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Gears Bike Shop is always hiring mechanics. Contact kevin@gearsbikeshop.com

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Arrogant Cyclists give Cyclists a Bad Rep

Just moments ago I was nearly hit by a cyclist who had the arrogance to think I was at fault. I was standing on a walking path in a park and giving directions to two lost strangers.

We were not blocking the path and there was plenty of space for the cyclist to go around us and still be well on the path. The path was paved and approx. 14 feet wide (more than enough space for a garbage truck to drive on).

So the cyclist had plenty of space. More than enough.

So why did he make a big fuss and claim we were "blocking the path"?

The incident got me thinking about why cyclists have such a bad reputation amongst car drivers and even amongst pedestrians we have a bad rep.

And I think it really comes down to arrogance and a sense of entitlement (and those cyclists who ignore safety don't help our reputations either).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Yikes! Sam Reynolds Mountain Biking

This video is scary to watch. You half expect to see him fall to his death. Fortunately he does not, but still. Wow!

The video is from October 2015 so I am a bit late sharing it, but oh well.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Martyn Ashton's Bike Stunts

Move over other bicycle stunt riders, it is Martyn Ashton's turn to shine. Along with friends like Danny Macaskill, who may be familiar with already from past posts I have done about Danny Macaskill.



Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trippy Bicycle with Lights and Other Bizarre Extras

A friend and I were in Leaside at a shopping plaza and saw this bicycle outside of a South St Burger place. The bicycle was covered in accessories, lights and lots of bizarre weirdness. I am not sure what half of the stuff on the bicycle was for, I can only guess. If you know whose bicycle this belongs to please let them know and maybe they can leave some comments below explaining all the stuff they have on their rather trippy weird bicycle.





Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why do people put up with shoddy bicycle assembly?

By Smokey Dymny,
of the Quadra Bike School

Edited by Charles Moffat,
The Bicycle Mechanic

Just before I closed up my shop on Quadra Island, B.C. for the Christmas break a young woman brought me a $3000+ downhill bike to straighten the derailleur hangar she had bent for the second time. (The bike was three months old.) She said the first time it had been straightened by the shop in Squamish, B.C., which had originally sold her the bike. Now she was living on our island off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

I cautioned that I could only straighten the derailleur if the back wheel was true, and she agreed I could true it if necessary. (A minor truing usually takes less than 15 minutes.) Now, this wheel was actually laterally true, but the spoke tension was terrible. Half the spokes on the drive side were close to the correct tension, and the alternate spokes were drastically low. After I re-tensioned this wheel I had to check the front wheel too, hoping it wasn’t as bad. But it was.

In under half an hour I saved her wheels from a potential catastrophic failure. What was deplorable was that a bike shop in a town known for hard-hitting downhill riding, a bicycle shop there would let an expensive cycle go out the door in such pathetic mechanical shape. They even had a chance to correct their sloppy work when she returned to get her derailleur hangar straightened.

I urge everyone buying bikes anywhere in Canada to start demanding that their local bike shops prove the proficiency of their mechanics. Take every bike from a “professional shop” to a community bike shop or clinic, get the volunteers to show you how to use a tension gauge and use it to check every spoke on the drive side of the rear wheel to see if it measures close to 100-120kgf. The front wheel should measure 80-100kgf (measure on the left side if it has a disc brake). If the wheels are not close, go right back to the shop and ask for a proper wheel truing or your money back.

Up till now bike shops have been slow to send their mechanics to professional training schools. I think they’re afraid they’ll have to pay them more. And they will. This has been an industry sleazing by with minimum-wage starting salaries, and only rising above that in minuscule increments. The riding public is suffering, only they don’t know it. When a wheel or other component fails drastically, I’ve seen service managers blame the customer for the fault and then charge them for the repair even within the very short warranty period offered by most shops.

Only bike riders who won’t take bad treatment will make these shops shape up.

Being a rider on the streets of Canadian cities is not for the faint-hearted. Riding a bike assembled to shoddy standards should be an offense under your local highways act.

