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Ask the Bike Maven | How to get your bike ready for the season

In Ask the Bike Maven, The Maven on May 21, 2012 at 10:24 PM

Everything you need to keep you–and your bike–happy: a pump, chain cleaner, degreaser fluid, chain lube, helmet, u-lock.

By The Maven | I was in Portugal 18 months ago for a cycle trip from Lisbon to the Algarve. We rented bikes from Portugal Bikes, a locally owned small cycle touring company–great people and good prices if you ever go.

Riding to Lisbon’s Belém Tower, built in 1515.

The shop owner asked our nationality before prepping us on basic bike maintenance. He was relieved to hear we were Canadian, mechanically competent people.  The Dutch, he said, were completely incapable of doing any maintenance work on their bikes. Since a cycle shop can be found on every corner in Holland, they can’t even fix a flat tire he told us.

So as Canadians we have an international standard to maintain, to wit, some advice.

1. Cleaning: Clean your bike. If it’s been in use in the salt and slush of winter, hose it down. If it sat outside or in the basement for the winter it still needs to be cleaned and lubricated.

Cleaning the chain is the most important for a smooth and happy ride. You can just hose it down, let it dry and then oil it.

Take the top off the bike chain cleaner, add de-greasing fluid, fit your chain in the cogs, snap on the top, and rotate your pedals backward about 100 revolutions.

But best to clean it properly. MEC sells a nice chain cleaner for only $5.50 and a bottle of citrus-based biodegradable degreaser for the same amount. Why degreaser? Because the oil on the chain picks up dirt and abrasive particles and this grit acts like sandpaper to wear down and destroy your chain, cogs, and chain rings. Shifting becomes  rougher and requires more force, you skip gears, ugliness–in the form of a repair bill to replace your drive chain–soon ensues.

With a chain cleaner you simple fill up the chamber with a degreaser, click it on to the chain and run the chain through it for a couple of minutes. The chamber will become black and disgusting while the chain will become shiny and silver again.

I also pour some degreaser directly on the derailleur and cogs and let it sit a while. You can then wipe all these parts down with a rag or rinse them with water. After everything has thoroughly dried (I like to do cleaning on a sunny day and let my bike sit in the sun for an hour to dry) you need to re-grease the chain. Do NOT use 3-in-1 or household oil. By oil specifically for a bike.

Or make a homebrew like I do. I mix one part light grade synthetic motor oil to three parts mineral spirits (pain thinner). I apply it liberally to my chain and all moving parts of my bike. The idea is that the mineral oil thins the oil and helps it penetrate and carry into metal parts. The mineral spirits then evaporates leaving behind the lubricating oil. About $10 worth of ingredients has lasted several years for me, and I maintain four bikes of my own and three of my son’s. I oil my road bike chain after every one or two rides. I will wipe down the chain and re-lube. I do a full clean ever few weeks.

Information about optimum inflation pressure is printed or embossed on the sideall of your tire.

2. Tire pressure:  Information about optimum inflation pressure is printed or embossed on the sidewall of your tire.

Tire pressure is crucial. The maximum inflation is on the tire side wall. If you are heavier go toward the higher end. Up to a point a higher pressure will aid efficiency but your ride may be a bit bumpier. Too little air can cause ‘pinch’ flats by pinching the sidewall of the tire between the road and the rim. And the bike won’t ride very nicely on half flat tires.

Tires lose air daily. The rubber tubes are not entirely air proof. There is some leakage. The higher the tire pressure (eg: road bikes) the faster the leakage. Pump your tires twice weekly at least. A good quality pump is worth the extra few bucks as it makes pumping so much easier.

I even use my bicycle pump to pump up my car tires (ok, I’m a little obsessive about these things).

3. Inspect your bike

Check your bike now and again to make sure the brakes aren’t rubbing, and that nothing is loose.

It’s a good idea to just walk around your bike and do an inspection now and again.

Check the brakes are not rubbing and that they stop a spinning wheel promptly. Check that the crank and headset have no play in them. If you are riding a single speed–particularly a fixie–the crank is your bread and butter. Keep it tight!

Use an

An Allen key set or hex wrench is all that is needed to adjust and tighten most parts on your bike.

You may not realize it but metal not only fatigues and breaks but also stretches. For instance, not only do your brake and gear cables needs tightening but your chain stretches. Not checking and replacing the chain when it needs it can wear the rear cogs and front chain rings, and then they too will need premature replacement…something that is much more expensive than a new chain.

If you aren’t confident enough or knowledgeable enough to do this stuff on your own, spend a few bucks at your local bike shop. Rob Bateman of Bateman’s Bicycle Company at 913 Bathurst just north or Barton is a great local guy and cycle enthusiast. He and his guys will look after your bike for a reasonable price.

A well tuned bike is a pleasure to ride.

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The Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex. Visit his blog at www.TOmaven.wordpress.com.

