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Dec 31, 2010

Top 10 Cycling Stories in YYC

In the spirit of this time of year, and the inevitable Top 10 lists of everything under the sun, we have decided to compile our own list of Calgary bicycle related stories - according to us and in no particular order.

Did we miss something or do you disagree? Let us know in the comments.

1. More People Riding - I don't know about you, but I think I saw more people riding bikes this year.  I know, I know, you're all going to say "Sure you saw more riders, you just opened a bike shop"! And perhaps you might be right except that many of my friends have also made the same comment, so I think I might be onto something.  More people riding to work, more people on bikes in general.  The reasons for people choosing to ride more are probably as diverse as the people themselves - saving money, better health, frustrated with traffic or transit - all very hard to pin down for me.  I hope there is someone in Calgary asking these questions because the answers could be very interesting.  

2. Riding on the Sidewalk - Well, in winter at least.  Riding on the sidewalk is not a very safe thing to do but what's safer -  riding on the sidewalk or riding on roads that have been narrowed by snow plows with motorists who are passing too close?  To be clear, I am not advocating this practice but have noticed a lot more people doing it.  Could this be a sign that more people are choosing to ride in the winter too?  Could this be a response to our lack of safe bike routes and on-street lanes? 

3. Pathways Torn out With no Warning and no Detours - Oh boy, did the city piss off an awful lot of people this year.  There were 2 glaring examples of this - here and here both of which occurred without any advance notice or suitable detours on sections of pathway that are heavily used by commuting cyclists and recreational cyclists alike.  I had a chance to ask one of our bike friendly alderman (or "councillors" now I guess) about these occurrences and he was equally upset and sadly, not really surprised that they had happened they way they did.  Our parks department has demonstrated time and again that they do not care enough about area cyclists to create usable detours or at least warn users ahead of time.  Hopefully 2011 will see some positive changes in the way the parks department handles these pathway closures and detours.

4. The MUP System - Say what you want about our lack of on-street bike lanes (I think we need 'em bad!), one piece of cycling infrastructure that continues to define Calgary is our extensive multi use pathway (MUP) system.  Currently around 700kms in total length and stretching from the core to the farthest flung suburbs, the MUP is well used by many Calgarians for recreation, exploring, and for some - commuting.  Jack Leslie - former Mayor of Calgary, can be thanked for fighting against CP Rail's plan to put their main line along the banks of the Bow River.  By winning that battle - he set the stage for the creation of our pathway system and should be remembered for his vision and determination to create a more livable Calgary.  The MUP does have it's challenges though - especially during the last few years.  With our lack of direct bike lanes for commuters many more conflicts have been occurring, sometimes with serious injuries.  The MUP was never conceived as bike commuter infrastructure and the vastly different speed differential between cyclists, joggers, moms with strollers, and dog walkers has created a situation that (during busy times) can be scary and dangerous for all users.  Overall though, the MUP system is an incredible piece of cycling infrastructure that allows you to access numerous natural areas along the Bow and Elbow Rivers.  The MUP does have its challenges but we love it and hope that the city continues to improve the dangerous areas that exist.

5. Mainstream Media Coverage In Calgary - Was it just me or did it seem like there was more coverage of cycling in the news this year?  It all started in February with our city council voting to not raise the speed limit for bikes on the MUP and seemed to gain momentum throughout the rest of the year.  The Calgary Herald featured a handful of Calgarians who choose to bike commute (including your truly) and Calgary's other daily's (here and here) also got in on the action.  Even the local weekly arts and culture paper - FFWD Calgary had to take a stab at it.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention The Calgary Journal's feature on all things cycling here, here, and here.  Even Macleans magazine was seeing something happening - this time in Toronto.  All the coverage is great - whether its a sad story about a collision on the pathways or an inspiring story about someone who has chosen to cycle more - all these stories add up into a big year in the news for bike here in YYC.

6. Nenshi! (and the election in general) - Much has been written about Naheed Nenshi's incredible, come from behind win in the fall civic election and it was exciting to witness it.  His advocacy for more bike lanes and more bike infrastructure as part of his overall transportation plan was refreshing and welcomed by a majority of Calgarians, as evidenced by the very high voter turnout and his complete trouncing of the supposed frontrunners.  Now, we all know that the Mayor is but one of 15 people on council, but thankfully the overall makeup of our new council is a little more "urban" with the addition of a few new council members, and probably more importantly, a few of the more right-wing alderman are gone from the council chambers, giving us a much more progressive looking group for the new three years.  We will watching and hoping that infrastructure improvements - as Nenshi promised - show up during his term in office.