Editor's Note: Some bicycle shops don't even have a spoke tension gauge. A true sign they don't know what they are doing. They're not even expensive, and they really should be mandatory in every bicycle mechanic's bag of tools. There are many different kinds of spoke tension gauges (like the three shown below) and there is no excuse for not having one and learning its proper use.



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Taxi Hooligans attack motorists and block ambulance

I chose the word hooligans because I feel it more accurately describes what happened in Toronto yesterday. Taxi drivers, upset at ride sharing app Uber (which promotes carpooling / ride sharing and other features to make it easier for people to get a ride to work) decided to organize a city wide protest.

Which apparently includes blocking ambulances from doing their job (as caught on video) and attacking motorists' cars / attempting to assault motorists (also caught on video). Clearly hooliganism like that should not be tolerated.

As an advocate of bicycles (and a first hand observer that taxi drivers are ***holes that don't know how to drive) I am going to state that I support Uber's efforts to get more cars off the roads and get more people into cars due to the extra efficiency. Not as good as bicycles, but hey, if it reduces congestion then it makes more room for us cyclists.

The staff at Toronto City Hall in my opinion should scrap the taxi regulations and fees - which are antiquated and obsolete - and embrace Uber as a method to solve Toronto's congestion problems.

More subways and more bicycle lanes would also be nice, but an endorsement of Uber would go a long way to send the message that it is time the taxi industry enter the 21st century.

In the photo below it shows a similar protest in Madrid in 2014, wherein taxi hooligans were attacking motorists while police just stood back and watched.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Catch-22 of Bicycle Mechanics

Back in 2011 Matt Faulkner (a bicycle mechanic) sent me an email praising my website, but also bringing up an issue he had had problems with in the past.

His comment was the following:

"Being dedicated to the profession of bike mechanics and seeing the pathetic hack jobs that come out of some shops (and occasionally mine, unfortunately), I am a firm supporter of programs like the short lived BAM course, Winterborne, and the hope of government recognized bike mechanic certification.  The only issue I have with these courses and schools, is that the mechanics coming out of them just plainly are not skilled enough.  We brought in a number of co-op students from the BAM program, and had a handful of Winterborne graduates come in for tryouts, and simply none of them met the standards for us to give them permanent positions.  A friend of mine who owns another shop also had to let go of his Winterborne graduate because the amount of returned repairs was far beyond what is acceptable.  I understand that people of different mechanical and cycling backgrounds will come away from these courses differently, but the sheer number of shoddy mechanics I've seen some through these courses makes me a little suspicious of their curriculum.  I'm sure a school with the pedigree of Barnett's would have different results, but obviously their graduates are hard to come by up here.  I have heard talk lately, though, that BTAC (I may be wrong, but I think it was BTAC) is in the works with George Brown College to implement government acknowledged bike mechanic certification.  Keep your eyes peeled!"

Now what Matt brought up essentially, perhaps without realizing it, is the old Catch-22 of training bicycle mechanics. You have to train bicycle mechanics in order to get bicycle mechanics that are "up to snuff".

Bicycle mechanics who failed to meet the standards set by the shop or not acceptable simply ended up being let go at later dates because the shop didn't feel compelled to train the new recruits to the level they wanted - or to use the techniques that the head mechanic preferred to use.

This is something I have noticed about various bicycle mechanic shops, the head mechanic always has their own opinion about the "correct way" to fix something in a particular way. That means a student, recently graduated from a bicycle mechanic program will be doing the methodology they were taught in class - including methods outlined by the esteemed Barnett* - and the head mechanic will disapprove of the method the graduate uses, but doesn't bother to actually teach the new recruit the so-called "proper way" that the head mechanic prefers to use. And these so-called proper methods will vary from shop to shop, with the differences largely being issues of how much time a particular method takes.

* Note - Matt also mentions Barnett's pedigree and reputation, although it is important to note that the BAM program followed the same curriculum and the same course book's that Barnett teaches. I cannot speak for what Winterborne program does however. If anyone knows if the Winterborne program copies the Barnett curriculum, please post a comment below.