For other cycling articles by the The Maven on the West Annex News, visit the Bike Maven archive.

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Taking stock of Rob Ford’s Toronto, 2011

In The Maven, Toronto politics on December 31, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Rob Ford in a rare press scrum, at David Pecaut Square | Image: West Annex News

By The MavenAs we head into 2012 and are well into the second year of Fordism, we should pause and take note of what has occurred so far.

Thugs like Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti run wild.

Idiots like Josh Matlow feel self-important.

And Ford claims success so far for his mandate. He feels that whatever he wishes to do is ordained directly from ‘the people’. Having been elected, he has stated (following in the footsteps of that other democrat and man of the people, Steven Harper) that election victory means no more consultation for four years. Being Mayor means to Ford that whatever he wants to do is has already been sanctioned and he needs no further approval.

Interestingly, in spite of current and looming layoffs (he promised none would occur during his administration), service cutbacks (he guaranteed they were not going to happen during his mandate) and tax increases (hidden as ‘user fees’, which he insisted would never happen while he was mayor), Rob Ford says he has had a successful year.

As well, although he has found virtually NO gravy at City Hall to cut, he did manage to piss an awful lot of gravy away on his own team of consultants who confirmed that the only gravy around was the stuff Rob was feeding them.

Thank god for Adam Vaughan and Shelly Carroll. I know Gord Perks is a nice guy as well, but if the City is to be saved, it will be Vaughan and Carroll at the head of the battle.

But keep looking for the conservative and butt licking Toronto press to quiet down much of the righteous rage against Ford. They prefer access to the corridors of power (as the Fords only grant press access to those who toady up to them) to exposing the truth about this gang of mental giants.

We’ll survive but it won’t be a pretty sight along the way. But, at least the laughs are great. I mean we couldn’t dream up a better target for derision than the Brothers Ford.

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Read more of The Maven’s blog at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For other articles by this author on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

How my parents met

In The Maven on May 1, 2011 at 12:21 PM

Toronto, 1948

By The Maven | My father was born in December 1919 in an industrial town in southern Poland called Radom. His father was a tailor and my father, his two sisters and brother were raised in the apartment at the back of the tailor shop.

At the time of the German invasion of Poland my father had married and was studying to be a denturist. Some time after WWII broke out, my father, his new wife and their families were sent to the Radom Ghetto. Over the next two years in the ghetto, each of my father’s parents, his two older sisters and his wife were taken from the ghetto and sent to their deaths;  he never saw them again. For my father, the next three years saw him sent all across eastern and central Europe from concentration camp to labour camp and back.

On May 5, 1945 my father was in the Gleben concentration camp in Germany. The Nazi guards had left four or five days earlier with the news that the Red Army was advancing. Fearing retribution from the Russians who had so recently suffered under German brutality, the guards had headed west, preferring to surrender to the British or Americans. Two Russian officers rode into the camp on motorbikes. They told the inmates they were liberated, and that they must flee immediately as the Germans were organizing a counter-offensive.

Many did not have the strength to leave and were left behind. My father and several friends left the camp on foot. During his years of imprisonment and starvation, my father had nursed a craving for sour cream.  He came upon a farm house and found a large vat of sour creme being fermented. He gorged on it. He then fell violently ill; his body couldn’t handle so much food.

When he recovered, my father began to wander eastward back to his native Poland to look for surviving relatives. But Poles did not want Jews back, and pogroms against returning Jews were violent and spreading. Ironically, my father escaped west to Germany for safety, ending up in Stuttgart.

My mother was born in June 1920 and grew up with four older brothers in Warka, a village 30 kilometers south of Warsaw. Her father owned a leather tanning factory. Following the German invasion in 1939, after their home and the factory were seized, my mother and her family headed to Radom to be interred in the ghetto there, as her father thought would be safer than the Warsaw Ghetto. There my mother married. Over the next 18 months, each of her husband, her four brothers, and her parents were transported to their deaths. My mother was eventually sent to Auschwitz in Poland.

In 1945, to evade advancing Russian forces, my mother and other prisoners well enough to walk were force-marched by their Nazi captors to Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany.

On April 15, 1945, British and Canadian troops reached Bergen-Belsen and liberated it. One of the first acts of the liberators was to try to get the rampant disease among the survivors under control.  The British were overwhelmed by the poor condition of the survivors and didn’t have adequate resources to transfer and treat them elsewhere, and so they established a hospital and displaced persons camp right at Bergen-Belsen, and brought in supplies.

My mother was ill with typhus, a disease spread by lice. To kill the lice that covered her, the British doused my mother  in DDT .

When my mother recovered sufficiently, she left the camp with her close friend and bunk mate from Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz and began, as did most survivors, to search for surviving family members, friends–anyone. She heard there was a growing survivor community in Stuttgart and so made her way there.

