Friday, October 28, 2011


In an effort to learn as much as I can about repairing bikes, I signed up for a wheel building course at "Bikeworks".  Gathered around me were seven other enthusiasts who seemed to grasp the very complicated instructions necessary to determine what parts are needed to build a wheel.

Oh sure, I  was okay at the beginning of the class when it came to asking questions like "In this example you're passing around, why is one nipple bigger than the other?"  Or "The longer it gets - the harder it gets?" - spokes that is.  But when our fine instructor Axel got down to the nitty-gritty of "SPOKE CALCULATION" that's when my eyes began to glaze over and I knew then that I shouldn't have dropped math as soon as I could in high school (grade eleven for those of you who care).

I looked around at the twenty-somethings and they were all nodding in understanding (except for the guy next to me who had fallen asleep and was snoring gently).  My friends Rob, Alex and Coreen were asking intelligent questions and making clever observations while I stared at my notebook and tried to make sense of my nearly illegible scrawl: on rims with a deep V-cross section, using hexagonal nipples, tensioning up to 2,000N can be carried out
Or this doozie: fewer spokes reduce weight and improve aerodynamic properties, but need to be given a higher tension, which on the other hand, require more, stable, and thus
heavier rims....
Glancing at my notes again, I couldn't fathom what I had written only moments before:

I'm so glad that Alex and Coreen were there to help my class partner Rob and I to do the actual spoke calculation for the wheels we were going to build.  In fact, the two of them seemd so non-plussed that I'm confident that with them at my side at next week's class I might just be able to build a wheel that won't collapse the moment someone climbs onto the bike that has my hand-made wheels.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bits and Pieces

As you are riding your bike you see them everywhere.  On the side of the road.  Wedged underneath a hedge.  Carelessly tossed to the curb.  Lying on a sidewalk.

I'm talking about the many pieces of flotsam and jetsam that we see everyday yet ignore to such a degree that they hardly register in our minds.  This season (from last snow melt to first snowfall) I decided to pick up these various items and see what sort of collection I would have at the end.

For the most part, the hardhat and tools came from a training session for the MS Tour (see "It's a Goldmine!" - June 7th post).  The two toned golf shoe I picked up on a rainy ride down to the south side of the city to meet my wife for dinner. The blue plastic pedometer I found on swanky Ada Boulevard (see "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring Tra-La" - May1st. post).  The peep-show SEX coin was discovered on a Saturday ride downtown - not far from the seedy part of the downtown core.

The creepy doll's head escapes my memory but the pink plastic monkey I distinctly recall finding in the sandy dirt at the overnight campsite that Perry and I chose in preparation for the Kettle Valley Railway (see "That Wasn't So Bad" - July 18th post).  The boxcutter was near a bus stop not far from my house and the dog tag I found at Terwilligar Park on one of the Fridays I took off so I could train for the MS Mountain Tour (see "Running of the Bulls" - August 26th post).

I suspect that this inclination I have to pick things up and bring them home stems from my misguided youth when I used to bring home (to my parents chagrin) all manner of junk that I had found.  The worst was finding a downed aircraft from WW2 while on a church camp hike and carting home a suitcase full of airplane parts.  Come to think of it - I still have a couple of pieces that I found at that camp.  If I could have found a way to strap a longboard skateboard that I found recently to my pannier rack, I'd have that to show you.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Doing The City's Work

 Riding my 1963 Triumph on a recent Sunday, I was reminded once again that Saturday nights must get pretty wild in this town.  Judging from the number of broken liquor and beer bottles littering the road and presenting a hazard to cyclists and their thin tires.

On my next commute along with my two panniers, I want to strap on a broom and dustpan and a pair of garden shears to my back rack.  The broom and dustpan to sweep up the hazardous shards of glass and the shears to cut away the many branches especially on 102 Avenue near the museum that threaten to send cyclists careening into traffic as they whap the rider's face as they pass.

To be safe, I'll also need to pack some of those fluorescent traffic cones and a mesh vest with reflective stripes.  Of course I'll want a sturdy sign which I will place down the road a piece warning motorists that the lane ahead will narrow.
I imagine that the city will be quite pleased at the work I plan to do to make this a much safer city for all its citizens and I'm confident that all the motorists commuting west along 102 Avenue won't mind a short delay on their way home.  In fact, I'll call my favourite radio station and advise them of the impending lane narrowing and assure their listeners that the work is necessary and will be finished in enough time that they can still make the couch in time to watch their favourite TV shows.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Of Bikes and Men

  Our tour guide Abraham assured us that not many people ride bikes in Taipei because of the danger from other traffic (most notably scooters).  Yet I couldn't walk down a sidewalk anywhere in the city without some schlub pootling past on a pedal bike. Or a mother with her little one crammed in front of her grasping the handlebars or a father with a youngster clinging tightly to his back.
The jade market

What I really wanted to see was one of those bikes  that is stuffed to overflowing with plastic milk jugs or so covered in such an unbelievable load that you can't imagine how they can stay upright.  Pity the poor person carrying one of those loads on their bike and they get a flat.  I did pass one fellow with a flat pushing his bike quite a distance and I never saw anyone carrying a pump. 
Sort of what I was looking for

I'm not used to seeing anyone set up shop right on the street so I was surprised when I found the area where bikes are sold; a sidewalk  repair facility.  Quite busy too - a man and a woman working on one bike, a commuter connecting a compressed air hose to his bike and a man wearing a shop apron making adjustments to a new Giant.