7. City of Calgary Investments in Bike Infrastructure - I find it amazing that I did not hear about this - especially considering I like to think I am pretty plugged into what is happening regarding bicycle infrastructure spending here.  I guess I'd better up my game!  Quietly, the city has been quite busy adding bicycle infrastructure in and around the city in the form of a painted bike lane here or a bike lane there.  Local bike friendly Ald. Brian Pincott also told me that they city is adding 20kms of painted bike lanes per year for the next 9 years - which must be part of the $47 million over 9 years that I linked to above.  Exciting!  I have to think that they have not been announcing these improvements to keep the "complaining class" from freaking out on them for spending money on these improvements than on more roads.  Hard to say.  Regardless of the reasons why the city is keeping things quiet, they deserve our thanks and support for their courage in allocating funds to build these important parts of our bicycling network.

8. Lack of Bike Parking - Ever since Calgary introduced the Park Plus system finding a place to lock up your bike has become a nightmare.  By installing this new system, all of the standard parking meters were removed leaving a huge gap in the available bike lockup options in the core.  Bike parking was a real problem before and now is even worse.  On top of that, there is a serious lack of secure bike parking at C-Train stations meaning people are reluctant to ride to a station and leave their bikes there.  Many office buildings downtown have their own secure lockups (usually some kind of key fob or swipe card) which is fantastic.  However, many of these lockups have waiting lists that are over a year long.  There is a real need in the downtown area for a "bike station" type of facility to encourage people to cycle.  More bike parking is on the way for downtown office workers at 8th Avenue Place in the form of a secure space for 300 bikes, with a change room and showers too!  Nice!  One other item that is equally important is that the city now has requirements for new developments to include secure bike parking so perhaps going forward more spaces will be available.  Unfortunately this requirement doesn't fix the lack of parking in the popular shopping districts, that will need to be solved by working with local BRZ's and area alderman.

9. BikeBike Arrives in YYC!- Our list wouldn't be complete with some self congratulations would it?  We are very excited to be a part of the bike scene in Calgary and we hope we have made a positive impact on the conversation happening around cycling since our arrival.  Our hope is that we have shown people that cycling does not have to always be about speed, or lightweight gear, or performance - cycling can mean many different things to many different people and be as diverse as the individuals that choose to ride.  We feel blessed to have met so many amazing Calgarians and are honoured by everyones patronage and support - thank you!  Hopefully we can help inspire more people to choose cycling as a way to stay healthy, have fun, and create a more humane city.

10. What's your choice for a cycling story from 2010 in Calgary? - Tell us what you think was a significant bicycle story.

Happy New Year to all, may 2011 be even more exciting than 2010!

Dec 15, 2010

Tough Stuff

Winter unofficially arrived a few weeks back with those nasty temperatures and corresponding dump of snow, shocking many of us into the realization that we may be in for a long cold winter, especially considering winter wasn't to officially arrive for at least another month.  Officially or not, winter cycling was now in full effect.

For many people in Calgary the bike of choice (rightly or wrongly) for winter commuting is a mountain bike of some kind with some slight modifications like fenders and perhaps studded tires.  And while a mountain bike might be considered nice for the extra frame clearance for wide tires and extra wide gear range they require an awful lot of maintenance of the drivetrain precisely because of that cluster of cogs in the back, rear derailleur, and skinny chain.  On top of that, with a derailleur system, there is no possibility of protecting the drivetrain with a chaincase like you can with a Internally Geared Hub (IGH).

KMC Z410RB Zinc Coated Chain $20

To be clear, I know lots of people have perfectly good mountain bikes lying around and that these bikes will work, I am just saying that if you are getting tired of the maintenance required, there is another way forward - tougher chains and IGH's.

My Batavus BuB after one powerwash so far this season and not a drop of oil applied to the chain - ever!

IGH's come in many configurations with the most prolific model being the 3-speed Nexus hub from Shimano.  This hub has been in their range forever and is available with a coaster brake, no brake, or a drum brake.  Shimano also makes 7 & 8-speed versions which are amazingly tough, simple to use, and require minimal maintenance.  There are a few other IGH manufacturers out there with excellent product including SRAM, Sturmey-Archer, NuVinci, and Rohloff.

Generally speaking, if your riding has you primarily in the bottom of the river valley (Beltline, Bowness, Bridgeland) a 3-speed will suffice.  However, if your riding takes you out of the valley bottom more gears are in order.  7-speeds at minimum and 8-speeds if you want even more range.  To give you an idea of how the gear range of some of the IGH's compare to a standard derailleur setup, check the comparison chart below -

Check out the comparison to the Nexus 8-speed and a mountain triple - basically the same range with the exception of the ultra-low and ultra-high gears on the mountain triple.  In our view, especially when speaking specifically about commuting, why bother with the complexity/maintenance of a derailleur system if you are rarely in those gears?  How often are you in either your low gear or your high gear on your mountain bike that you commute on?  Do you enjoy dealing with the maintenance required?  Do you like skipping derailleurs?  My guess is you would answer no to the questions above and were simply unaware of the benefits of IGH systems.