In the American sector in Stuttgart in Displaced Persons accommodation, my father was making a little money buying scarves and re-selling them to Allied servicemen to send home to their wives and girlfriends. One day he looked out the window and saw two woman walking by, one of whom he knew from Radom. He called out, offering both women free scarves, which they accepted. The other woman was my mother.

My parents married in 1946 while waiting in Stuttgart for one of the countries to which they had applied to immigrate to accept them.

The Canadian Garment Workers Union was then a largely Jewish organization that was active in trying to rescue Jewish refugees in Europe after the war. They convinced the Canadian government that Canada needed more tailors. Union representatives traveled to Stuttgart seeking tailors among the refugees. My father,  hearing of this, changed his occupation on his application for immigration to tailor; after all, his father had been one and who would doubt a Jewish tailor?

Though Israel had been their destination of choice, Britain was still denying Jewish immigration there. My parents were tired from their constant struggle for survival over the past eight years, and they agreed that they would not raise children in Europe. They were happy when they learned, after three years of waiting, that Canada had accepted them.

In spring 1948 my mother and father disembarked at Halifax on their way to Toronto to begin a new life, having between them lost their first spouses, two sisters and four brothers, both sets of parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. They spoke no English and had no education beyond high school. They were 28 years old and had been incarcerated in one form or another for eight years.

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The author’s parents, pictured with his older sister above, are now 91 years old and are living independently in their home in Toronto.

Read more of The Maven’s blog at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For other articles by this author on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

The Maven’s Election Diaries: If you love Canada, vote strategically

In The Maven on April 27, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Image credit: abadallahh

By The Maven | After all is said and done we have to make a decision on who to vote for. For some it’s easy. They always vote the same party. For others a certain issue or subset of issues has driven them to a party. Still others are concerned with strategic voting.

I have pretty much always voted NDP. But not always.

In every election the Conservatives have been the boogeyman. When the Liberals are favoured to win I feel free to vote my conscience. But with the Conservatives slated to win I always give consideration to strategy.

Here in Trinity-Spadina there is no concern that the Conservatives could win so the decision comes more easily. It’s not that simple in many ridings in the country.

But it seems unfair to the NDP and the left in general to always have to weigh conscience against strategy. And it plays into the hands of those who believe in a two-party system.

Many question whether it matters if the Liberals or Conservatives hold power…they are both small ‘c’ conservative and pro-business. But I think that is not a realistic appraisal of the situation.

Under some red Tories and some conservative Liberal leaders the difference may not look too great. But if, say, you were poor or disabled or lived in a city, Mike Harris in Ontario meant an awful lot to you. Whether welfare cuts or amalgamation in Toronto, you were hit hard. And the deficits that result from  screwball right-wing economic theories prevalent in conservative circles are frightening.

No, Stephen Harper isn’t just a Conservative. He is a Republican-style conservative of a type we don’t see often here in Canada. His style is acutely partisan and autocratic. He has prorogued Parliament. He has fired civil servants who disagree with him. He has waged dirty campaigns against whistle blowing bureaucrats–all in complete contradiction of his espoused views while he was in opposition.

He invited the military to his first Throne Speech, an action which I find particularly troublesome and very American.

But, honestly, what worries me most is his economic policies which seem determined to drive Canada into massive deficits and which have seemingly no strategy to encourage competitiveness. Like after Mike Harris and Brian Mulroney, we are going to be painfully digging ourselves out of debt for years after the Conservatives are through with their mismanagement of the economy.

I do agree with the Conservatives that this election is about the economy and that is why I am in absolute dread of them achieving a majority.

I don’t like having to vote for a party whose policies are not as tuned to me as my preferred option but I think this election is indeed a turning point for Canada. Harper is one of those politicians who has the potential to do long-lasting harm. He will be destructive to the economy and is very dangerous to the culture of Canada–the political culture.

I think Harper’s Canada is a game changer. And the polls put him on the doorstep of a majority.

If ever there was an election to vote strategically this surely is it.

I would urge anyone in a riding where the Liberals are leaders to abandon the NDP and vote Liberal. Likewise I would urge Liberals to vote NDP in those ridings (eg: in B.C.) that seem likely to defeat a Conservative. While I really would like to see a Green MP in the House, surely this is a time to vote against the Conservatives… unless a Conservative doesn’t threaten in your riding. Five years of ignoring the environment isn’t going to be good.

Unfortunately the party with the most seats will form the government. That party is almost certain to be the Conservatives. The Canadian electorate has been miseducated by the Conservatives to believe that it is illegitimate for several minority parties to try to form a government if none of them have a plurality of seats.

I only hope the Conservatives can be held to a minority.

As for me, as I said, I have the luxury of voting my preference. Yes, I know the NDP is not the party many would like it to be. At times I don’t feel like it has an understanding that there is actually an economy and businesses out there that need to create wealth to pay for social services. I often feel that it doesn’t consider productivity issues enough. And it certainly seems to have lost much of the grand vision and settled for tax tinkering (like the other parties). And it nearly faltered on the gun registry. But if we wait for a political party that reflects all our concerns, we will hand the future to the Conservatives.