On a per capita basis, maybe Abraham was right - not that many Taiwanese ride bikes.  During the countless subway rides we took, not once did I ever see someone with their bike in the subway car.  Yet when we stopped in San Francisco on the way back home and took the short jaunt into downtown from the airport and back, I made note of four bikes just in the two cars we travelled in.

San Fran subway

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tamsui Louie

Exiting the subway at the end of the line at Tamsui, my ears were assaulted by a static-filled, strident voice screeching "ADARIPAFENDDADIDERATERAKATAY" over and over.  As I got closer to the noise I could see that someone had ingeniously held down the trigger of a megaphone and hooked it up to a recording device.  Looking away from the fly-blown, deep-fried GOD KNOWS WHAT that the auto-megaphone advertised, I spied a pink tandem being hoisted onto a rust stained passenger ferry.  Fearing that the ship would depart without my finding out where the tandem was headed I soon found myself a passenger of said ship.
Said ship

Sitting next to me on the boat was a fellow decked out in short shorts and a sleeveless tee shirt.  Slung over one shoulder was a plastic bag which I imagined carried all his worldly possessions.  I guessed at this because he reminded me of a man we see wandering our downtown streets and while he appears to be harmless, we give him a wide berth especially on the days when he wears a jock strap on the outside of his shorts.

In less than ten minutes I discovered that by crossing the Dansui River, I had stumbled upon the Riverside Bikeway - part of the redevelopment of the Taipei County waterfront.  Just steps away from the ferry dock a large jumble of bicycles caught my eye and after much sign language and pidgin English the old store owner and I agreed that with plunking down $1.50 on the counter, I could be entrusted for two hours with his shiny silver Narida commuter bike.
The Narida

Heading off in pursuit of the pink tandem which by this time had disappeared down the paved bike path, I found myself following the river, riding past white Cranes busily spear diving for fish and and large pleasure boats bobbing on the waves from the ferry traffic.  In spite of the rusted chain, the bike was surprisingly quiet except whenever I engaged either brake lever in which case the bike would let out a loud howl.  At least now I didn't need a horn or a bell to warn of my approach.
Mr. T. Louie

The combination of full sun and high humidity prevented me from riding too far from the ferry dock and after consulting my trusty map I decided that a distant bridge would be a likley place to turn around.  I had no idea how he got there before me but as I rode under the bridge, who should I see lounging in the shade but my seat mate from the ferry who I had dubbed Tamsui Louie.  I quickly turned around and made for the bike shop with the hope that I would make it to the dock and not have to share a seat with him again.  For all I knew he had some ADARIPAFENDADIDERATERAKATAY in that bag of his.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Whole Different World

Cycling in Taipei has a whole different meaning than in North America.  In my time here in the nation's capital, I've seen only two recreational cyclists.  I came across them lounging on the patio at a Starbucks at the end of the subway line at Tamsui.  It wasn't their expensive road bikes that gave them away but their loud jerseys and colourful spandex shorts which none of the cyclists I'd seen to this point had been wearing.

The many thousands of other cyclists use bicycles as their main transportation - often with another person riding shotgun on a narrow pad affixed to the rear pannier rack.  The rack itself must be designed to hold much more weight than the racks we use.  Mine are only rated to hold fifty pounds.

I came across many other bikes that have been manufactured with an added seat post placed between the main seat and the handlebars.  Probably for a small child to sit on.  One bike appeared to have been adapted for another passenger with what appeared to be an accessory seat post that was simply bolted onto the downtube.

In a city of three million, it is surprising how few bikes can be spotted and as our tour guide Abraham pointed out - riding a bike on the very congested streets is a very dangerous undertaking.  Even riding a scooter, of which there appears be tens of thousands is a suicidal act given the number of cars, trucks and buses clogging every street.
A small minority

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mr. Dressup

My twin is always wondering what it is that makes my children want to dress up.  Both of my offspring have been members of the Knights of the Northern Realm, have taken sword fighting lessons and have sewn elaborate costumes to wear at special events.
Ms. Elizabethan?

