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.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Last Friday, February the 15th, I had just bought a coffee at the St Lawrence Market, found a free table, and there was a copy of Now Magazine on it face up. I haven’t read Now Magazine for months – although people do say it is an alternative voice. If it had been one of those 10 Best Tacos in TO – or some similar inane headline, I would have folded it up and set it aside – or maybe used it as a makeshift tablecloth. But the headline was: Crisis? What Crisis? Toronto Abandons Its Homeless People.

I sat down and opened up the paper which randomly happened to be page 9 and the headline Hiding In Plain Sight and then I saw By Greg Cook – and I was like – Greg! I’ve known Greg for 8 years – we run into each other from time to time – I just saw him in Kensington Market in January after – what – 18 months? So I read the article twice, and the accompanying ones on the subject of homelessness in Toronto by other writers. I had to pause to reflect.

On Tuesday, I went to see Greg at The Sanctuary Mission on Charles Street. When I saw him in January he’d said stop by, so Tuesday was the day, around noon, just before the lunch sitting. I told him the story I’ve just shared with you – that it was as if I was supposed to read his story. And I suppose I also wanted to make some sense of it. To ask him – what should we do? It’s not like it’s a new story of course, but when you read something from somebody you’ve known for years – it touches you in a way that maybe an article by someone you don’t know doesn’t.

In particular, I wanted to ask him about the closing paragraph: “Toronto needs a housing plan that ensures the building of thousands of units for people who need them the most.” “Anything less will mean more needless suffering and death.” So, I wondered. Toronto doesn’t have a Housing plan?

Greg explained about how housing plans had waned – first on the federal level in the 1980s, then provincially in the 1990s, leaving the city to deal with non-market type housing – which it apparently doesn’t have the finances and tax raising capability to do.

Though the Federal government have announced new initiatives, these haven’t come down the pipeline yet – and meanwhile, publically owned land close to TTC stations – the best opportunity for social and affordable housing – are being eyed up for more private development. How is that even possible? I enquired. How could City Planners be involved in such a thing when its so obvious that we have a homeless crisis, a housing crisis? – and not just for the lower classes, but increasingly, as Greg pointed out to me, the middle classes, and millennials.

What is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good – 

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

We spoke about the situation for a few minutes. But the so called rich people – they’re suffering too, I said. They’ve lost their hearts, their humanity. Greg pointed out that though that was the case, the suffering – or the price being paid for it – was falling disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable. I told him I’d think it over and email him a response. 

Greg suggested I check out a book he’d recently read from the Toronto Public Library – The Creative Destruction of New York City: Engineering the City For The Elite. And there’s the thing – right there in the title –  the suggestion that it’s not an inevitable result of invisible or unforeseen forces – but an engineering. 

I cycled down to the City Hall branch where a copy was available. I didn’t notice the birds but Nathan Phillips Square was looking pretty desolate. A city worker was throwing salt on the vast swathes of concrete. I noticed my bike really needs a wash as I parked it on solid ice by the bike racks – a far cry from the clean bike on all those summer mornings parking at the same spot. As I was looking for The Creative Destruction I saw another book in the same section; Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live In The New Urban America. I checked them both out. 

(Here’s an extract from The Creative Destruction: “Local government, the real estate industry, large corporations and banking giants; in the game they call “production of the city”, what else is the city if not a giant machine for making money?

The consensus is so powerful that it invalidates “any alternative vision of the purpose of local government or the meaning of community.”

We are becoming nothing but consumers of an urban experience that has been entirely designed and packaged by these powerful players.”) – Sound familiar?

I’ve seen Greg out on the streets over the years – as part of his outreach work – checking in on people living out on the streets, asking them how they’re doing – if they need any help – and what’s available to them if they do. This is like survival territory – that they’re going to be okay for the next 24 to 48 hours – not a long term solution – not the breakthrough solution that’s going to radically change their circumstances for the better. That they’re going to live out the next couple of days! But can you imagine what it means – just to have that human experience of someone on the lookout for you, caring about you, and recognising you as a human being when most people just seem to have abandoned you?

What’s my responsibility now?

Mandeep.