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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Degreasing your Bicycle Chain

Bicycle chains turn black over time as the chain lube collects dirt and grit while riding or locked up outside. This is unfortunate and affects the performance of your bicycle. Grit stuck to your chain wears down your drive train parts and needs to be cleaned once or twice a year.

Without maintenance you will begin to notice your bicycle doesn't shift gears properly, pedalling is sluggish, you have to work harder and you may have to replace parts faster due to wear. Thus yearly maintenance of both the chain and gear cassettes is a necessity, especially if you're storing your bicycle outside where its more likely to collect extra grit.



Even if you're not meticulous about the maintenance of your bicycle, you will know when it is time to degrease the chain and clean the drive train. The speed of your bicycle will be affected, and you will hear grit grinding on metal. Ignore the warning signs and you will have to replace everything that makes your bicycle move -- the chain, chain rings, cassette and rear derailleur. All of that is completely avoidable.

At least once a year, and in some cases twice, you should remove all of the parts from the bicycle for a complete cleaning (or have a mechanic do it). You can get by with a quick degreasing a few times a year if needed.


A quick degreasing of the drive train entails using a chain scrubber, a degreasing solution and a cassette brush. The chain scrubber will have a reservoir in the bottom. Fill the reservoir with degreasing solution and close the chain in the tool. The tool rests on bicycle's chain stay as the chain moves through it.

The brushes (and, in some cases, brushes and sponges) will pick up the solution from the reservoir and use to scrub the chain as it runs through the tool. The grit will fall to the bottom of the reservoir as the chain is cleaned.


When the chain appears to be nearly clean, remove it from the tool. Take the cassette brush and run it through the cassette as the free wheel turns. This will loosen grit and grime in the cassette. Take a clean towel or rag and run the chain through the rag to remove the degreaser and grime. You could and should take a towel and wipe the chain rings of excess grit and grime.

The last step is to apply a light Teflon-based oil or lubricant to the chain. Run the chain as you apply the lube. Remove any excess with a towel. The chain should be very lightly oiled; anything other than that makes for grit and dirt.



The first process is to use a chain breaker and remove it from the bicycle. Soak the chain in degreaser for a short period of time. Use a cassette brush to scrub the grit and grime that has not come off in the degreaser. Run through clean water to remove the grit and degreaser. Degrease and scrub again if needed. Dry with a clean towel to remove the water when complete.


Next remove the wheel and cassette. This is accomplished with a cassette locking tool and chain whip. The links of the chain whip are threaded into the cassette to use as resistance so the cassette locking tool can remove the cassette. Once the cassette is removed, it should be soaked in degreaser for a short period of time The cassette should then be scrubbed, washed in watter and dried like the chain. Return the cassette to the free wheel hub, but apply a light amount of grease to the hub. Reverse the process with the cassette locking tool and wrench.


You can manage the chain rings one of two ways: First, you can use degreaser and a towel and clean the teeth until you're satisfied. Or you can remove the crank, soak the chain rings and then clean them. This is the same process employed in removal and reassembly, but you will need to use a lock ring wrench or bottom bracket tool to remove the crank.


The last step is to reattach the chain, or to install a new one. Reattaching is simply threading the chain through cogs and deraileurs before using the chain breaker to join the two ends. Installing a new chain involves measuring the chain and cutting it to the correct size.

NOTE: Some cyclists like to keep an extra chain or two in degreasing solution ready to go whenever they want to swap out chains.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Should Cyclists have a 3-foot buffer zone?

CANADA - Ontario MPP Cheri DiNovo is proposing to give cyclists a wider birth, wanting to make it illegal for motorists to drive within 3 feet of a cyclist when passing them.

The private member's bill was introduced yesterday in Queen's Park and is proposing hefty fines for motorists who fail to give cyclists a reasonable amount of space.

“Leaving three feet while passing would go a long way in making the roads safer for cyclists,” DiNovo said. “This bill would serve as another reminder to share the road while encouraging people to ride their bike.”

Under the proposed amendment to the Highway Traffic Act, motorists would have to give cyclists a berth of three feet when travelling under 50 km/h (the speed limit on most city streets), four feet for speeds between 50 km/h and 80 km/h and five feet for over 80 km/h.

Fines of between $310 and $750 would be imposed on people who ignore the law.

A recent accident near Montreal might have been prevented if such a law had been in place. Three cyclists were killed and three others injured when a truck hit the group of triathlon athletes.

There is also a 2004 Toronto study that found passing motorists was the leading killer of cyclists and the second leading cause of collisions with bikes.

