Monday, 4 September 2017

On not getting your bicycle stolen

Recently, a friend of mine had the grips stolen from his bicycle handlebars while it was locked up in Guelph, Ontario. He thought it a petty theft, and wrote it off mentally as just one of those things. However, I know something about Guelph (and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge as well) and that is this: the meth trade and increased meth use has increased bicycle theft in these communities to a ridiculous level. This is not me just theorizing, this is something that has been confirmed by the local police services in multiple news articles.

In fact, there are local organized chop shops which buy dubious bicycle parts and build new bikes from them to sell for a buck. They don't care about the origin of the parts, and buy bits and pieces for enough to fuel someone's meth addiction.

So, what can one do to protect one's bike? I will address this with the thought of a transport cyclist in mind. If you are a road rider with a tendency to leave $12000 race bikes outside coffee shops unattended while you watch it from inside whilst drinking expensive coffee, then this guide is not for you. You have already decided that your bicycle is cheaper than your coffee, and clearly can afford to throw your machine away.

So for you transportation cyclists, here are my ideas.

First, don't lock it up outside. Whenever possible, store the bicycle inside your place of work. Ideally, store it in your office or work space. This is not always possible, but it is the best defence against theft. I would suggest lobbying for proper indoor bicycle storage with your employer as a means of promoting employee wellness and as a way to increase productivity and decrease sick days. Fit, happy, and healthy employees produce more than those who are not, and you may be able to convince a boss to create a safe space to store bicycles. If you work in a larger place, lock it up in there.

Friends of mine, working in retail, the tech sector, education, and other industries have all managed to arrange this for their places of employ. I recognize that this is not always possible, but it is the best theft deterant I can think of.

However, should you be forced to lock the bicycle up all day outside, or are using your bicycle as most North Americans use cars, indoor parking is not going to work well for you.

I suggest that you park your bicycle in a very open and visible place where there are lots of other bicycle parked. Tucking it into an alley out of sight may seem like a good idea, but in reality what it does it give a thief a quiet out of the way spot to work on your bike undisturbed. Bolted down bike racks on your city's main streets are better than a back alley.

Do not buy a cable lock. Doing so is giving a thief a gift. It is possible to cut through one in seconds with basic bolt cutters or simple wire side cutters. Yes, cable locks are light, and yes, they don't cost much, but no, they are not good security. A sign saying, "Please don't steal me" is about as effective at stopping someone who wants your bicycle if you use a cable lock.

Instead, use a locking system. I suggest two locks as a minimum if the bicycle is going to sit outside for an extended amount of time. Lock the front wheel to the frame using a u-lock. Don't cheap out - use the most expensive Kryptonite one you can find with the smallest opening which will serve. Remember, the idea is to lock the wheel to the frame only. Large opening u-locks are actually easy to bust off of a bicycle with the correct tools. Small opening ones are harder to break. Use a frame mounted lock (Dutch bicycle style, Abus makes them) to secure the back wheel. Even if a thief undoes it from the frame, it does no good as the wheel cannot be removed with the lock done up. Lastly, use an Abus Bordo lock to secure the bicycle itself to something solid. None of these locks are exactly light, but they are good. As an alternative, you can get a TiGrr lock which is made of titanium and is very tough to break. It is lighter, and surprisingly not much more expensive than a tough Kryptonite u-lock. As an added bonus, a power grinder sets off a virtual fireworks display in sparks and bolt cutters have enough flex in them that they bend and don't do much more than dent the lock. I would use the TiGrr to replace the Bordo lock in the above system.

When doing up locks, put them on the bicycle so that the key hole is facing the ground and, ideally, cannot be rotated so it is facing up. This makes them harder to pick.

I have heard people complain about the cost of good locks and make the argument that if the bicycle does not cost much, why would I spend a lot on a lock to protect it? I have argued, successfully, that this rather misses the point. A $600 commuter bicycle deserves about $300 in locks if it is going to be left around outside. Why? The piss off factor. Yes, the bicycle is not expensive, but, in the case of a commuter or transport cyclist, it is their way around. Therefore, it needs to be protected. Therefore, a lot of good and effective locks are appropriate to not only protect the bicycle itself, but to protect the integrity of a daily schedule.