So for my example, when I studied bicycle mechanics we were taught the Barnett method of doing everything - which unfortunately, is also the slowest method - which is to say, it is the "true proper way" of fixing something, in an effort to make sure it is done absolutely properly. However bike shops often skip over many of the steps that Barnett uses in order to save time and make the process more efficient. This in turn means that some bike shops are churning out shoddy repair jobs that are done hastily.

Now back to the original problem, how to get bicycle mechanics that are up to snuff.

Honestly it really comes down to training them in person, which means the head mechanic needs to get off seat and actually teach for once. Which means the owner of the bike shop needs to make teaching bicycle mechanics part of the job description.

Every graduate bicycle mechanic coming into a shop is going to have a different background, different training, and if they went through Barnett's or only program that is replicating Barnett's then they are the ones who actually know the "proper way" to do a particular task. It is up to the head mechanic to teach them the fast / efficient way that they personally approve of.

Writing about this reminds me of my interest of becoming a helicopter mechanic. Why? Because of the following reasons:

#1. Helicopter mechanics don't skimp on time when it comes to repairing the helicopter. If they fail to do the job properly, people fall out of the sky and die. Thus they have to do everything "by the book" and each repair is recorded, dated and logged.

#2. Helicopter mechanics are better paid, although not always by much.

"The average salary for a helicopter mechanic was $54,500 annually in May 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure breaks down to $26.20 per hour. The top 10 percent of mechanics made an average of $74,210 annually, or $35.68 per hour. The lowest 10 percent made an average of $34,630 annually, equivalent to $16.65 per hour."

Bicycle mechanics get barely minimum wage and treated like dirt, because people don't value a skill they could do themselves (in theory) but are too lazy to do themselves.

People working at McDonald's get paid better than bicycle mechanics.

No seriously, McDonalds workers get paid $15 per hour. Although we should note the same month McDonald's agreed to start paying their workers $15 per hour they started decreasing the staff by introducing automated kiosks.

The minimum wage in Ontario is currently $11.25, whereas the average bicycle mechanic in Ontario makes between $12 and $14 per hour - and often works part time, which means they are struggling to pay bills, to pay rent, and they are saving nothing for retirement.


The only real way for a bicycle mechanic to be saving for retirement is if they open their own shop and start charging whatever rates they want, building bikes and selling bicycles, bicycle parts, tools, etc. Which is what many bicycle mechanics eventually do, because they realize working for minimum wage and being treated like dirt just isn't enough.

In theory bike shops should also be offering private lessons in how to fix bicycles, which means they could then hire the best students as permanent staff. And they couldn't complain about what methods they use for fixing things, because it was the same methods they taught them.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Charlie's FreeWheels Annual Open House

Hello!

Charlie's FreeWheels is a non-profit organization in Regent Park that empowers youth by teaching them how to build bicycles and ride them safely. We are having our annual Open House this weekend and wanted to invite you to attend! Please forward this message and the attached media advisory to anyone you think may interested.

The party will take place on Saturday October 17th from 2-6pm at our shop at 242.5 Queen Street East. We will be thanking our volunteers, promoting our programs, and there will be a raffle, video screening, and refreshments. Please visit our website for more information about the event: www.charliesfreewheels.ca/2015/09/22/open-house-and-volunteer-appreciation-party/

Hope to see you there!

Best,
Rachelle Walker
Charlie's FreeWheels
Communications Coordinator

www.charliesfreewheels.ca

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What To Do When Hit By A Car - Legal Steps to Protect Your Rights

So you are riding on your bicycle and wham, you get hit by a car. What do you do next?

Oddly most of us don't know what we should and should not be doing. Pay attention and read closely so you remember this should it ever happen to you.

DOs

If the driver asks if you are okay say "I don't know. I think I need to see a doctor." You might feel unhurt, because of the shock of being struck, so you don't always know when you are injured. You might notice until hours later that you have a cracked rib, an injured ankle, a torn ligament, etc.

Do get the driver's phone number.

Do get the driver's insurance info.

Do write down the driver's license plate.

Do call the police and report the accident.

Do document the scene, photograph your bicycle, the car, any injuries, the driver's face, your face, etc. Take photos of everything you can think of.

