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Saturday, September 26, 2009

How Safe is your Local Bike Mechanic?

CANADA - I've worked in a few different bike shops and even early on I noticed there is a trend in bike shops to cut corners when it comes to fixing a bike "by the book" with respect to the safety of the customer.

[Right: Craig, a BTAC certified bicycle mechanic.]

Take wheel truing for example. If a wheel has reached a point that the tension on the individual spokes is greater than 30 kgf the spokes are much more likely to snap when the cyclist hits a bump. That will result in "catastrophic wheel failure" and the person will end up crashing, possibly getting injured or dying. [Note - The maximum kgf will vary depending on spoke thickness, strength and the spoke pattern, but 30 kgf is true for all normal bicycle wheels. Consult your Barnett's Manual for different spokes.]

And that is just one example of what could happen if someone doesn't fix your bike properly.

As a responsible citizen you'd think bike mechanics would care more about their customers' safety, but from what I've seen quite a few bike shops out there are selling their services just to make $$$ with little regard to the personal safety of the rider.

"Well that's what I do on my bike and I've never been in an accident yet."

The key word is YET. Its bound to happen eventually.

[Right: BAM Instructor Smokey Dymny shows John how to properly tune brakes. John is now a BTAC certified bicycle mechanic.]

The problem lies in that 99% of bicycle mechanics out there have never been properly trained. They are either self-taught or taught by a shop mechanic who wasn't really trained either and is relying purely on experience.

Its my opinion that bicycle mechanics should have to go through a certification course, like the BAM program here in Toronto, the Winterborne Bicycle Institute at Conestoga College, or the John Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado. Or some similar program.

At the very least every bicycle shop should have one properly trained bike mechanic who can then pass their knowledge unto lesser mechanics on how to do things properly/safely. True, sometimes people get impatient when you've got X number of bikes to fix in a day, but I should point out a properly trained and experienced mechanic is also faster and more efficient, in addition to being safer.

In Toronto the BAM program has only been around since the start of 2009. It was created because of two things: 1. Toronto has a shortage of bicycle mechanics; 2. Toronto has a shortage of properly trained bicycle mechanics. The plan is to eventually open more BAM programs across Canada so that more and more bicycle mechanics can be properly trained.

So even though its not mandatory by law or anything, the Bicycle Trade Association of Canada is proceeding with a plan to create an industry wide standard wherein bicycle mechanics will eventually be expected to be certified. Its essentially self regulation.

And that is a good thing because it means safety standards should go up with respect to properly serviced bicycles.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bicycle Station Open House

CANADA - The Bicycle Station is having it's second Open House on Friday, October 2nd 2009 to celebrate the fall bicycling season.

From 7 AM to 10 AM they will be offering fresh pastries as well as hot coffee. Go and have a free bite to eat and learn about Canada's first bicycle station until 7 PM. There is a new parking pilot policy for the Bicycle Station as well as updates on the progress of the Bicycle Station.

Plus its a chance to hang out with your fellow cyclists and chat. Spread the word about your local cycling group or organization while meeting fellow members of Toronto's downtown cycling community. If you would like a table for your group or organization, please contact the Bicycle Station as soon as possible.

Bicycle Station at Union Station
City Of Toronto
Transportation Services
20 York St.
416-338-3666
bicyclestation@toronto.ca
toronto.ca/cycling/bicycle-station

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bike thefts down 17% in the GTA

CANADA - Last year in June Toronto police did a sting operation and discovered 2,865 bikes stored in garages scattered through the city.

The bicycle thief and mastermind was Igor Kenk, now facing a lengthy jail time for running one of the biggest bike theft operations Toronto has ever seen.



Since then however the number of complaints about bicycle theft has dropped 17% leading police to suspect several things:

#1. Overall bike theft is down about 17%.

#2. There is approx. 24,000 to 30,000 bike thefts in Toronto per year. Most go unreported. Presumably the number is dropping.

#3. There is probably several other people like Igor Kenk running large scale bike theft operations.

#4. If Toronto police did another sting operation they could probably catch another bike thief just as big as Igor Kenk. They could do a sting operation every year until bike theft becomes a crime that is just plain foolish on a large scale.

LOCK ADVICE

I recommend purchasing what's called a pinhead – a lock for the wheel. Then buy the best U-Lock you can. Some people prefer the larger U-locks because they're easier to lock up in difficult locations.

A Pinhead lock set sometimes comes with horseshoe shaped U-lock which is more difficult to break.