The problem right now is there is no defined space allowed to cyclists. The laws are quite vague, leaving it up to the cyclist how much room they require to feel safe. But motorists (some of whom believe cyclists shouldn't even be on the road) often ignore cyclist buffer zones because they either don't know about the laws concerning cyclists or don't care.

#1. A bicycle is a vehicle under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, thus a cyclist has the right to use the road and should be treated with equal respect as other vehicles.

#2. Cyclists must stay on the right side of the lane, but maintain a distance from the curb, parked cars, potholes and obstacles so as to maintain a straight line. A cyclist may occupy any part of a lane when their safety warrants it. (Note: A cyclist can move into a left lane if they need to turn left at an intersection.)

Thus a cyclist can take up as much or as little of a lane as they feel necessary to ensure their personal safety.

However this doesn't always fly with motorists, due to any number of reasons (road rage, bad day at work, lack of respect for cyclists, etc.) and thus the need for a specific buffer zone of 3 feet or more is a pretty good idea. The current vagueness of the law leaves the distance between the cyclist and the curb up to the personal discretion of the cyclist, but there is no law dictating the distance required between a motorist and a cyclist.

Right now its up to the motorist to decide, which means many motorists can simply choose to ignore the safety of the cyclist.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Toronto Cycling Committee Newsletter

CANADA - Cyclometer ( is Toronto's Cycling Committee Newsletter and has been growing strong since 1993. I recommend subscribing to it for monthly news on what is happening in Toronto's cycling infrastructure and events.

Toronto needs more Bicycle Racks

CANADA - Toronto is experiencing a cycling renaissance.

I am not kidding. Just ask your local Toronto bike shop and they can confirm that new bikes are flying off the shelves, business has never been better and they are desperate for sales staff and experienced bicycle mechanics.

And if you go downtown on a work day the chances are likely you will have difficulty finding a spot to lock up your bicycle. Its been happening regularly to me lately that I can't find a spot to lock up easily so I asked a few friends and they all responded with the same assessment: Toronto needs more Bicycle Racks.

However getting funding to install more on a large scale is tricky at times, because it means Toronto's City Council will have to find the funding somewhere.

Daniel Egan runs pedestrian and cycling infrastructure for the City of Toronto.

I recommend concerned cyclists contact him and encourage more funding for bicycle racks. There are huge gaps on major streets (even Yonge Street) where there are no racks at all and bikes are locked to trees, street signs, gas pipes, etc. Contact Daniel Egan or some of his staff at:

Pedestrian and Cycling Infrastructure
Transportation Services Division
22 East, City Hall
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, M5H 2N2
Tel: 416-392-9253
Fax: 416-392-4808

In May 2009 Toronto opened a $300,000, 180-bike indoor Bicycle Station at Union Station, a major regional transit hub. The city plans to add a 400-spot station at Toronto city hall and more stations at subway stops. Bikes are stored in two-tiered racks.

Apart from parking, the first Bicycle Station "includes a change room, a mechanic stand and a variety of tools for customer use as well as a vending machine with emergency bike necessities such as tubes, tire levers, patch kits, energy bars and refreshing beverages," according to the city of Toronto website. "Security measures include a 'man-trap' door system to prevent people following others into the station, 24-hour video surveillance, as well as staffed hours during the day." Users pay $25 for "lifetime membership" and then extra fees for parking. Toronto didn't invent parking stations. Other cities have been doing this for years.

The extra parking at City Hall and subway stations is a start. Ideally Toronto could create more smaller versions of this around the city. Say a tenth the size, but build ten of them near major intersections that are frequently trafficked by cyclists. And then survey bike shops to determine the rate at which Torontonians are buying new bicycle (a Bicycle Consumer Rate) and then use that rate to dictate what percentage the city should contribute to new bicycle racks in the future in an effort to keep pace. (The same rate could also help determine need for bicycle lanes.)

After all we don't want to reach the point that Japan has reached and we need to take extreme measures. See Bicycle Parking in Japan.

Or alternatively just be more proactive about street "accoutrements". ie. I feel the city could also use more benches to sit on, more greenery, trees, potted plants, lamp posts and drinking fountains. After all why should Yonge, University and Bloor be the only streets which receive the red carpet treatment? Would it be that hard to create stainless steel benches that has a bike rack built into the rear? Or lamp posts with bike racks at the base? No, not hard at all.

I am sure with a bit of ingenuity we can come up with designs which are beautiful and functional.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bicycle Racks on the TTC

CANADA - Five years ago the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) started a program of outfitting buses with bicycle racks on the front, spending a little over $2 million on the project (plus added fuel costs for the additional weight of the apparatus).