Do locate witnesses who saw the accident and get their contact info / phone numbers if possible. Or alert the police to which witnesses saw the accident.

Do go see a doctor as soon as you are able. You might have an injury you didn't notice at the time. If you do have an injury get copies of all medical reports relating to the injury.

Do report any injuries, no matter how minor, to the insurance company. Insurance companies take that stuff seriously, even if it is only a minor injury. If you only claim property damage and no injuries, insurance companies take it less seriously and are less likely to pay anything at all. You don't want to fake any injuries obviously, but you shouldn't be pretending not to be injured just because you don't want to cause extra trouble. As long as you record any injuries and see a doctor ASAP, you are preserving your rights. Let your doctor decide what is worth noting on your insurance claim.

Do follow through on protecting your rights.

DON'Ts

Do not accept the driver's word when they say they will pay for any damages. They can easily change their mind later, and change their story to claim that the accident was your fault: "He just came out of nowhere! He was going ridiculously fast and it was impossible to stop on time!" After all, why should they risk paying higher insurance rates if they can get away with paying nothing and pretending the accident never happened?

Never admit to being "okay". Just keep saying that you don't know and that you need to see a doctor.

Do not refuse to go see a doctor. See one ASAP.

Do not let the driver leave before the police arrive. If they attempt to do so record their license plate and report it to police as a hit and run, as they clearly didn't stick around at the scene of the crime. If a driver gets out of their car, asks if you are okay, and then immediately leaves that still counts as a hit and run.

Do not get your bicycle repaired immediately. Preserve the evidence and record all the damage. Get a bicycle mechanic to give you an estimate for the repairs, but don't have them fix it yet.

Do not assume that everything will be taken care of properly. Insurance companies and deadbeat drivers would much rather not have to pay anything if they think they can get away with it.

Do not mention the value of your bicycle. The price of the repairs will be determined by your bicycle mechanic. Just say "It depends on the repair bill."

If it is a friend, a family member, or even a random stranger that you see get hit stop and help them and then follow the above advice. It could happen to any of us. See the video below of strangers stopping to help a little girl after she gets rammed into by a car.



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How safe do you feel when a car nearly hits you?

Car drivers often pass ridiculously close to cyclists. So close they almost hit them and sometimes do hit them. So you have to wonder how safe they would feel if it was reversed, if they nearly got hit by a Mack truck going 4 times your speed.

Sometimes car drivers cut off big rig trucks without signaling - or even while signaling - and those trucks cannot stop on a dime. They ram into, and over, anything that gets in their way. And the truck driver won't be at fault. The police know these sort of accidents happen ALL THE TIME due to stupid car drivers who think they can cut off a big rig truck without getting hit. Sooner or later they will get hit and their car will be so much dented and twisted metal the drivers upper torso will be on Yonge Street and the bottom of their torso will be on Bay Steeet.

So unless you want to get some instant karma drivers of all stripes need to be thinking this: If it too close for a pedestrian to feel safe, why would you think it was safe for a cyclist, a fellow car driver, or a truck driver? Share the road. Drive safe.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Bicycle Morgan Hybrid


What you are looking at above is a recumbent tricycle - merged with a Morgan car. It is not exceptionally complicated, but it does cost about  $3,300 USD + shipping costs.

Although to be fair, recumbent bicycles in general tend to be in the $3,000 to $9,000 range, so paying at least $3,000 is pretty normal for a recumbent bicycle.


The Quest for the Flying Bicycle

Ever since bicycles have been around inventors have been trying to create a flying bicycle... with a lot of failures along the way.

The early attempts at making flying bicycles seem so amateurish compared to what we now know about aviation. As if they were conceived by a 12-year-old with an active imagination but very little knowledge of what is actually needed to fly.

Like the one shown on the right here, which was doomed to fail just by the looks of it.

Or the one below, also doomed to failure.