Please vote and please think about the larger implications.

If you are not certain about what is your best strategic option, may I suggest you check out Project Democracy. They list, riding by riding, your best shot at defeating a Conservative candidate after analysing every public opinion poll as it comes out.

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

Visit abadallahh’s photostream on Flickr.

The Maven’s Election Diaries | The Liberals and NDP battle for Trinity-Spadina

In Election diaries, The Maven on April 22, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Image credit: Michael Loudon

By The Maven | Thankfully, this is a riding where we don’t have to worry about the Conservatives winning. We can vote as we wish without having to worry about voting strategically.

Or at least so we thought.

Olivia Chow has held the riding for the NDP since 2006. Before that Tony Ianno held it for the Liberals between 1993 and 2006. Although Chow won in 2008 with a 3500 vote lead over Liberal Christine Innes, the latter ran a terrible campaign. She doing a better job this time around. Rumour has it that this riding is a toss-up right now.

I was at the Trinity-Spadina all-candidates meeting on Wednesday, April 20, and some of my thoughts follow.

What I find interesting about Innes’ campaign is what isn’t being discussed, or at least not by her.

For instance, I feel strongly that a candidate be judged on her own merits. The fact that she is Tony Ianno’s wife should theoretically not be held against her. However, I do find it interesting that she has made no mention of their relationship at all in this election. In fact I cannot find out much of anything about her. Aside from having four children and being involved in the Annex Residents Association and her church, she is a self-described community leader of whom very few people seem to have knowledge.  The bio she provides on her website suggests she has a long history of political backroom activity within the Liberal Party and works now as a political appointee to a provincial Liberal cabinet minister.

She really sounds like the proverbial backroom boy. Not a lot different from our previous Liberal MP, her unspoken husband. You may remember he was called out for having the worst participation record of any Toronto MP in the House of Commons and for supporting causes–like the Toronto Port Authority–hostile to Torontoians’ interests.

There are some questions that some people in this riding would like addressed:

  • Given that Mr. Ianno, your husband, is under investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, what is your stand on ethics in government. Debate moderator Gus Sinclair didn’t do you any favours when he called this question out of order at the debate. Yes, I know that you and your husband are two different people, but I think the voting electorate has a right to know if there are ill-gotten gains involved.
  • Given the legacy of the sponsorship scandal and the concerns around your husband’s trust funds to get around Elections Canada rules about campaign financing, would it not have been better to let someone fresh carry the banner for the Liberals locally, rather than pursue an Ianno/Innes dynasty?
  • How can we trust  your commitment to public education given your choice to send your children to private school? In fact, what then is your commitment to Medicare given the context of the choices you make in your private life?
  • What is your stand on same-sex marriage  as well as access to abortion?

Well fellow Trinity-Spadina-ites, without those questions answered, I don’t feel comfortable with Ms Innes. The previous Liberal government left power with an unfortunate reputations for sleaze. It’s important that all Liberals make a clear break from that era. Innes’ close ties with the last Liberal member don’t do much to dispel old perceptions. I think people can be  judged by the company they keep and it’s company I am not comfortable with.

Frankly, from what I saw at the debate of Rachel Barney, the Green Party candidate, I quite like her. But while I would love to see Elizabeth May have a seat in the House, I am not going to vote Green and take a chance that the Liberals will take this seat, much as I would prefer to see the Liberals form a government. This last statement is based on my belief that only the Liberals can get enough seats nationally to have a realistic chance of unseating the Conservatives.  New opinion polls just out this week may change this scenario. More in the days to follow.
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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

Visit Michael Loudon/thorneypup’s photostream on Flickr.

The Maven’s Election Diaries: Nothing happening

In Election diaries, The Maven on April 18, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Image credit: screen captures from televised Federal Leadership Debate 2011

By The MavenI haven’t posted anything for a while about the federal election. It’s just not happening for me. We started off with some sparks but the past week has been really dull.

The Conservative ads have now turned to “the vision”. There is Harper talking about what Canada is and can be. Only problem is that beyond a strong military and lots of jails, he really doesn’t have anything to say. He doesn’t like government, except when using it to try to buy votes. His whole economic plan–until the opposition forced him to take action–is essentially to do nothing. His ‘stay the course’ really means ‘let things go’. He is an old-fashioned laissez-faire capitalist (again, unless he can buy power with targeted spending).

But if any leader has a vision, I think Harper’s vision of a more militaristic, conservative, individualist nation is the most clearly expressed. It’s unpalatable but it is there.

So the Conservative campaign is really a boring old hash of nothing with a small dash of something rotten.

And the press coverage? We keep hearing that the Conservatives will only allow reporters four questions per day. Wow, where is the press on that issue? Nowhere. I would have thought this incredible assault on democracy would be in the news daily. Where is the reporter writing the Prime Minister once again refused to answer questions. That would be headline news every day if I ran a media outlet.

