. Just then someone came in with a bike. Her name was Nora and she’d never been to bikeSauce before. I pointed out the signs hanging down from the roof. “That’s the lowdown.” I explained that bikeSauce is a DIY bike shop, 100% volunteer run and we would do what can to help her, but that she was the mechanic. She was fine with that.

A couple of stands had just come free so we got her bike up onto one of them. She was from out west – west Toronto that is (Yonge Street being the marker of what marks east & west) and had somehow heard of bikeSauce after looking up Bike Pirates, a west end bike collective similar but not identical in scope to bikeSauce. Nora didn’t have a specific issue she needed to address, but wanted to get her bike back in shape after the winter. 

I suggested that she check the wear on her chain. Often I find that people don’t realise the significance of taking care of their bicycle chain, of keeping it clean and lubed and what it means for the good functioning of their bike and the enjoyment of their ride. Replacing the chain when it reaches 75% wear extends the life of the cassette and the chain rings (crankset) of your bike – which is good because those are more expensive to replace than the chain.

I handed her the chain wear tool from the tool board, and the reading she got from the tool was 100% wear – time for an immediate replacement. Nora had a 7 speed system and her new chain – in stock – came in at just under $14. I handed her the chain breaker tool and showed her how to use it. “Keep the old chain so you can measure out the length your new one should be alongside it”, I said.

There was a new visitor to the shop so I went to say hello and see how she was doing. Evelyn had been to bikeSauce and wanted to get some feedback on her brakes and do some general maintenance. We got her bike on the stand, a green 9 speed Norco hybrid bike with disc brakes. Both Sam and Brad came over when they had a chance and checked out her brakes. Avoid touching the rotors, Brad suggested. Apparently the oil from our skin, if transferred to the rotors, can contaminate the brake pads. Otherwise, her braking system got the green light. 

With that established, I handed Evelyn the chain wear tool and she mentioned that her bike had been serviced in bike shop in the last couple of years. She dropped the tool into her chain and the reading was an immediate replacement too. In a typical bike shop, she could hand her bike to the shop staff, who would check the wear for her, install the replacement and charge for the parts and service. But here at bikeSauce Nora and Evelyn were the mechanics of their own bikes, and we the volunteers, are more like facilitators and guides, giving suggestions for where the visitors to the shop can find tools and parts, or how to go about dealing with an issue on their bike, to other suggestions beyond what we do at bikeSauce ourselves.

This different way of being can feel a little bit strange at first, especially in a society where we are so used to being served and paying for it and not being encouraged to question things beyond just the surface. The only real considerations we might have are whether the service provider is competent, and that they are not ripping us off.

But at bikeSauce there is a certain bravery involved – since you the patron are the one who decides what you are going to donate – if anything – while the volunteers are coming in and giving of their time and life to help you. Why would they do that? Perhaps when we really come face to face with each other, there is the subversive implication that a different world is possible, and each person responds to that uniquely.

It was past four thirty and the shop was still busy, with Brad and Sam continuing to make the rounds. Somebody was trying to pry loose a tight bolt. A courier who had come in with a kickstand issue was looking for degreaser and some rags. A lady had come in with a bike without a front brake, ripped cable housing and frayed cable. A couple of people were in looking to buy a bike. There were other people in doing repairs and I never got to find out what their bicycle issues were.

At some point during the rush Arnault had come in to help. Now it was approaching five and the shop was quieter and more relaxed and he was sitting on a stool by the door. Sam had gone and I was about to follow. I fetched my Raleigh and the sunlight was flooding the inside of the shop. I stood there and faced it.  It felt good to be able to take in the April sunlight with that angle. Though Nora had gone, Evelyn was still cleaning off her drivetrain. I knew she’d be in good hands with Brad and Arnault. She said bye as I made my way to the door. I never got to tell her that she should wipe that new chain with degreaser to get the shipping grease off it, or to keep her new chain clean and lube it regularly. Maybe there’s only so much you can say in a given period of time else it might be overwhelming. 

bikeSauce to me seems more like a process than an event. That becomes apparent when you come back again and again. I think it’s worth it. I hope that by starting up this blog again you’ll feel inspired to come visit and experience it like a process too. There’s something special about growing in community and the great thing is we do that every time we invite each other and maybe even more when we accept.



Abandoned Bicycles in Toronto

The other day I was walking along the north side of Dundas street, heading east towards Ossington Avenue, and I started noticing a whole bunch of locked up but seemingly abandoned bikes, a whole bunch of them. It was a strange sight.

There always seem to be derelict bicycles dotted around the city, but there was a whole cluster of them here, and when I crossed over Ossington there were even more there.

Who knows how long these bikes have been there? They seem pretty conspicuous now that the spring weather is coming in. Pretty soon the council are bound to notice these – maybe somebody will phone in, and the bikes will get notice of impending removal tags and then be gone – who knows where? Perhaps they’ll be donated to Bike Pirates or Bike Chain or another Toronto Bike Collective. Hopefully they are not going to end up in landfill!

Different people locked them up and walked away. Different reasons, different stories, that we can only guess at.

I decided to take some pictures – an art project. What are these telling us? Look out for more of these in the coming weeks.

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.

Bicycles Made in Canada: Time to Make Things Locally Again?

“How about building our own Made in Canada bicycle frames?” That’s something that Alberto and I have been having the last couple of weeks. Wouldn’t it be cool to actually sell our own single speeds, with a slacker geometry and wider tyres using a 4130 chromoly frame and fork?

The first response to the idea was a general no – it would be cheaper and easier to buy the frames from China. We don’t have the equipment for frame building, and we don’t have the people with skills i.e. the frame builders to undertake such a task. Plus wouldn’t it be too expensive? The usual reaction in the minds of all of us is, against any change.

So, the first thing we did was go online and start scoping out the prices for Single Speed frames from the bicycle suppliers – Lambert, Damco, Babco etc (The Fixie Sniper photographed below).

But it became apparent pretty quickly that there are some major limitations on their offerings. Non removable free wheels? No braze on or bridges to take on racks or mudguards? Tyre widths limited to 35mm, if we’re lucky? These are all features which we both agreed are important for a low maintenance commuter bicycle in Toronto.

So next on the approach was to have a look for frames direct from China. Things opened up a little bit with this approach. We could find frames with the right drop out and eyelets that would enable us to put together a Single Speed with the capability to take on racks, fenders, bottle cages and wider tyres. At twice the price of the stuff we’d seen on the Canadian supplier sites.

But still we’d be missing that kiss of life you get from having something designed and made close to home, from someone you know, who follows the ethos of quality products that are dependable, long lasting and fairly priced, both competitively and from the standpoint of costs.

(This 2019 Brodie Remus may be designed in Canada, but like most mass production bikes, it’s made in the Far East).

Of course, we still don’t know if anything of this is feasible. But as we have started our inquiry, Im sure we will get to the point of being able to make better qualified decisions. At the same time, we are going through tremendous changes in our relationship as citizens with each other, as the money supply flows ever more quickly to the richest in society. It’s up to all of us to challenge that status quo. To make things well and to know who we are making things for has been a valuable human quality over millennia, and is one which we should be loathe to forget completely.

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!