Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday’s Debate.

Peddle Power, Battery Power … or Both?

I run across a lot of different bicycles in my ever continuing quest to conquer the internerd. I’ve seen it all.

3-wheeled motorcycles (, one wheeled motorcycles (, functional personal hovercrafts (, bamboo bikes ( and a plethora of electric bikes.

And while all these innovations are fantastic, it is the last one there that I want to focus on today. This week I saw a very interesting e-bike. The Globe and Mail reports that:
the global sales of e-bikes, which are powered by batteries and can be recharged using a standard electric outlet, reached 23 million in 2008, with 90 per cent of them sold in China – Data derived from Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports). That same source predicts the global market will more than double by 2012. Granted, only 730,000 of those 2008 bikes were sold in North America, but sales could quadruple by 2011.

Now, e-bikes in general have been on my radar for a while, but this week I saw something downright crazy. Or at least I thought it was crazy.

The Emcycle was posted on it’s the first fully contained electric bike that this imaginary blogger has ever seen. It’s got doors. A roof. A trunk. Seatbelts. Brake lights. And … a cup holder!

It really got me ruminating about the electric bike phenomena.

The advantages of the electric bike are obvious:
- Less exertion;
- Consistent speed (in Ontario, most top out at 32kph);
- User friendly (no gear shifting necessary);
- Appealing to the novice rider;
- And lastly, no need for a shower when you get to work!

The disadvantages are a little more complex, and are the real reason I wouldn’t get one (as opposed to just hating the e-bikes because they aren’t cool with the kids)
- Battery pack is both finite, and contains some hazardous chemicals;
- Extra plastic (for the fairings, body etc.) prove to be less than environmentally friendly;
- Maintenance becomes problematic with the higher level of mechanization;
- The costs can be prohibitive (if you are cheap like me that is. I mean, a new e-bike can cost you less than a hybrid bike does these days. But nothing is cheaper than Herschel, the single speed Skoda Rapido my friend Kevin gave me); and
- Lastly, some lady almost ran me over on one this summer. And while I understand that she is not characteristic of all e-bikers, I still habour some resentment …

So, what’s your take? You digging the e-bike vibe? Or are you a purist (Fixie riders, please – no need to respond)?

Lemme know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Robot and A Music Review

I made this robot a long time ago in MS Paint. It's the only 'design' program on my computer and I am too lazy to download anything. It has no arms. Ta da.

Mini Music Review

Noah and the Whale
Album: The First Days of Spring
Released: August 31, 2009

This is the first album I have heard from Noah and the Whale. But apparently, it is their second undertaking. I have yet to listen to the first. I think I lack the courage.

The album makes me want to lock myself in a rented room. Once there, I’d drink until I almost pass out.

I’d put on The First Days of Spring.

I’d put it on repeat.

Then, I’d just lay there. Let the music wash over me. Listen to the words.

I’d first relish the sadness. I’d weep during “Our Window” and “I Have Nothing”. I’d be able to relate to the pain. “My Broken Heart” would carry me deeper.

Then, at some point, maybe the 20th spin – or the 40th spin, the instrumental tracks will play. They’ll sandwich the song “Love of the Orchestra” – and I’ll pick my head up, shake out the cobwebs, and amble over to my hotplate to boil water for coffee. My eyes will sting. My head will hurt. My heart will still be bleeding. But, as the songs roll on, I’ll start to feel better. I’ll start to listen.

The quicker cadence of “Stranger” will energize my broken body a little. Maybe I’ll open the curtains to see what time of day it is.

The coffee will be ready.

I’ll maybe sit down and slowly drink it. No sugar or cream.

“Blue Skies” plays. I take a good look outside now. It’s gray. But there’s promise in those clouds. “Slow Glass” gets me out of my worn and shabby chair.

By the time “My Door is Always Open” plays, I miss the last half of it. I’ve dressed, and left – slamming the door behind me. I’ve decided to start over. I’ve decided to get better – to get happy.

Get Noah and the Whale’s First Days of Spring here

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I am sorry that my dog ate your dog.

Today I am guilt-ridden, ashamed and saddened.

My dog attacked a neighbour’s dog last night. It was unprovoked and sickening. It wasn’t a normal dog reaction, where there is mutual barking and no actual contact. My dog tore into this little dog and clamped down. I had to physically pry him off.

It was terrible during the attack, and worse when it was over.
The poor little thing limped away. Its nose bloodied. And although I am sure I am anthropomorphizing, I saw a bewildered look upon his face. He had no idea why he was just bitten.

I tied my dog to a tree and tried to get close to the little guy to see how he was doing. He was walking well, and panting heavily, but looked like he would be ok. Then I had to address the owner. He was in shock. Sheer shock. Of course I spouted all manner of apologies – all heartfelt and sincere. It was very difficult. I gave him my cell number and asked that he call as soon as he heard from the after-hours veterinarian.

