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BIKES for cycling stuff
BITS for stuff that's not Botts or Bikes
It feels to me like Vancouver has similar kinds of snow events that I'm used to from when I lived in Old Blighty! I say 'events' because we didn’t call them 'storms'. The BBC weather person would report, "if we're lucky it's gonna snow a bit tomorrow in the South East, we may even get a whole inch of the fluffy stuff, so don't forget to wrap up". You get the gist! So nothing to 'write home' about, yet here I am writing about it, and my mother who lives in the UK may even get to read this!!!!
All that said, rolling into work this last two days has been potentially hazardous to my health. The streets are not cleared for this bicycle commuter! City workers in the three municipalities I travel seem to be on the 9-5 and I have to be in for 8.30!!!! Thick slippy snow with some slushy tracks of cars to follow which my bog standard Schwalbe Marathon tires cope with surprisingly well. And as I've only had them on for a few months, I feel quite chuffed about my extravagant purchasing decision. They ‘fail hard’ though in much more than three inches of fresh snow. I'm going exactly nowhere. Front and back wheels spin for a few seconds before I start listing to Port. You can't have everything I suppose.
I'm riding a small cargo bicycle known in North America as a Cycle Truck. I know them as a Bakers Boys or Butchers Boys or simply Delivery Boys bicycle. England was a nation of store keepers and between the late 1800s and about the 1960s the corner stores had a delivery boy on a bicycle like mine. As I understand it, customers bought pretty much the same food each week so the corner stores delivered it. We have something similar now with online shopping and think it's revolutionary. What goes around comes around, eh!
My front wheel is 20" with a large frame mounted platform over it for the cargo. I customised a wooden crate and added a made-up brewery logo before strapping it on the deck. The small wheel lowers the center of gravity for the load. And as the load is on the frame, not the fork, it’s super easy to ride. At the back it's a 26" wheel with a bunch of gears as you would expect. As mentioned, this design is over 100 years old, THE original cargo bicycle. I changed everything on the frame for better quality parts, stem and bars to make me more upright, a decent saddle and matching grips. Better bottom bracket, chain, gears, pedals, brakes, lights, etc. That's where traditional ends tho. I fitted low power Electric Assist parts from bikes.ca. With the motor in the front wheel I can have two wheel drive. Turn the assist down to an exact wattage and pedal to match it and Hey Presto 2x2 on what looks like an old bicycle with an old boy on it playing in the snow when there's not a single other bicycle in sight.
The main feature that kept me safe tho is the throttle. Something I've never seen on a mid-drive from one of the big cargo bicycle makers. Not sure it's even possible. My very first eBicycle in 2012 was an iGo from Fermetco in Montreal, it was mid drive and had a throttle. But the motor set-up and freewheel at the chain ring was completely different to what we have now. The motor mounted on the down tube like a water bottle and the bottom bracket (where the pedals bolt on) was a ‘worm and screw’ set-up with a freewheel. It worked very well except it would break the rear wheel inside at the axel, even a fairly expensive wheel it broke. Too much torque going down the chain. So I sent it back. I’ve been an electric Hub Drive fan ever since.
Just the addition of a throttle is an accessory in the UK (and some of Europe I think) that would classify this bicycle as a 'Class 3' eBike and with it a host of silly complications such as insurance, compulsory helmets, etc. Their thinking from what I’ve read is that a throttle makes it too much like a Moped and muddies the legal 'motorized vehicle' waters over there. Here in the Wild West it's all good though. With a throttle I can have a foot down, like a rubber booted kiddie stabilizer, ready for when the terrain wants to throw me off. My motor can pull me over rough stuff, the back can even snake a little while the front wheel is tugging me over car-wheel-created, semi-frozen, slush-ruts (try saying that quickly three times!). When the pedalling cadence is right I get my 2x2 drive and I LOVE it. Today I dialed in 104 watts and it was perfect with a slow steady pedal. To the casual observer I have mad skills, and I do have some, but of course the bike set-up is what mainly facilitates them. My wonderful and beautiful Bakers Boy Bicycle I call Gromitt.