Pinhead locks replace original parts of a bike and remain in place. A nut, for instance, replaces a quick-release wheel skewer and can be released only by the owner's key. Best to have a mechanic install it for you, although if you are mechanically inclined you should be able to figure it out.

The Pinhead lock set was invented by Linda Young (see above photo), who had her bike stolen when she was 9 and has since dedicated her life to making bike locks more effective, both for the frame and the tires. Way to go Linda!

A Condo for Cyclists?

CANADA - The Toronto-East York community council approved today a controversial new 42-storey condo building with 315 spaces for bicycles... and only 9 parking spots designed for car-share rentals.

In other words its a condo specifically made for cyclists.

City staff were originally skeptical about the idea, but I predict 30-something cyclists will be battling each other to get first dibs on the condos being put on the auction block.

The condo will be built on the site of the old Royal Canadian Military Institute on University Ave near Dundas Street. The façade of the old building will be preserved. The RCMI will be maintaining several of the lower floors for themselves.

The plan is also quite reasonable. Most people who live in downtown Toronto don't drive anyway.

"If you look at the evidence of what sells downtown, the majority of units under 750 square feet in the downtown core sell without parking," says Stephen Deveaux, vice-president of the developer Tribute Communities. Plus its cheaper. Parking spots add approx. $20,000 to the cost of a condo in downtown Toronto. Normally when a building of this size is built there would be approx. 140 parking spaces for residents, according to city standards.

Deveaux says the building is an opportunity to design & market an "environmentally progressive building". With so many jobs, lots of cyclists and transit nearby, the units will sell quickly.

A city staff report originally turned the plan down, citing the lack of parking, but they have since been overruled by the community council. The building still has to be approved by the larger Toronto city council.

The problem is nothing else can be built on the location anyway. Because the facade of the building is to be preserved there's no room to build a parking entrance. The only solution is a building designed explicitly for cyclists or people who prefer transit.

City Councillor Adam Vaughan, ward for the region where the condo will be built, called the car-free building "an interesting experiment and statement about the future of downtown living."

"In the past it was natural to allocate parking spots, but in 21st century Toronto, where we're battling climate change, we don't need that any more," says Franz Hartmann, co-executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, also saying such buildings are uncommon and should be promoted.

The 9 parking spots will be devoted to car-share arrangements, whereby residents can rent a car as needed by the hour.

The RCMI building was a private club constructed in 1907 and is a heritage property. Behind the façade will be a 6 1/2-storey structure and above that would rise a 35 1/2-storey condo tower with about 315 units, mostly one-bedroom condos.

In other words its ideal for young professionals (with no kids) who either walk, cycle or take the subway to work.

The $65 million project is a partnership between Tribute Communities and the 1,500-member RCMI club. Once rubber-stamped construction will begin in 2010 and be done by 2013.

The building will continue to provide space for the RCMI club, its library and its extensive archival collection of military artifacts (including the seat of Baron von Richthofen [aka the Red Baron]'s Fokker Triplane). The RCMI club will be using the income from condo sales & fees to keep the archive and the club going.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Surveillance footage shows Bryant deliberately hit cyclist

CANADA - Surveillance camera footage has been released showing exactly what happened in the incident where Michael Bryant ran over cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard.

In the footage Bryant first uses the car to intimidate Sheppard. Then Bryant strikes him and pushes him ten feet, the length of a car. Bryant then put his car in Reverse then Drive and drives it past Sheppard. As the cyclist struggles to get up, he grabs the passing car mirror to try to keep the car at the scene.

According to witnesses Bryant then drove into the wrong side of the road trying to knock Sheppard off his car mirror and ended up running over Sheppard with the rear wheels of his car.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Will Bicycle Couriers become Unionized?

Following in the wake of the tragic death of Toronto bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard (who was run over by a politician on August 31st 2009) members of Toronto's bicycle courier community are advocating membership in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

As such they would be given the same legal rights and be able to get benefits and a pension in the future.

It also means bicycle couriers (and many other Toronto cyclists) will be pushing for more bicycle lanes in downtown Toronto.

Robert Melnyk, who has been a bike courier since 1984 says Sheppard's death has not helped to make the streets safer for cyclists, but instead has escalated tensions with motorists.

He says he's heard car drivers shout "You're next!" as he tries to navigate the downtown streets.

Impatient motorists suffering from road rage tend not to realize the danger they put cyclists in when they try to own the road and think cyclists have no place on it, which reinforces the idea for why Toronto needs more bicycle lanes.