Then I had to turn and face my dog. He seemed to understand that something happened to make me very mad. But it just didn’t seem like he got that trying to kill a little dog was wrong. I pulled his leash tight, making him heel very close and I quickly walked home.

When we got back it became apparent that the small dog had been so scared it defecated on my dog. Which meant he needed a bath. The whole process was strained because my anger continually bubbling to the surface as I washed and verbally chastised the dog. I knew he didn’t understand what I was saying, but I felt better getting it out.

K was just as livid about the whole thing as I was. We tried to figure out where we went wrong. What we could do. We both agreed that the dog is now a wild card and that freedoms must be taken away. He’ll require heightened monitoring, additional training, and can never be afforded another opportunity to make the same mistake. The muzzle will be back out.

When we went to bed, all we could think about was the other dog. My guilt had a firm grip on my mind. Though I had fancied myself to be a ‘good dog owner’ and an authoritative leader, I now had significant doubts. Have the tug-of-war sessions and wrestling all given the dog the impression that his behaviour is acceptable? Am I to blame for this aggressive attitude? Have I reinforced this behaviour? I am awash with the guilt of this catastrophe.

I talked to the owner today. His dog will be fine. He has puncture wounds and bruising - and in my opinion is very lucky. Now I need to work to make things right. Both with the owner of the little dog, my wife, and my own dog. I hope I can make this right.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Join the Winter Biking Militia -

Biking to and from work everyday is one of the most rewarding experiences that a mindless worker bee can have. The mud on my work pants. The sweet smell of dirty bus exhaust fumes. The disdain hurled at you by uncaring motorists. The rain and subsequent skunkstripe (even though I have a damn fender!). Flat tires, broken brake lines, and signs that jump into your path – insidious, ambushing, sharp edged signs that send you ass over teakettle and ruin your front wheelset.

But seriously, there’s crap you’ll have to deal with, but the ride gets the blood moving, clears the cobwebs that formed the night before (or during the work day) and lets you think a little bit about what’s got to get done when you hit your destination. Even more importantly, biking is good exercise, requires no external fuel source, connects you with the city and frees you from a rigid bus schedule (and the exorbitant fees that OC Transpo is charging) or a reliance on your car.

I bike to work. All year. Spring, summer, fall and yes, winter. It’s a small feat. Some people think it’s a big deal, but really, winter riding is the same drive as my summer commute. Just a little colder.

Ok – sometimes a lot colder, sometimes so cold it causes “reverse elephantitis” (did you know that actual elephantitis is caused by a parasitic worm?).

Mostly, it’s fun. And with so few people doing it, you certainly feel a sense of accomplishment. So, while I am no expert, I thought it might be useful to post a few tips I’ve learned over the years. Hope that they help to make your experience safer and more enjoyable. If not, you can’t sue me, I’m imaginary!

Matt’s Winter Biking tips:

1) Be hyper-aware

Car drivers aren’t really expecting to see you. They have blindspots, cellphones, screaming kids in the back and a thousand other preoccupations. It’s your responsibility to be aware of these drivers – to anticipate their actions and respond accordingly. Keep your eyes moving. Stay alert, stay present and stay safe.

2) Be visible

This tip is an extension of #1. Many drivers don’t expect to see bikes on the road. So you have to make sure they see you. Proper lighting, and if possible reflective clothing will help.

Stay out of drivers’ blindspots, and approach intersections carefully. Make eye contact with drivers at intersections. Just because you have the right of way, doesn’t mean you are going to get it.

3) Stay warm (but not too warm)

It’s winter – you have to stay warm. And you have to stay dry. So, stay warm and dry. Simple huh? You’ll need to test drive some of your gear to get the right mix. I layer my clothes. That way I can add or remove as the weather changes.

Usually I wear a hoodie underneath a thin poly zippered jacket on days between -5 and -15 celcius. My snowboard gloves do the trick on my hands, and I double up on socks to keep the kickers warm.

Some people favour a moisture wicking layer against their skin, followed by an insulating layer and then a water/wind repelling layer to finish it off. You’ll figure it out, but only practice is going to help you here.

4) Types of riding

There are really three types of riding in winter. Wet riding, dry riding and icy/snowy riding.

Wet riding usually occurs after a snowfall. The plows and salt trucks have been out and the roads are mostly clear, but a slushy brown sludge will likely be found on the shoulder of the road (right where you are gonna be riding). Wet riding means that your brakes will be slower to stop you, and you’re going to get a bit wet. Dress appropriately and keep your speed in check.