So far, I have talked about how to protect the bicycle itself, but none of that really addresses the issue my friend had where someone stole parts from it. Here are some ideas on how to protect yourself from that.

Suggestion 1: remove and get rid of any and all quick release skewers on the bicycle. Pinhead makes some very good very strong key locked replacements for wheel skewers, wheel bolts, head set top caps, and seat post bolts. They also make some specifically to secure a Brooks leather saddle to the seat post. Count on spending about $100 on a set to do up the bicycle. If that seems expensive, remember that a front wheel, tyre, tube, rim tape, and skewer cost more than the pinheads to lock the whole bike down. The steel they use is so hard that cutting one bolt will wear out a Dremel cutting tool.

Suggestion 2: a tight length of bicycle chain looped through the seat rails and the frame will slow a thief who wants to snatch your seat and post. Wrap the frame / chain bits in an old inner tube to prevent paint wear. Bolt cutters will slice through this like a knife through butter, but this will stop a smash and grab thief.

Suggestion 3: using rubber cement (or super glue if you don't mind dealing with dissolving it later) and snug ball bearings and glue a ball bearing into every single Allan Key bolt on the bicycle. Get all of them. Every one. Just remember to remove them before taking the bicycle in for service or you will be roundly cursed. If you do your own work on the bicycle, you can curse yourself if you like. Why do this? It stops the insertion of tools into a bolt head for a quick and dirty parts grab.

Suggestion 4: don't ride a flashy bicycle. Very pretty bikes are very pretty yes, but they also appeal to people who want to sell it for more cash. So let it get dirty, let it get grubby. Take care of the mechanical stuff so it is perfect in operation, but make it look like a total piece of crap. Eyes might slide onto the next bicycle in the rack if you do that.

None of these things will stop someone who really wants to take your bicycle or the things on it. However, that is not really the goal of this guide or of locking the bicycle up in public for that matter. The goal is to make your bike less appealing to a thief than the bicycle parked next to yours. Secure locks, and installed anti-theft deterrents may well cause a thief to move to the bicycle less well secured parked next to yours. It also won't stop the thief from destroying your bicycle in a fit of rage, or filling your lock key holes up with contact cement in a "fuck you" when they realize that they will need several different distinct tools to get your bike free and leave with it.

For the record, I have never once had a bicycle stolen when it was secured properly. Take the time, spend the money, and your machine should serve you for years to come.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

coffee, cycling, and rituals

My friends and I have a ritual that we go through every time we go out cycling.

Someplace, approximately half way through any given ride, we pause for coffee.

We are not interested in bad coffee. In fact, we plan our rides around the presence of coffee shops who manage to procure the real deal.

Then we get to know the owners. By name.

I usually have an espresso drink of some kind and some kind of filling yet light snack (not a contradiction) and my riding partner has what he has.

We take turns paying.

It is part of the ritual.


Like most cyclists, ritual plays a significant part in the pre-ride.

Check tire pressure.

Check gear functioning.

Gather together gloves, helmet, repair kit.

Did I remember my shoes?

Wallet? Phone? Keys?


I have a mental check list I go through each and every time I ride and have done so so frequently that it has become a ritualized part of what makes a ride tick. When I fail to review my mental list, when I skip my ritual, I forget things...


It is not the coffee so much that matters as it is the pause in the ride, the pause in the activity. It is a moment of stolen civility out of the traffic and noise of the ridden road. It is a chance to visit, to catch up on the week, and to just sit.

When the ride is a cold, it is a chance to let the warmth of the cafe seep into frozen limbs. When wet, a chance to get out of the damp for a moment or two.

During the dry of summer's heat, it is a chance to sit and enjoy a breeze, or perhaps the steady draft of an air conditioning unit.

In all cases, it is a chance to watch the world and those which people it go by.


The rituals define us, and are a part of our process. They are what make the ride complete.

I took a blogger holiday, I think I may be back...

Title says it all actually.

Stay tuned, if you are interested, for a new bicycle review, and more ramblings about nothing.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Review: teaser...