Today its now a question of whether it was worth it or just a waste in an effort for the TTC in its goal of becoming more bicycle friendly. Toronto has over 2.5 millions bicycles after all and approx. 5% of Torontonians commute to work and college/university, to say nothing of the % that just enjoy a long ride out to the Scarborough Bluffs or the Humber Bay Arch Bridge. In theory it was a wise investment.

However the percentage of riders who actually use the bike racks is apparently nil. Most cyclists prefer to cycle back home rather than rely on the TTC buses... or if they do take the TTC, I usually see them taking the subway or street cars.

I must admit I don't even know how to USE the bike rack on the front of a TTC bus. I've never used it and therefore have never tried.

The TTC claims rack usage is growing, but admits the numbers are still pretty small.

When the pilot program was first started in 2005 4 customers per 10,000 customers used the bicycle racks. That is 0.04%. Not even close to 1%.

Since then usage has apparently gone up says the TTC, but exact numbers are unknown despite installing the racks on 1,660 buses.

I admit I rarely see the bike racks being used, but I HAVE seen them in use even though I wasn't paying attention and deliberately looking for them. It was completely by accident whenever I did notice. Its difficult for me to estimate just how popular their usage is.

According to the TTC usage of the bike racks during the Summer 2009 have gone up 305% since Summer 2006. Slightly more than tripled. So instead of 4 riders per 10,000 its about 12. That is still only 0.12% of users.

Mind you not all buses even have a bike rack. These statistics are skewed by the fact all of the TTC's old GM buses still don't have bicycle racks on them.

There's another factor too... if only 5% of Torontonians regularly commute by bicycle then that means the 0.12% of TTC customers who use bike racks during the summer... then the approx. number of cyclists who use the bike racks during the summer is about 2.4%. That sounds about right.

Which means it probably is a complete waste of money, considering that the other 9 months the statistics will be pretty damn low and even during summer months the statistics remain reasonably low because so few cyclists bother to take the TTC on the way to and fro.

TTC operators are also keen to point its not bicycles that slow down buses... its a combination of bus delays, vehicle bunching, overcrowding, traffic and the dreaded baby strollers. Bicycles INSIDE the bus instead of on the bike rack aren't really a problem for drivers.

“The stroller issue has really become a problem,” says TTC operator Paul Flynn. “There are definitely things that delay us for longer than bicycle racks.”

Many people still don’t know the racks are there or how to use them, says Flynn (and he's right, I have yet to use one). Stopping a bus, coming out and showing riders how to place their bike on the rack doesn’t cause much of a delay, he added.

But those damn baby strollers on the other hand...

(I'd like to take a moment and point out that a lot of parents are putting their kids in baby strollers even by ages of 4 to 7. I know because I've seen it. That's overdoing it quite a bit. Sure, its easier to control the kid so they're not getting into trouble... but I'd argue these parents would be better off disciplining their children with either an ear tug or the occasional light spanking. Pampering your kids and refusing to spank them causes more problems in the long run. As a 5 year old I remember living in fear of my father's spankings and the rule of thumb from my experience was to spank the child until they wept. No blood, no serious bruising, no permanent damage. Just a sore bum and some tears to remember why you shouldn't play with matches. Parents could exercise a bit more common sense when their children are old enough to walk themselves to kindergarden.)

“The original pilot was only on a limited set of buses and their use has grown dramatically over the last few years,” says TTC chair Adam Giambrone. "Alternative forms of transportation like cycling, walking and transit are well served when they are integrated."

“It depends on the time of day, the point is they are there,” says Toronto Cyclists Union executive director Yvonne Bambrick who believes the racks are important. “They help people get around; they help people use their bike as part of their daily commute.”

And the racks are there in the event of an emergency, like a broken bicycle that needs to be dragged back home or to the repair shop.

It also gives cyclists another option since bicycles aren't allowed on the subway during rush hours... and the ability to visit distant places around the GTA, bring your bicycle along and then either bicycle home or carry it home on a bike rack.

Like bicycle lanes, the racks are an important step in incorporating bikes into the transportation network, says Bambrick.

My opinion however can be best summed in the following questions: Is it such a pain to just lift and carry your bicycle on to the bus? Or is it not the cyclists the TTC was really worried about... was the bike racks there to keep the other riders happy? Because if its a matter of keeping the other TTC users happy by not having a bicycle on the bus and taking up important space then I'd say the rack is well worth it.

One last note: If the TTC wants to be more user friendly the first thing they should do is have bathrooms in every subway station and make sure they are CLEAN. Nothing is more than disgusting than a TTC bathroom. I also think storage lockers, water fountains, more restaurant/food options and even stores would be a welcome change inside TTC stations and bring in additional revenue.


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About the Author

Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



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