In 2013 the British company Paravelo (based in London, UK) finally managed to make a bicycle fly - sort of. It is actually more of a parasail-bicycle hybrid. See the video and photos below:







Fixed Gear Bicycles Vs Google's Self Driving Car

Earlier this month in Austin, Texas, a cyclist and a Google self-driving car met at a four-way stop. This likely wasn’t the first time a Google self-driving vehicle has encountered a cyclist at a four-way stop. The company’s multitude of automated vehicles have driven more than 1.1 million miles in autonomous mode.
But the encounter featured a twist - the cyclist was on a fixed gear bicycle and doing a track stand. In a track stand, a rider on a fixed-gear bike may shift ever so slightly forward and back in an effort to maintain balance, like in the video below:


The fixed gear enthusiast recounted the encounter with the Google Self Driving Car on an online forum for cyclists:

"The car got to the stop line a fraction of a second before I did, so it had the [right of way]. I did a track-stand and waited for it to continue on through."

Google's self-driving cars are notoriously careful, and tend to brake when anyone else is moving forward into the vehicle’s path. In a track stand, a rider on a fixed-gear bike may shift ever so slightly forward and back in an effort to maintain balance and thus looks like they are in motion. Also, a rider doing a track stand maintains the body position typical of a cyclist in motion, not one that is stopping. For riders of fixed-gear bikes, it can be a fun game to never have to put one’s foot down on the pavement, but instead balance at stop signs and red lights.

While a human driver can easily see a rider doing a track stand isn’t going anywhere, Google’s self-driving car seems to be still be figuring that out.

As the cyclist recalled:

"It apparently detected my presence … and stayed stationary for several seconds. it finally began to proceed, but as it did, I rolled forward an inch while still standing. The car immediately stopped…

I continued to stand, it continued to stay stopped. Then as it began to move again, I had to rock the bike to maintain balance. It stopped abruptly.

We repeated this little dance for about two full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop."

Despite the awkward encounter, the cyclist didn’t leave with a negative impression of self-driving cars.

"The odd thing is, I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one."

Self-driving cars could actually be a boon for cycling. If self-driving vehicles almost never crash, roads will become immensely more safe and inviting to cyclists. But for now, mastering how to interact with cyclists is a challenge for self-driving vehicles. The fact that the cars err on the side of caution is a very good thing.

A patent Google received this spring detailed how its self-driving cars could identify cyclists and interpret their hand signals. It also mentioned the ability to identify a cyclist by measuring the distance between the pavement and the top of a stopped cyclist’s head.

Of course, until this summer Google’s testing was centered near its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. In July, Google began testing in Austin, home to a lot more hipsters and fixed-gear bikes.

The broader the experiences of self-driving vehicles, the better prepared they will be for real-world driving. The run-in also highlights the long list of rare situations the cars will have to master before they can replace human drivers. After all, what happens when a self-driving car approaches a downtown intersection with multiple cyclists on fixed-gear bikes, and a herd of pedestrians? How will it react? Hopefully with the same level of caution.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Bicycle Buying 101

Bicycle Buying 101

Are you in the market for a new bike? There are lots of options on the market, so before heading down to your local bicycle shop, read up on models, features, prices, and the pros and cons of each type. Prices range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, so investigate all the possibilities. Not every two-wheeler will fit every cyclist, because there are multiple bike-rider personalities. Which type are you?

If you are a commuter who wants to "go green" while pedaling to work, consider a hybrid bike with comfy handlebars and seat. A hybrid is sturdier than your basic road bike, but not quite as rugged as a mountain bike. If you are an adventurer who likes to rip up the gravel while zipping up and down off-road trails, select a mountain bike with full-suspension, wide tires, low gears, and disc brakes. If you are an athlete who wants to log miles and burn calories at the same time, you might want to consider a racing road bike. Road bikes are designed for speed and fitness, but you'll need to learn to change tires, because the skinny tires go flat more often than other bike tires.

To learn more about bike types and the features of each model, take a look at this detail-filled infographic. After reading it, you'll be ready to hit the road for some test drives.

Bicycle Types: Finding the Right Bike | Bicycle Adventures Infographic
Presented By Bicycle Adventures Bike Tours and Vacations

1865 - First Bicycles Brought to Toronto

A display of Toronto's history of sports is at the Toronto Reference Library's art gallery. The two images below talk about how "Boneshakers" was the first type of bicycle imported to Toronto in 1865, and "Cycles Brownie" was one of the first bicycles manufactured in Toronto.