I don't normally do this kind of thing, but I feel that I have to.

I got a new product for my bike.

I won't tell you what it is because I have not had a chance to test it yet.

But, I was so impressed with the initial picture I took that I have to share it with you now:

Unmodified cell phone photograph (btw, that new midrange Nexus 5x is kind of spiffy in the camera department!)

That's it.

More to follow when my tests are done.

Monday, 4 January 2016

why I won't sell you a cheap bike

As a part of my work existence, I work in a bike shop selling bikes.

I won't sell you a cheap bike.

I have been asked before for a bicycle which costs around $250-$300 dollars by customers, but I just cannot sell one. For one thing, we don't sell anything that inexpensive, and for another, a new bike in that price range is not worth owning. If that is all that is affordable by someone, I suggest a good used bike and will direct them where to go to get one.

But still, I get people insisting that spending more on a new bicycle is a waste of money and they refuse to pay more.

But such bikes exist I am told. Big Box Stores sell them!

Indeed, they do.


You see, big box stores can sell bicycles in the lowest of price brackets by telling bicycle manufacturers that they want to sell their product, that they can move X number of units, and that the price needs to be X dollars with X mark up. Now, make the damn bike!

So, they do.

Frames are heavy, welds are substandard, and frame materials are extremely cheap. Components are no name and don't work. Wheels are machine built (ok in and of itself) and not tensioned properly (never ok) and therefore unsafe. Brakes are in general brakes in name only. Same thing for the gears. Overall, someone buying such a bicycle ends up with something which looks like a bicycle, but does not function like one should.

They end up with a lousy experience when riding it. It ends up sitting in the garage collecting dust because it is too inefficient and not enjoyable.

This is the very definition of a waste of money - buying something for a specific use and then not using it because the product does not meet your expectations.

I told someone that once.

They bought a real bike from me.

So, I won't sell someone a cheap bike, instead, I sell an experience. This is what our reps tell us to do, but perhaps not in the way that I do it.

You see ...

... your bike is free when you buy from me.

Think about that hard, your bike is free.

I have dropped that bombshell on people before and it raises more than just a few eyebrows.

Often, in our shop, we get people who are interested in using a bike as more than just a toy, or sporting equipment, or something for a twice a season 15 minute ride around the neighbourhood. If someone is interested in using a bicycle as more than that, then the bicycle is free.

Let me explain.

We, collectively, allocate a lot of money to moving ourselves around and use some of the most expensive forms of personal transportation devised by humanity to move individual people - our road ways and our cars. Assuming a middle of the road car and the average Canadian distance covered per year, each adult will likely spend between $450 000 to $500 000 driving over their course of their driving career on the cars, interest, insurance, and maintenance. This does not count subsidies for maintaining roads (comes out of the general tax revenue NOT fuel tax). And they won't even notice. They won't even notice. It is seen as a cost of living.

So don't do it. Drop out.

I am not advocating getting all Hippie here, and nor am I advocating no cars, but rather, I am advocating a shift in perspective which is, I think, needed in our current economic climate.

We are living in an era of high inflation on things which actually matter. Like food. Food prices are climbing and are likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Costs of most things in general are creeping up.

Hand in hand with that are fairly flat or stagnant wages. People are extolled to do more with less even though this is not physically possible for many people. Once discretionary income is absorbed by needed spending, that's it! Done!

Remember that if wage increases do not match inflation, there has been an effective wage cut as the dollars someone is paid will not buy what they did before.

At the same time, we are encouraged by clever advertisers and seasonal holiday guilt to spend spend spend! Advertisers are not stupid. They study human psychology and what makes us tick and push all of our buttons and, like lambs to the proverbial slaughter, we go along with it (usually without even noticing - do you really need that new cell phone? etc?) And we do go along with it, en masse. Look at the level of consumer debt in our economy.

So, change or sink.

Adapt or die.

Which brings me back to free bicycles and selling an experience.

I can demonstrate how to turn a $600 basic bicycle into an effective commuter designed for urban use by adding about $200-$300 in extras. The bicycle will be comfortable for trips up to 30km each way and will have room to efficiently carry all that is needed for the day.