Dry riding is usually accompanied by colder weather. There is less precipitation when it is colder. The roads are more likely to have been salted and cleared and the road itself will have a bone gray look to them. This is ‘money-shot’ riding weather. It’s fast, visibility is good, and you aren’t going to slip around on the white stuff. But, it’s cold. So bundle up.

Snowy/Icy riding. This is a whole chapter all on its own. Regardless of the amount of snow, you need to be smart. These riding conditions wreak havoc on motorists, and it’s less likely that they will anticipate bikers on the road. Couple that with poor braking conditions and you’re fair game to get t-boned.

In addition, the riding can be heavy slogging. My advice is to take it slow. Break your own trails - don't just follow car tire tracks as these often provides less grip than a trail you make on your own.

Keep your ass in the saddle. This is going to keep the bulk of your weight on the back tire. It’s like throwing bags of sand and salt in the back of your truck. It’s gonna give you a little more grip and keep that rear tire from spinning out.

It’s going to be slow going, but when you get to work 45 minutes ahead of your car driving buddies, you can rub it in a little.

5) Keep your shit straight

If you’re going to hit the streets, you’re going to need to understand a little about motion. In that snowy/icy weather, your brakes won’t be as effective as they are in dry conditions.

You’ll find that on icy surfaces, a quick pull of the front or back brakes will lock up a wheel and send you sliding. The same thing will happen when you try and make quick turns. In both cases, your momentum will continue forward as you fall. Slow down and anticipate when you will have to brake or turn.

Keep an eye out for icy patches. But ride with caution, a blanket of snow can easily cover up those patches.

I also like the ‘pontoon method’. Simply put, be ready to throw your feet and legs out (like pontoons) when you hit a slippery spot. You’ll be able to plant a foot and keep your ass from hitting the ground.

6) Maintain your bike

You have to love your bike. Love it or lose it. I love both Herschel and Lieberman and that love keeps them rolling.

Make sure your bike is in good working order. Brake and shifter cables can freeze. Ice and sludge can build up on rims and brake pads. I give Lieberman (my heavy duty commuter) a weekly bath and lube in the winter. It's important to have a well oiled chain, and lubricated cables - this will reduce rust on the chain and decrease frozen lines.

A little TLC each week means that I am sure things will function normally and I can rely on the bike to get me safely where I want to go.

I know there’s a million other tips for this kind of thing. Do you have any? Throw them in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday January 11, 2010
(Posted a day late ... it's how we roll)

Ahhhhhhhhh. What a terrific weekend.

K was out of town to do some shopping in Chicago. And by all accounts she had a fantastic time. It sounds like this will become an annual thing for her. And true to form, the girl was extremely thoughtful. She brought me back some sweet swag. Pants, a shirt and a sweater. All fit perfectly and complement my personality … I mean, a t-shirt with a pigeon on a pile of bikes wearing a bowler hat and smoking a cigarette? That’s me! You don’t know me, but if you did know me, you would know that’s me.

This image is from - a SanFran art collective.

So, while the cat was away, the mice … didn’t really play so much as dutifully work on getting things in order in the house.

With the basement renovations happening, it’s kind of hectic, so I used the opportunity to get some of our shit back in gear. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. This was a great weekend for me. All the cleaning helped me relax. I was hella stressed out last week, and needed to put things in order so that I could be calm … and chill. Sad really.

Hopefully this week will be more normal …

Today’s Minute Music Review:

John K. Samson’s City Route 85 EP

The Weakerthans. How awesome are you? So awesome that your songs have become immediate, and poignant, reminders of many events in my life.

These songs are bookmarks that snap me back to nervous first encounters, drunken nights in small apartments and foolish moments of love and win.

John K. Samson is the lead singer of The Weakerthans and has released his first solo effort in over a decade.

City Route 85 is a timid reminder of why we all loved The Weakerthans. The music is simple, lyrics beautiful, and the whole package is (relatable). The man is an intelligent and engaging storyteller. He’s reviving a lost art. Samson is our generation’s equivalent of a bard.

Over the next while, Samson intends to release a number of EPs that all tell stories of his home province’s roads. Keep an ear out –

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Intro

Well, as far as introductions go, you aren't gonna get much from me. This is going to just be a place where I dump thoughts.

It's 11am, plumbers are in the basement jackhammering away. I'm gonna try to squeeze in a nap - despite the noise.

Didn't sleep at all last night. Tossed and turned and couldn't slow my brain down.

It was one of those situations where events seem to conspire against you. A lot is going on, and my brain was trying to work them all out at the same time. It's a bottleneck.

As the night drew on, all I kept thinking was "If I fall asleep right now I'll get X hours of sleep". But that puts more pressure on me, and sleep became even more elusive.

Having all that time to ruminate does have hidden benefits. In the silence, I heard her hum in her sleep. A little song, just 6 or 7 notes. She says she hears music when she dreams. I feel like I got a little insight into them with that little song.