If you have a bike with a singlespeed, fixed gear, or IGH - you can look at running a rust resistant chain as they are only available in 1/8" size (chains for derailleur systems use 3/32").  They are relatively cheap at $20, easy to install with their master link, require no lube, and hence - no maintenance.

*** Update - apparently the rust resistant chains are available in 3/32" through one of our new vendors in 7, 8, and 9-speed versions.***

Standard 3\32" chains are thinner and less durable than 1/8" chains resulting in the need to replace them more often because if you don't, you run the risk of wearing out the cogset and/or the chainrings too, which can get very expensive very fast come replacement time.  Sure, if you replace your chain regularly (every 1000kms or so) you might be able to delay the inevitable, but eventually your cogset will wear out and you need to replace the chain at the same time as the cogset.

If you are considering a new bike for commuting you owe it to yourself and your pocketbook to check out bikes that have IGH's and rust resistant chains.  They are purpose made for commuting and are worth every penny - both in durability and reduced maintenance requirements.

Happy Winter!

Dec 6, 2010

Every Journey Starts With One Step

My "gateway drug" aka my first cargo bike, September 17 2008

September 17, 2008 - little did I know that this day would change the way I live my life and start me on the path that led to creating BikeBike Inc.

A brief history - before creating BikeBike I was working from home as a sales rep in the bike/sporting goods business for the better part of 12 years.  I drove on average between 40,000-50,000 kms per year all over the prairie provinces of Canada alone in my minivan and flew across North American 3-4 times per year.  I loved the job but there was one thing that kept on nagging at me - like a splinter you cannot get out -
I hated the fact that I spent so much time in my vehicle and felt guilty for driving alone most of the time.

I was spending a lot of time reading about the ecological consequences of our society's driving habits and peak oil theory had just popped onto my radar - remember when oil had hit $147/barrel that year?  I wanted to find away to alleviate my guilt, and perhaps, reduce my own personal impact on the enviroment, even just a little.  Saving money was not really a consideration.

Then I read about a new product that piqued my interest - the Xtracycle Freeradical.

After cruising around the website and reading a bunch of the testimonials I said to myself -

"Self, why not get one of these contraptions and use it for groceries".
Self replied - "Sounds like a good idea.  The grocery store is only 5 blocks away - it will be easy, even in crappy weather".
So I say to Self - "Ok, lets try.  Its not expensive, I have a bike I can put it on, perhaps it will be fun to go shopping by bike".

So, as luck would have it, I ended up finding one at a local shop that was shutting down, and a day or two later the "Tankbike" was born.  It was easily the heaviest bike I had ever owned - tipping the scales at 55lbs - however it quickly became the bike I wanted to ride everywhere.  Heavy?  So what.  Terrible brakes?  Who cares.  It was fun to ride - kind of like the bike equivalent of a bus.  Everywhere I rode it people would ask questions.  All my friends wanted to try it.  Many laughed at its weight and mish-mash of components.  The best part was I could now ride anywhere with my son (and frequently his bike too) and trips to the farmers market, grocery store, everywhere really, became an adventure. 

Suddenly I became part of this subculture in the bike world - a cargobike owner.  I showed it to all my bike shop friends who I knew were into kooky bikes.  They thought I was a kook.  Perfect!  More importantly, owning the Tankbike got me into researching what other cargo bikes were out there - and by extention, what was going on in a macro sense in the cargo bike/utility cycling world.

What I found was that this category of bike and the shops that were carrying them were experiencing explosive growth in their respective markets.  It didn't matter if the shop was in New York or Vancouver, Toronto or San Diego.  It was growing everywhere - yet here in Calgary the existing bike retailers were mostly oblivious to the possibilities that these bikes could offer.

So, Self says to me - "You've always dreamed of owning a bike shop, why not open a utility bike shop in Calgary"?
My response to Self was - "Hmmm - you might be onto something".
Self then says - "It'll work!  Think about how your life has changed for the positive since you got Tankbike.  Don't you think others would want that sort of change in their life"?
My response to Self was again - "Hmmm - maybe".

(this went on for awhile more...)

Well, the result of that conversation is pretty obvious by now.  BikeBike is now a part of the cycling landscape in Calgary and our customers are telling us their own stories of how their new utiltiy/city/cargo bikes are positively impacting their lives.  We could not be happier and are constantly being inspired by them to continue to spread the message that city/utility/cargo bikes offer:

- Fun!
- Community
- Sustainability
- Responsibility

You too can make a positive impact on your life and community.  All it requires is one small step.  Set a goal of using your bike once a week for, well, anything.  Groceries?  Sure.  Errands?  Sure.  Anything really, it doesn't matter.  What matters is the commitment to try - simply try to ride more often.

You will not be disappointed!