I can demonstrate how to break into riding for transport easily, over a long period of time, so that covering distances becomes easy and not intimidating. It takes time to built the fitness and comfort level needed to ride all the time. It would be condescending in the extreme to look at someone in their mid 40s and laugh off their concerns with this. I can do it, but I have 36 years experience on bicycles, something that is a rarity in Canada.

I can demonstrate how to work with traffic and how to route plan so that traffic is not an issue.

I can demonstrate how to cycle so that you don't overheat and need a shower when you get to work.

I can demonstrate how to safely navigate a Canadian winter on two wheels.

I can demonstrate how much happier people who bicycle are and why (for example, I was told I was crazy by a co-worker once for riding in the winter - I told her that I am always smiling when I ride, that other winter cyclists I see are always smiling, that when I drive, all I see are miserable people, so who is the crazy one anyway? Made her think that did...)

I can demonstrate the improvements in health that you get from riding.

I can question the blind acceptance of environmental destruction, dollar cost of driving, and subsidizing personal automobiles as being just the way it is.

I can question the wisdom of multi-hour commutes per day in a car as being a good use of time.

I can question why we accept as being ok the high numbers of deaths on our roads caused by automobiles as being just a cost of our lifestyle we have to deal with. It was society blowing its cork in the Netherlands in the 1970s over exactly this issue which brought about the cycling infrastructure and cultural change needed to shift from a car crazy culture to a bike crazy one - and the Dutch were just as car nuts then as we are now. We are no where near that tipping point here. We still, for some reason, accept death by automobile as being ok. A shame, but ok. No change needed.

I can question why we choose to live in one city and work in the next (ironically, I do this - but, I am willing to do the ride and it is really not that far for me).

I can point out that if we accept the cost of cars as being a necessary expense - which we do culturally as a group - and if we are going to do our short trips by bicycle, that the bicycle comes out of the transportation budget NOT the fun budget and compared to the money we are already committed to spend, the bicycle costs are trivial. I point out to people that my first year as a bicycle commuter cost me nothing for the bicycle, bags, some extra clothing (layers vs a bulky coat), boots, and maintenance because it came out of the money I had already committed to spend on gasoline. In fact, I ended up ahead by about $1500 AFTER accounting for the startup costs of my bicycle rig. After that, it worked out to more than $2000 a year. More really if you consider that I can get away with buying half the number of cars over my working career because I am not wearing them out so quickly.

So, I sell an experience. But it has nothing to do with wind in the hair, hipster coffee shops, or mud between your teeth. It has everything to do with paying the mortgage off faster, travelling, and retiring well and with your health.

Plus, as a bonus, I get to be smug. And that is always fun.

*I have, in different conversations with different people, pointed out all of the above while selling bicycles. It works, and not just in the selling of the bicycle but in the use of them. I see a lot of my old customers out and about biking everywhere on the machines I sold them. They look happy. They sound happy as well when they return to the shop for bits and pieces.

(EDIT TO ADD: A few people on a Google+ forum I shared this article with made some observations I would like to quickly address. I am speaking here about the experience in the Canadian market which differs from that in other countries. Some pointed out options for inexpensive bicycles which are quite good for commuting which match the dollar number I mentioned above as being not worth it. Bicycle costs in Canada have seen a large jump in the last couple of years making life difficult for bicycle sellers and buyers alike.

One, our dollar, relative to the USA dollar, has lost about 25% of its value when oil crashed and other commodities took a hit. Two, bike companies had largely frozen bike prices for reasons known only to themselves for a couple of years and did their increases all at once. Three, the federal government slapped a 5% tax on bicycles. All of this hit all at once which results in things costing more here than in the USA in particular over and above the fact that things in general cost more in Canada than the USA for reasons which have nothing to do with the bicycle industry.

None of this, however, invalidates what I said about commuter bicycling being basically free when a person who has already committed to spending car like money - and, in fact, owns a car for that purpose - makes a partial switch to commuting by bicycle.)

Monday, 23 November 2015

had a gorgeous drive to work this morning

I have heard it said that you should "Shoot with the phone you have", so that is what I did :)