To get home today I decided for once to take the easy route, no bridge. This means the passenger ferry from downtown. On my way to the Seabus I was riding in luxurious straight down fat lazy wet snow so I decided to try an experiment, to ride with yellow wrap-round safety glasses I had recently been gifted. I don't like them, they feel like a windscreen. I like the yellow and that they protect my eyes from stinging flakes, but they steam up like a car windscreen. Disappointed, I took them off and instantly felt more outside. What a difference. Everything felt closer and more real. If this kind of eye glass detached me from the world I can see how detached we can get being in cars. It's an habitual detached I don't think we realise or appreciate with two tons of metal wrapped round us. But THAT is a whole other article.
The city is sooooo quiet and sooooooo still. It's cold and my face really feels it despite my winter beard, but I don't mind for a moment. Thankfully only a handful of cars are braving the storm. Such a deluxe feeling. Vancouver belongs to me and Gromitt. As I sit still for a few minutes in the 'bike lane' on Pacific at Keefer, the 'paff, paff, paff' of falling snow is loud in my fur clad ears. I lick snow flakes from my lips. Am I in a Charlie Brown movie?
Only three pedestrians cross the street in front of me, heads down with hunched shoulders bearing themselves against the snow and cold. I glance at the condo towers about four blocks away to the west across the tundra of the adjacent park almost invisible in the snowfall. Everything is a vista of grey/white with tall shadows. There’s a chorus of echoing street-crossing beeps that are both charming and how I imagine the post-apocalypse dawn chorus to sound. It's marvelous. This is what it feels like to be alive on a commute.
I remember the decades I spent commuting in a car in the UK on the M25 motorway. I could leave home and be surprised to find myself arriving at work without any memory of the drive. So scary. Happened often. Sometimes it happened on a Saturday, and I didn’t work weekends! I could be halfway to work before I realised my autopilot had kicked in the second my bum hit the seat. The brain filters out the usual, even a 45min drive it seems. That's never happened to me on a Bicycle.
I continue riding cautiously around the back of Chinatown towards Gastown catching a red at every single light... which is actually fine, I'm in no hurry and going so slow I'm almost stopped anyway. Last time I rode these particular streets we were in the grip of the claustrophobic summer wildfires smoke, so I was experiencing a sort of ironic 'deja vu' if there is such a thing.
I looked up at some of the interesting low-rise buildings loomed over by the currently alpine Woodward's Buildings, with their mammoth, rotating, red hot poker ‘W’. The few inches of snow clinging to every window edge, balcony railing and the occasional architectural flamboyance gives the whole neighborhood an icy clean-up.
It doesn’t take long to glide through Gastown towards the relative warmth of Waterfront Station past a surprisingly busy Steamworks Brew Pub and Liquor Store. I will admit I lingered a while weighing up whether I could be bothered to lock my bike up outside and unload it in search of something interesting to drink tonight from the liquor store. Turns out I couldn’t be bothered!
I enter the station through the East door and ‘shook off’ on the big mat like a tired old hound would if a tired old hound was able to stand on his back legs and shake! Despite this I still manage to leave a trail of water behind me across the concours, through the barriers to the elevator and along the corridor to the Seabus gates. Once I get there the charming and perceptive attendant holding the door for me tonight said, without a word of a lie, word for word "You are a true hero, I don't know how you do it." I replied, "Thanks, it's lovely out there with the right bicycle and the right clothes."
Next year I think I will organise the 'worst day of the year ride', see who comes, I like meeting other nuts, I mean other like minded people.
This is my playground. So it's always 'work in progress'. I like to create all sorts that doesn't fit into one 'niche'! Mainly cartoon robots, bicycle culture and other 'bits' that occur to me like coffee, cooking on a camp stove and stormtroopers.