Custom Bianci / Corno Marrone Bicycle

The custom bicycle above is owned by "Jade" of Toronto, who purchased the bicycle in Italy.
Very shiny and chic!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Stephen Harper Blocks Bicycle Lane


Stephen Harper was in Toronto for the Maclean's leaders' debate at the City studio in Yonge and Dundas Square, but his campaign bus was photographed blocking a bike lane in front of the Delta Hotel on Lower Simcoe St. near the CN Tower in Toronto.

The driver of the bus refused to move it when asked and blocked photographs of himself by lifting a newspaper to cover his face.

The fine for parking in a bike lane in Toronto is $150. The fine is there because in order for cyclists to get around parked vehicles they have to merge with faster moving traffic, putting themselves in danger of a collision or being killed.

Toronto Police Service says no special parking arrangements made for the Harper bus, and therefore it was parked illegally.

A representative of the Conservative Party did not return a request for comment.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Top 10 Cycling Movies

Below are 10 of the best cycling movies ever made (up to June 2015). I may update this list sometime in the future if new films come out or if I am made aware of other films. If you know of any cycling films that should be mentioned on this page, please add them in the comments section.

A Sunday in Hell - 1976

Breaking Away - 1979

American Flyers - 1985

[Note - See the trailer for American Flyers further below.]

2 Seconds - 1998

Ghislain Lambert's Bicycle - 2001

The Flying Scotsman - 2006

Phantom Pain - 2009

Premium Rush - 2012

The Armstrong Lie - 2013

Half the Road - 2014




For a more complete list of cycling films, see the list below:

Fictional Cycling Films

Bicycle Thieves - 1948
Jour de Fête - 1949
Onna Keirin-o - 1956
One Got Fat - 1963
Slipstream - 1967
A Peasant on a Bicycle - 1974
A Sunday in Hell - 1976
Breaking Away - 1979
BMX Bandits - 1983
Pee-wee's Big Adventure - 1985
American Flyers - 1985
Quicksilver - 1986
Rad - 1986
On Time - 1987
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar - 1992
Boy and Bicycle - 1997
2 Seconds - 1998
The Amateur - 1999
Beijing Bicycle - 2001
Cyclomania - 2001
Ghislain Lambert's Bicycle - 2001
The Triplets of Belleville - 2003
Nasu: Summer in Andalusia - 2003
Island Etude - 2006
Clorophilla - 2006
The Flying Scotsman - 2006
Phantom Pain - 2009
The Kid with a Bike - 2011
Premium Rush - 2012
Wadjda - 2012
Allez, Eddy - 2012

Documentary Cycling Films

Vive le Tour - 1962
A Sunday in Hell - 1976
Bicycle Safety Camp - 1989
Road to Paris - 2001
Hell on Wheels - 2004
Klunkerz: A Film About Mountain Bikes - 2006
Pedaling to Freedom - 2007
Bicycle Dreams - 2009
Chasing Legends - 2010
With My Own Two Wheels - 2010
I Am - 2011
The Last Kilometer - 2012
A Winter of Cyclists - 2013
The Armstrong Lie - 2013
Half the Road - 2014

Memories of a Bicycle

What do you do with your old bicycle when you don't like it anymore?

Start with restoring it and then selling it! Give your old ride a rebirth and a new owner.

One of the things I love doing is restoring old bicycles - the older the better! So if you have an old bicycle and are too busy / unmotivated to fix it up, give it to me and I will fix it up and find it a new owner. [My contact info is on the upper right.]

Every old bicycle (regardless of age or how badly damaged it is) still has the potential for new life. In my experience some of the most gratifying restorations have been bicycles that were in really horrible shape, but a few new parts, a tune up and some new paint and that bicycle was gleaming like new and soon found itself a nice new owner.

Below is a lovely video of a bicycle, as told from the bicycle's perspective.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Spring is coming - the Dangers of Buying Bicycles from Big Box Stores

March 2nd 2015

In 19 days Spring will be here, which means it is time to start spring cleaning your bicycle and doing some maintenance.