My daughter dated a very creative fellow who makes his own fantastic outfits, knives, belts and such.  My son was married in Gimli wearing traditional Viking garb and still goes to the Icelandic Festival there every year to live in the Viking Village (not Value Village) and to sell handmade jewellery.
Mr. Viking

My own quest for costuming began last June when I knew I was going to join the Shakespeare Ride and wanted to dress as an English cyclist.  Being a first generation Chirper what did I know about these things?  Not being one to enjoy trying on clothes, I was frustrated in my search of the Antique Mall and just about every thrift store in the city.  I mean just how many jackets with sleeves hanging to the floor, sport coats with armpit stains and suit coats with questionable seams can one man try on?

I was happy to note that the reason 38 short jackets weren't fitting me anymore was because of the 2 inches of chest size that I have added since taking up cycling on a more serious basis.  Once I realized I needed a 40 inch jacket, my luck began to change and I found an ensemble at the GW Boutique (GoodWill) that would do just fine.

My recent adventure into dressing for the Tweed Ride proves that my children come by their need to dress up honestly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tweed Indeed

Having checked the forecast in the morning and discovered that the weather was predicted to be clear, I was surprised to find myself riding in the rain on my way over to the "Quad" at the university to join in the Tweed ride.

Following the vague directions that I had been given earlier I arrived at the Quad to discover that I was the only cyclist in attendance.  I rode the perimeter of the quadrangle and still seeing no other bikes, decided to lean my bike against a handy Teepee and seek shelter from the rain under its canvas skin.  While admiring all the mold growing on the canvas walls, I began to doubt that I had the correct day.  This wouldn't be the first time when juggling a lot of balls that I have shown up to an event bright-eyed and bushy-tailed only to be embarrassed to discover I was at the event a week early or a few days late.

In spite of being under cover, a shower of rain still fell in an ever widening circle inside the teepee and I was glad when Brett, one of the bike co-op's board members arrived and showed me how to close the rain flaps at the top of the tent.  We only had to stand around making small talk and smelling of wet wool for a short time before the sun came out and made a beautiful rainbow.  It was then that all the other participants made their fashionable entrance.
I thought I had figured out my tweed outfit quite well until most the men pulled out pipes and some of the ladies pulled cigars from their many layers of clothing.  I was further chagrined when a large number of flasks were brought out from their hiding places beneath skirts and from within vest pockets.  I soon discovered that a tweed ride is mostly a social event and I had to ask the mutton - chopped rider next to me if we were actually going to ride anywhere.  He assured me that a route was just being planned and that we would be on our way shortly as he took a long pull on his Cohiba.

Not far into the ride we could see crowd of Lycra-Spandex riders approaching our wool clad conga line.  A clash of cultures if you will.  Both groups stopped to talk and it was amusing to hear the fellow next to me and his imaginary conversation (with an upper crust English accent) "I say, people of the future - what is that strange material you are wearing?  Your bicycles appear to be made from a substance we have never seen.  And those hard caps you have donned on your heads - what on earth are they for?"

Culture clash
With the sun shining on the golden aspen leaves and the temperature rising, we had an easy ride downhill to the new bridge where there was quite a debate about the symbolic design of the structure.  Most of us were happy just to peer into the clear waters of the river and some speculated that the large sandbar south of the bridge would make an excellent beach for sunbathing. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tweed Ride

This afternoon a tweed ride is planned leaving from the Quad at the university and try as I might, I can't find the place.  Every student I asked seemed to know where the place is and with a vague toss of the hand would point me in the direction of the Student Union building.  No one could say definitively where I might find a place whose name sounded more like a motorized vehicle suited to the outdoors than a meeting place for cyclists.

At lunchtime on Thursday I could be found locked in a thrift store change room trying on a number of pants.  And these weren't just any type of pant. Earlier I had googled "Tweed Ride" and a baffling range of images presented themselves on the computer screen facing me. Cyclists decked out in Sherlock Holmes hats variously called Deerstalkers or banana hats or even umbrella hats.  Men wearing knickerbocker pants, women having donned herringbone vests and everyone cycling old school bikes with leather panniers and Brooks saddles.

Not being able to find plus fours anywhere in the city I had sheepishly slunk over to the women's clothing section of said thrift store and gathered up a number of muted capri pants in what I guessed might be a size to fit a man with a 32 inch waist.  Feeling ridiculous and wanting to hasten the act of trying on women's clothing, I neglected to remove my walking shoes and putting my foot through the tapered leg of a thick wool capri my balance shifted and my full body weight slammed into the flimsy door of the change room as I tumbled to the floor.  Since the door of the dressing room didn't reach all the way to the floor, I could hear startled gasps from the other side from customers waiting for a room to come free.

With the most dignity I could muster I exited the change room clutching a wadded ball of pants and as I passed the lineup, shrugged and announced "Halloween!" hoping that would assure the waiting customers that I wasn't a cross-dressing, middle-aged crisis prone creepo.

It is said that luck is simply when opportunity and preparation meet and when I found the men's suit rack after ditching the ball of capris, a fine, muted herringbone tweed jacket called to me and after checking its fit in the aisle, was happy to leave the store eleven dollars poorer.  But happy not to be explaining to a police officer what I might have been up to in that dressing room.