The NDP feel they can smell power…well, power of the sort the NDP refers to. They think they are within reach of Official Opposition status.

But where once there was an NDP vision of a just and more egalitarian Canada, there are now only families and targeted programs. Now, I don’t really blame them. When I was younger I railed against the NDP for not remaining true to the concept of a movement and not just another political party. As I have grown older I realize the usefulness of a party on the left that actually seeks to attain power even if it means watering down some policy. It’s easy to criticize progressive parties for the compromises they make to get elected.

I suppose the alternative is to keep shouting from the sidelines but I don’t find that terribly useful and neither does the NDP. But I still can’t help but feel that there has to be something more to the peoples’ party. Is this all it’s come to: tax deductions?

The Liberals, now there is a letdown as well. Not because I think they would change the world. It’s really because I’m afraid the Conservatives would change the world. That’s why I am so concerned about the Liberal Party. Who else can stop the Conservatives?

The Liberals owe it to Canadians to not be so stupid. Where once they had a brains trust, there now seems to be no one at the helm. It is interesting to think about what a Liberal government might look like. Except for Iganatieff who is on the conservative side of the party, there are a number of NDP types who would be in any cabinet. Think of Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Ujjal Dosanjh, Ken Dryden. These are people who could easily be in the NDP and who do, I think, have a vision of a better Canada.

But, alas, a Liberal government is not to be. And that is partly because the left, unlike the right, have refused to co-operate, but also because the politicians, the press and we Canadians have let the Conservatives define democracy for us. I mean how many parliamentary democracies have majority governments today? New Zealand, the United Kingdom and almost every European country have coalition governments. Canada has a long history of minority government either nationally or provincially. So majority governments which used to be the norm in Canada, are certainly not usual globally.

Yet Stephen Harper, with the acquiescence of a docile press, has convinced us that parties representing over 60% of the vote do not have the right to govern… either in coalition or co-operation. Just how can it be that this ahistorical and constitutionally incorrect interpretation of parliamentary democracy can have won the day?

Why does our press ape Harper’s pronouncements without question? Why do they accept his isolation and lack of accountability without ridiculing him over it?

Maybe it’s time to ask the press some questions. But first, let’s do whatever we can to keep this clown Harper out of a majority government.

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

Ask the Bike Maven: bike fitting 101

In Ask the Bike Maven on April 11, 2011 at 8:05 AM
A properly fitted bike: seat positioned so legs can deliver maximum power to the pedals, elbows slightly bent when hands resting on the hoods

By the Bike Maven | It’s spring, prime bike-buying season. Whether you’re buying new or used, you need to know a bit about bike fitting before you make your purchase.

I know that not everyone is into long distance or fitness riding. Sometimes a quick toodle to the store is all you’re out for. So who cares how your bike fits and what position you are in on your bike? Well, l it can make a real difference. Your position on the bike affects both the efficiency with which you pedal and your comfort in doing so.

And if you are more comfortable and more efficient, you are going to enjoy riding your bike more. Unlike Stephen Harper, I admit to my agendas: I want to see as many people as possible on their bikes, and I want to see them riding as much as possible.

So what’s involved in making sure your bike fits and that you are properly positioned on it?

Your body contacts the bicycle in three areas; your hands, your seat, and your feet. Their position determines your comfort and efficiency on the bike.

The parts of a bike: note the seat tube, cranks (crank arm), stem, brake hoods, and hub, all of which I will refer to in this article (click to enlarge)

The wrong size bike can’t be made right by a bike fitting. So your first priority: buy the right size of bike. But what size is right? I am often dismayed to see “bike fittings” take place in bike shops with staff who have little or no qualifications to fit a bike. The customer gets on the bike, the bike shop employee asks “how does it feel?” Well, if you’ve been used to riding a wrong-sized bike, or you’re an adult getting back on a bike after many years, or if you’re used to riding a bike with a straight handle bar and you are getting your first bike with drop bars, a new bike will feel weird and unfamiliar. Asking you how it feels is a useless question.

Bike fitting has some scientific aspects to it. It’s not just an eyeball affair, and it’s not just how it feels to the individual rider. I’ve lectured U of T Phys. Ed. students on the basics of bike fitting–a quick overview–and it’s taken me almost 90 minutes. A proper fitting on a road bike can take an hour.

But I’m not going into that kind of detail here. What I am going to try to do is give you the basics so you at least walk out the store with the right size bike. As you get more proficient and interested in better performance on your bike, you can then go to a qualified bike fitter who will help you dial in the fit exactly to your body specifics.

Step one: proper seat height. Your leg should not be not quite fully extended at the bottom of the down stroke (leg in foreground). Aim for 20 to 30 degrees flexion at the knee

Step one: get the  seat height right. When I look at casual bike riders out on the street, the most common mistake I see is that their seat height is too low. When stopped, they can put both feet on the ground while still seated in the saddle. When I look at serious cyclists, the most common mistake I see is that their seats are too high. When at the bottom of their pedal stroke, their leg is fully extended.