And for those of you thinking of buying a new bicycle this Spring - especially if you are thinking of buying your bicycle from a Big Box Store - I recommend reading the following piece.

The Dangers of Buying Bicycles from Big Box Stores

By Smokey Dymny, Quadra Bike School

Spring is coming and many people’s thoughts turn to getting the kinks out of their muscles, getting some exercise while going to and fro to work or to school. "Let’s get the old bike out of the shed and oil it up. Whoops! It looks a bit rusty. Well, let’s take it for a tune-up at the bicycle shop."

"Oh, oh, it’s beyond reasonable repair.  Time to look for a new one. It’s still cheaper to buy a bike than pay for fitness fees. And I might try to skip the gym, but I’ll always take the bike if I’m going on short trips, and I’ll be able to take the kids on outings to the park, on the coastal trail, and to grandma’s house."

"But wait! These bikes at the cycle shop are nice, but they look a little more expensive than I remember. Let’s go to Canadian Tire (or: Rona, Walmart, Sports Experts, etc.) and get a cheaper one."

Stop immediately people. Here’s where you’re going to make a big mistake with your money and perhaps your safety. I run a bicycle mechanic’s training school on Quadra Island (search: Quadra Bike School for details). I developed this professional level training course in Toronto with tools provided by the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada and workshop space provided by a non-profit training school. In 2011 I moved the course to Quadra Island and funded everything myself, with smaller classes.

So here is why I’m warning you about going to a big box store or any place but a reputable bicycle shop. Inexpensive bikes come badly of pre-assembled pieces from factories in the far east. They are put together by assembly line people, not mechanics. Their bearings are not greased or well adjusted, the wheels are not trued (straightened) or tensioned, and the brakes and shifting can be completely maladjusted.  It’s up to a bicycle mechanic to put everything right so the bike is pleasant, easy and safe to ride. I stress the word "safe" because I’ve seen poor assemblies that will put someone’s life at risk.

This month I received an email with the headline “looking for mechanics” from a person stating that she’s “from Cycle Profix, a Canada-wide (sic) mobile bike assembly and repair team” and is currently “seeking skilled Bicycle technicians” to do assembly work all over B.C.

I requested more information about the company and their pay scales.

She wrote that Cycle Profix “hires bicycle technicians across Canada as independent contractors for daily work at either major stores (the ones listed above) or at our regional shops”. She wrote that for “In-Store assemblies, contractors are paid between $3.50 - $4.00 per bike.” She further wrote that “Bikes come 70% assembled, and given an average of 5 bike assemblies per hour, the comparable hourly rate would be $17.5/hr.”  “Skilled technicians can reach over $22/hr.”

Isn’t it nice to know that your bike from a big box store was assembled in an average of 12 minutes by a “technician” who was hired for “daily work” which means s/he doesn’t have a full time job; is just contracted to do a bunch of assemblies at Rona, for example, and then moves on. If your bike is faulty, the store won’t even have an idea of who worked on it and they won’t have a mechanic on staff to make repairs. In twelve minutes the “technician” won’t have time to grease any bearings or true the wheels. All the mechanical adjustments that would make the bicycle able to last, at least a while, simply won’t be done. An inexpensive bike it may be, but it should be adjusted properly to work safely. In twelve minutes the technicians going to tear off all the packaging, bolt on the front wheel, the handlebar and safety reflectors, pump up the tires, and try to adjust the brakes.  I’ve had a big box store bicycle brought into my shop for a tune-up last year and the owner did not realize that the front shock had been assembled backwards. (I have the picture too.) That means the front brake was operating backwards as well.

A front shock was also shown mounted backwards in a full colour Canadian Tire newspaper ad several years ago. Makes me wonder how they dare sell bikes.

If you make it through one season with a big box bike you’ll be lucky. The wheels will turn with too much friction or they’ll wobble (bearings too tight or too loose). The wheel may twist into a taco - a ‘taco’ shape when you hit a big bump (wheel not trued or tensioned). In one case a young woman who “saved” $50 not buying a bike from my shop came back with her bargain bike after just one trail ride with a ‘tacoed’ front wheel. The disaster stories can be repeated endlessly.