FYI: In Toronto you can be fined up to $400 CDN if you cycle on the sidewalk with any wheel larger than 24 inches. The typical fine is $90, but if you're going really fast and acting recklessly you can be given additional fines and even charged with reckless endangerment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Attorney General kills Toronto cyclist

Michael Bryant in the back of a police cruiser.CANADA - Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant killed a 34-year-old Toronto cyclist last night with his car and has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death.

The victim was bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard, a father of three. Sheppard was heading home to the Dupont and Dufferin area of Toronto.

Bryant, 43, is scheduled to appear in Old City Hall court on Oct. 19 2009.

Witnesses on Bloor Street last night described a heated argument between the driver of a black Saab convertible and a cyclist that began near Bloor and Bay Streets. (Blog author's note, that's right near my gym... and I was there last night working out!)

According to witnesses the argument erupted following a collision between Michael Bryant's black Saab convertible and the cyclist Sheppard at 9:45 PM on Bloor, just west of St. Thomas Street. The cyclist reportedly hung onto the side of the car (possibly because his shirt got caught on something) and Bryant drove off dragging him over 100 meters down the street, driving onto the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic and brushing against trees and poles in an attempt to knock the cyclist off his car.

Darcy Allan Sheppard with his bicycleBryant then ran over Sheppard's head with the rear tires of his Saab and drove off. He was later arrested.

Police also questioned an unidentified female passenger who was in the convertible. Police say alcohol was not involved.

"Lots of people were watching and they couldn't believe what was happening," said construction worker Ryan Brazeau, who was laying sewer pipes on Bloor.

"The guy hanging onto the car, hit the mailbox, hit the road, (then) . . . the car ran over him with the back tires," another witness said. "The guy bounced and the car sped off . . . the person was there just bleeding." Sheppard was bleeding from his head and mouth.

Sheppard was taken to St. Michael's Hospital with serious head injuries and died around midnight.

A large portion of the incident was captured on surveillance video and that investigators are working to fill in the gaps. (This is practically guaranteed to end up on YouTube.)

Mourners leaving flowers and letters for Darcy Allan Sheppard near where he was killed.Bike couriers in Toronto are planning a special memorial service.

Sheppard also a guitarist and an amateur stand-up comedian who sometimes performed at open mike nights at local clubs.

Bryant was first elected MPP for St. Paul's in 1999 and won re-election in 2003 and 2007. He was awarded Now Magazine's Best Toronto MPP for 2008.

Michael Bryant was Ontario's youngest-ever attorney general, and during his time in public service legalized paralegals, fixed election dates, banned pit bulls, overhauled the human rights system, re-created the Law Reform Commission, re-established civilian oversight of police and depoliticized Justice of the Peace appointments. He eventually stepped down from the position.

BLOG AUTHOR'S NOTE:

I ride along Bloor Street regularly to go to my gym which is near the Bay and Bloor corner. I think I know what happened in this incident... the problem is all the construction currently going on at Yonge and Bloor and all the potholes along Bloor street near the construction.

As a cyclist when you cycle through there is no bike lanes on Bloor street, and because of the construction at Yonge/Bloor there is only one lane on each side of the street. So I submit to you here is my theory of what happened:

Both Michael Bryant and Darcy Sheppard went through the Yonge/Bloor intersection, and the cyclist was likely in the way of the car because there's only one lane.

Furthermore after getting past the construction its not safe to drive on the far right because of the potholes. Thus its safer to stay in a lane where the road surface is more even. Sheppard did what any cyclist would do, he avoided the potholes.

This however only pissed over the driver behind him, who in this case was Michael Bryant riding with his female friend and possibly feeling cocky. Had he not been a convertible this could have been prevented, but because he was in a convertible he decided to shout at the cyclist and an argument ensued near St. Thomas Street.

Bryant then drove along beside the cyclist, the argument became heated and somehow the cyclist either grabbed hold of his car (or got caught on it). Bryant then decided instead of slowing down he would speed up, drive onto the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic in an attempt to knock the cyclist off.

Sheppard held on for dear life and was eventually ran over by the rear tires or Bryant's black Saab convertible.

Conclusions? Construction, convertibles, cockiness and being in the wrong place at the wrong time led to a cyclist's untimely death. The fact Bloor Street still doesn't have a bicycle lane is also a problem, despite numerous petitions for the city of Toronto to solve the problem.

It doesn't excuse Michael Bryant's reckless driving or his role in Sheppard's death, but it could have been prevented had common sense prevailed.

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