When your seat height is properly adjusted, your leg will be not quite fully extended on the down stroke. You want about 20 to 30 degrees flexion at the knee at  the bottom of the pedal stroke like in the photo above. Note that the bottom of the down stroke is when the crank is parallel to the seat tube (the tube that your seat sits on top of) and not when the crank is vertical.  Also note that the ball of your foot should be on the pedal, and your foot should be level to the ground. Don’t let me ever see you riding with the heel of your shoe on the pedal, or I will stop you and chew you out.

Why is this the desired seat height? Muscles have an efficient dynamic range. Stretch them too much and they won’t contract back as strongly (think of a rubber band). If the seat is too high, your legs will be extended beyond their point of efficiency as well as comfort. Additionally, you will be swiveling your pelvis from side to side to reach the pedals. That is going to chafe your private parts. That isn’t good for you or your significant other. If the seat is too low, you aren’t getting all the power you could by stretching your legs out more, resulting in a more tiring ride.

Step two: get the bike saddles fore-and-aft adjustment right. The front of your knee should be just in front of the pedal spindle

Step two: get the seat fore-and-aft adjustment right. Correctly placing your seat over the pedals helps efficiency as well as knee comfort. With your foot parallel to the ground, the front of your knee should be just ahead of the spindle of the pedal.  The proper way to gauge this is to either drop a plumb line from your knee, or a metre stick or other straight measure (see photo above).

My choice of saddle: the Selle SMP Strike: minimally padded with good sit bone support, and radical cut-outs for long ride comfort

A quick word about saddles. Those over-padded, big-ass bike seats are much less comfortable than a smaller, firm seat. Think of wearing a Birkenstock sandal (firm, molded) compared to slippers on a long walk. You are looking for a saddle that flares a little at the back to support your sit bones. Women’s saddles flare a little wider than men’s since most women’s pelvis are wider. Rather than being heavily padded, these saddles are indented or entirely cut away at the common friction points between rider and saddle.

The tilt of the saddle also needs attention. You often see bike saddles with the nose tilted radically down. This is usually done to try to ease the pain of an uncomfortable saddle. But with the nose tilted down, the rider’s weight is thrown forward on to the handlebars, resulting in numb hands, and wrist, arm, shoulder and even neck pain. Get yourself a saddle that you are comfortable sitting on when it is flat so that your pelvis is level, and your weight is properly distributed. If you are going to splurge on any part of your bike, make it your saddle.

Step three: with your hands on the brake hoods, your elbows should be slightly bent

Step three: get the distance from saddle to handle bar right. So now that your seat is in the proper position, put your hands lightly on the brake hoods, and rest your fingers on the levers. There should be some bend in your elbows so they act as your suspension as you go over bumps and other imperfections in the road.  See the photo above. Now look down to your front wheel; the handlebar should obscure the hub.

If you have to straighten your arms to reach the handle bar and when you look down, you can see the wheel hub well behind the handlebar, you are on too large a bike frame. Conversely, if your elbows are deeply bent and when you look down, you see the wheel hub well ahead of the handlebar, you are on too small a frame. If the reach is just slightly off, then the frame size is probably okay, but you need a different length of stem (that part of the bike that connects the handlebar to the frame). Reputable bike shops will have a variety of stem lengths on hand to swap out with yours to make the fit right.

In conclusion. A full bike fitting involves many more adjustments, including adjusting handlebar height, width and stance as well as several other contact points on the bike. Tires, handlebar tape, wheels, and gear ratios all contribute to a bike’s comfort. Most of you likely won’t care about a detailed fitting. But the three basics I give you above should at least get you on the right sized frame. If the shop where you’re test riding a bike doesn’t offer at least these adjustments above, run, don’t walk to another bike shop that does.

And if you start to develop an interest in rides of greater lengths, or in racing or triathlon, then you will want to take your bike in to an expert and have a proper fitting. While we are lucky to have several good bike shops in the neighbourhood, none are equipped to do an advanced fitting. In my view, Heath Cockburn at La Bicicletta, 1180 Castlefield Avenue is the best bicycle fitter in the city. Go for the fitting, and enjoy the eye candy while you’re there; this is THE bike store in Toronto for high performance cycling. La Bicicletta has the most wonderful, luscious, sexy, fabulous bikes you can imagine. Try not to fall in love–it will be an expensive affair.

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If you have any particular bike comfort question you want to ask the Bike Maven, or you want to know more about bike fitting, post your question in the comments section below.

The Bike Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex. Visit his blog at www.TOmaven.wordpress.com.

For other articles by the Bike Maven on the West Annex News, visit the Bike Maven archive.