The sensible course of action is not to try for the short-term bargain. Like any poor tool, the bike won’t last long enough for you to realize any savings. You may be having it repaired early, or you may stop riding and give up on your exercise goals. Don’t do either. Just stay away from crappy department store bikes. See you local pro shop instead. Happy riding!

Editorial Notes from Charles

I just wanted to add some notes here, having purchased bicycles from Big Box Stores when I was younger. Smokey is correct in his assertions above regarding both the low build quality at Big Box Stores and also the hazards of riding a bicycle that might not have properly tuned brakes (for example).

When I was growing up in rural Ontario (north of Kitchener, about 30 minutes drive from Kincardine) we didn't have any local bike shops. There was only Zellers or Canadian Tire or Home Hardware. That was it.

Which meant when my parents purchased bicycles for us kids we often had to spend a goodly amount of time fixing those bicycles on a regular basis. I can recall many a day when myself and my best friend Jonathan Davis spent fixing our bicycles. Jonathan's father was an auto mechanic by trade and we would borrow tools either from him or my father and we would spend hours upon hours fixing bicycles, patching wheels, readjusting the handle bars or seats, and removing the chains and greasing them with WD40 (note: Do NOT use WD40 for bicycle chains. We were 10 years old and didn't know any better).

One of the things I noticed was although my bicycles were often brand new, Jonathan's dad would buy second hand bicycles - Jonathan's bicycles were often slightly faster than mine (even though we were physically equals). The reason, looking back on it, was because my bicycles were typically the cheapest available bicycle from Canadian Tire whereas Jonathan's bicycles were 2nd hand bicycles that were of a higher quality. This means that even though they were used, they were often slightly better than any new bicycle I had at the time.

The bicycle I used in highschool got me through university and I didn't buy a new bicycle until I was living in Jeonju in South Korea. I remember this clearly because I bartered the shop owner down to 50,000 won (roughly $50 CDN in 2003) and managed to get him to throw in a lock too. What was spectacular however was despite that being an amazing bargain, that bicycle was the best bicycle I had owned up to that point. It was well made, well put together, had shocks, disc brakes - it was a very impressive bicycle for the tiny amount I paid for it. So Kudos to the Koreans for making such a well made bicycle.

Coming back to Canada I took the bicycle mechanic training program Smokey spoke of up above in 2009 (back when Smokey was still teaching in Toronto). The course changed my life even though I ultimately decided to work in a different industry. Around 2007 I had purchased a cheap Canadian Tire bicycle because at the time I just wanted something to get around on.

Within the first week of owning that bicycle the plastic pedals broke - both of them. I wasn't overweight (not terribly at least) so my only conclusion was that they were very cheap plastic pedals. So I purchased steel-alloy pedals that lasted considerably longer until I eventually sold that bicycle. By the time I sold it however I had replaced: Both front and back brake pads, one of the inner tubes, the aforementioned pedals and the seat (although that was a comfort decision, not a matter of it breaking).

When I took the BAM program as taught by Smokey I learned the errors of my previous ways and determined I needed to start buying quality bicycles for their longevity. Since then I have gone through numerous bicycles, finding old broken bicycles that had been abandoned, buying used bicycles - fixing them all up and then selling them for a tidy profit.

I have also gotten quite good at disassembling bikes to give them a new paint job and then reassembling the bicycle, so when sold it looks practically brand new - or at least modified to the point that it still looks good.

One of my favourite activities is when I find a really old antique of a bicycle and then fix it up, either restoring it to its original state - or modifying it so I making the retro bicycle something new and interesting.

Anyway the point of my whole story here is simple. If your old bicycle is beyond repair, go buy an used bicycle that can be restored and then hire a local bicycle mechanic to do some restoration work. Then send me the before and after photos of what the bicycle looks like after it has been restored and everyone can see the results and agree: Restored bicycles look better than anything you could buy at a Big Box Store.



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