The Maven’s Election Diaries | The Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t know squat about managing an economy

In Election diaries, The Maven on March 31, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Jim Flaherty of the Conservative Party is Canada's biggest spending Finance Minister of all time | Photo by Joshua Sherurcij

By The Maven | When Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party of Canada first came to power in 2006,  they inherited a budget surplus that had been hard-won by the earlier Liberal government. The Liberal budget for 2005-06 was not only balanced, but for the 8th straight year under Liberal rule, boasted a sizable surplus. This was delivered along with significant new money for defence and the environment, and some modest tax reductions for individuals.

As we know, the Liberal minority government was forced to the polls by the NDP in 2006, ushering in the Stephen Harper era as Prime Minister.

Harper’s first budget in 2006 lowered the GST by 1% to 6%. In January of 2008 it was cut again to 5%–this despite the protests of almost every economist in the country that the cut would take billions out of Federal coffers just when it appeared world economies were slowing.  A year later, the Liberal surplus had been turned into a Conservative $34 billion dollar deficit.

Now, mind you, this was before the recession’s impact. Indeed, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was still saying in early 2009 that Canada would not experience a recession.

He made no plans for it either to stimulate the economy nor to reign in spending. Indeed the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has raised spending to unprecedented levels while cutting corporate and income taxes, and managed to erase all the surplus built into Paul Martin budgetary planning.  And don’t forget that the very same Jim Flaherty was finance minister in Mike Harris’s ultra-right government whose Common Sense revolution left Ontario badly in debt after they got through with it.

With Jim Flaherty and the Conservatives jauntily denying the extent of the economic downturn, they were forced by the NDP, Liberal and Bloc to bring in a budget for 2009 that incorporated stimulus spending. This was the Economic Action Plan (as conceived of by the opposition parties and initially vigorously opposed by the Conservatives) that is now advertised by the Conservatives as proof that they should stay at the helm to ride out the last vestiges of the economic storm.

But from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush in the United States, to Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper in Canada, the right has been a disaster for slowing economies with their reliance on supply side economics.

Hell, even the Conservatives in oil rich Alberta can’t even manage a budget with all the oil royalties they are they are blessed with.

So why does the Canadian voting public still say in public opinion polls that they trust the Conservatives more than other parties to manage the fiscal situation in difficult times? It certainly isn’t based on reality.

We need more of this economic history to get out there. Why aren’t the opposition parties pushing the Conservative’s dismal record more volubly?

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

Election diaries: Me vs Us

In The Maven on March 26, 2011 at 5:23 PM

What’s the real message behind some of the election goodies on offer?

The Conservatives' income splitting promise encourages traditional families with stay-at-home moms. What about other kinds of families?

By The Maven | All the political parties are offering tax breaks or programs to enhance some level of family life. The focus is very much on families again this time around. Never mind that the definition of families for most of these programs is a rather outmoded one…one described by two opposite gendered heads with children living at home. In fact, the latest gambit by the Conservatives–their income splitting proposal–goes one step further by assuming (or encouraging) one income families. In fact, it is a subtle discouraging of two incomes. Yes, the Conservatives do have a social agenda.

Leaving that aside, there are significant differences in how we can enhance life for families. Programs favoured by the Conservatives lean towards personal choice and the ability to purchase services. An example of this is their child tax credit to recoup daycare costs. Approaches like health care vouchers and charter school initiatives fall into this category.

At first blush, it seems reasonable to give people money to make choices appropriate to their needs. Isn’t it empowering and more democratic to allow people to direct the social service sector by their spending choices?

Well, yes, if you see the world through a seller/consumer versus society/citizen lens. I have written elsewhere about how this applies to the education system.

The other approach is a societal or system approach. Instead of giving money to families to go and buy, say for instance, daycare services, government can set the same amount of money aside and develop a comprehensive daycare system. An excellent example of a comprehensive program is the health care system. The Canadian system is about 30% cheaper to run than the American system. By most measures our health care system is as advanced technologically as the American (taking into account the much larger volume in the American system). Our system is certainly much more egalitarian in providing a wider range of services to a far greater percentage of people.

Now that isn’t to say that there are not problems. Waiting times are an issue in our system. The delivery of services is not always equitable. Sometimes our system is less innovative in finding new ways to offer services. But the American system has larger issues. Aside from the obvious disparity in the provision of services to different economic groups, the American system is also far more wasteful administratively (spending a far higher percentage on admin than our ‘wasteful’ public system) and the complexity and confusion of paperwork in the U.S. is overwhelming.

There are real economies of scale to be achieved by a society approach to such issues as daycare. The same amount of money given to families to buy daycare (when none may be available) is better given to establish a comprehensive structure to set up and administer daycare.

Will there be shortcomings in such an approach? Certainly. But fewer than encouraging the individual purchase of services. And while there may be some fear of a homogenous one-size-fits-all approach, at least there would actually be a system. And political agitation has always provided the impetus for creativity within a public system in a way that private purchase never quite does beyond superficialities.

So when the political parties offer incentives and tax deductions for certain social programs, take a closer look at what they really intend to achieve. For the Conservatives, individual ‘family based’ tax credits further their agenda of less government and more individual choice in the narrow sense. But just as importantly, they are less likely to actually achieve the provision of services intended.

Another approach, and I would suggest, more efficient, more equitable, and certainly more likely to meet its goal of actually delivering a service, is to deliver a program in a comprehensive way.

That is why we fund public transit, public schools, public utilities this way. They are all public. Do we give up consumer choice by doing this? Yes. Do we get a better and cheaper provision of services this way? Yes, I think we do.

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In Election Diaries, The Maven comments on the leaders, the parties, the issues and the campaigns for Canada’s 41st federal election.

Read more of The Maven’s Election Diaries at www.tomaven.wordpress.com.

For past articles by The Maven on the West Annex News, visit The Maven archive.

Ask the Bike Maven: How to lock your bike

In Ask the Bike Maven on March 21, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Nothing is sadder than coming across the remains of an improperly locked bike. The mistake here? Locking only the front wheel to the bike ring. The thief just flipped the quick-release lever on the wheel, and bye-bye bicycle.

By the Bike Maven | Spring is here and with it legions of cyclists are venturing back out on the streets. Which reminds me of a subject of perennial puzzlement: in a city as bike-mad as Toronto, why do so few cyclists know how to properly lock their bikes?

Bicycle theft is a major deterrent to cycling in Toronto. Even with Igor Kenk out of business, Toronto is still one of the bike theft capitals of the world. And don’t think your cheap beater bike is immune to the vermin bike thief. It can and will get stolen if you aren’t careful.  A bit of thought goes a long way to deterring bike thieves. I say deterring because there is no way to make your bike completely theft-proof.

I’m going to talk today about how to secure your bike with a single lock. Yes, you can nail it down even further with multiple locks, chains and cables, but who wants to ride around the city burdened with all that heavy paraphernalia?

Replace your quick release skewers, right, with a set that requires a wrench or allen key to remove, left.

So let’s start by at least making it a little harder for thieves to take your bike or its parts. First, replace the quick-release skewers on your wheels and seat post with a set that needs a wrench or an allen key to remove. Conversion kits are available at your West Annex LBS: Bateman’sCurbside, and Sweet Pete’s. There are fancy anti-theft skewers out there for $45 a set and more, but the simplest sets starting at about $20 will do.

Next, invest in a good quality lock. U-locks (like Kryptonite) are more secure than cable locks. And I believe the smaller the U-lock the safer it is. Why? Because smaller makes it harder for a thief to get an instrument in the U to lever it open. My lock of choice is the Kryptonite Evolution Mini. For a U-lock, it’s light and easy to carry.

So what’s next?  The biggest mistake most cyclists make when locking their bike comes when selecting which part of the bike to lock to the bike ring. The most expensive part of the bike is the frame, followed by the rear wheel with its cassette of gears. In fact, if you have an internally geared hub on the rear wheel as is becoming popular these days on city bikes, the entire (and expensive) gear system is in the rear wheel. Really, relatively speaking, the front wheel is pretty cheap to replace compared to the rest of the bike.

So why do some cyclists insist on locking the front wheel and leaving the frame and the rear wheel unsecured? I think the answer is that most non-mechanically inclined riders find it harder to remove the rear wheel than the front since they have to disengage the chain from the cassette. They reason that the rear wheel is less likely to get stolen.

Wrong. Anyone with a bit of experience can remove the rear wheel in a snap.

So how to lock your bike?

The proper way to lock your bike: within the bike frame's rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post.*

Close-up detail of the image above. Note that only the rear wheel--not the bike frame--is locked to the bike post.*

The best way to lock your bike securely? Within the bike frame’s rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post. Yes, I know, it seems a little freaky at first because the bike frame itself is not locked to the post, only the rear wheel is.

But the rear wheel rim has tremendous strength. It’s built to carry most of the rider’s weight and to resist the torque placed on it by the chain and the derailleur.  That with the tension created by the spokes means that only the most determined of professional bike thieves are capable of cutting through a wheel rim. And so long as you catch the wheel within the bike frame’s rear triangle with the U-bolt, it’s impossible to separate the wheel from the frame.

I learned this technique from my personal bike guru, the late great Sheldon Brown. His Lock Strategy article is worth a read, as is everything on his comprehensive website.

Yes, thieves can still take your front wheel. But they won’t bother, since the owner of the bike locked next to yours hasn’t read this article, and his rear wheel is available to rip off.

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* Note: the City recommends that you lock to the bike post, not the bike ring as pictured above. Thank you to Jody Levine for pointing this out.

The Bike Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex. Visit his blog at www.TOmaven.wordpress.com.

Read the Bike Maven’s previous article:

For other articles like this, visit the Bike Maven archive.