Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rubber Side Down

Last night I went to the Saskatoon screening of Rubber Side Down: From the Rockies to the Rock at the Broadway Theatre. This video documentary is about two fellows, Greg Mailloux and Vin Heney, from Windsor Ontario who rode 8000km from Victoria BC to St. John’s Newfoundland in the summer of 2008 to raise awareness of and funds for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation.

I LOVE stories of bicycle touring, especially journeys across Canada – something I’ve always wanted to do. This well crafted video excellently portrayed the trials and hardships of such an epic adventure as well as their wonder at the ever-changing topography of Canada. One day they are struggling through mountains, the next they are cruising across the prairies. One night they are camping on a roadside in rural Ontario, the next they are in downtown Toronto.

I could relate to their feeling that the hardest thing was getting up and getting back on the bike each morning and that despite being in bear and cougar country their biggest worry was the massive tractor-trailer units hurtling down past them on narrow mountain roads at 100kph! Also the in-the-now timelessness - forgetting what life was like before the journey - there being only the road (and all the beauty one can see from it), the bicycle and oneself.

Their tour was completely unsupported - they carried everything with them on their bikes and camped where ever they could. Despite all their mishaps (flat tires, broken spokes and OH THE RAIN!) it seems they had to keep on a pretty tight schedule to make various awareness/fundraising engagements. Most of the filming was done with two cameras they carried with them.

I was surprised by how few people were at the screening. I expected a few more of my fellow Saskatoon bike geeks to be in attendance. I have to admit I didn’t exactly help out in spreading the word – and now kind of wish I had. I often feel like I’m out-of-the-loop and if ever I’m aware of something like this going on then EVERYBODY must know about it!

There have been a few screenings across Canada and the last one listed on the website is in Coquitlam, B.C on Friday, May 29th, 2009. If you missed it you can sign up on the website for information about when the DVD will be available to order – I already have!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Minnehaha Seat Bag

Last year I got back to doing some distance cycling. At least once a week I’d do a ~100 km trip. I had the idea that I’d like to do some longer rides too – a century or some longer randonĂ©es. For longer rides I thought I might want to carry just a bit more stuff than I could carry in my regular seat bag. A pannier wasn’t an option because the bike I use has no braze-ons for a rack. The short version of a story - with the potential to get way too long very fast – is that a long search ensued and the solution to my kit-carrying woes was provided by Minnehaha Bags.

The Minnehaha Medium Saddle Bag is a very functional and stylish lookin’ leather and canvas traditional bicycle saddlebag. It has a beefy leather strap (no pun intended) with a sturdy steel buckle to loop through the rails of your saddle and a second shorter strap with buckle to loop around your seat post to stabilize it.

Strap through the saddles rails

Strap around the seatpost

I’ve only managed one test ride with it – even though I’ve had it since February (Sorry Minnehaha! Curse You Saskatchewan Weather!) – and already I’m in love with it. It’s not about to see everyday use. I probably won’t even use it for shorter (less than 100Km) trips into the countryside. Not that it couldn’t be used for everyday use, I just happen to prefer a shoulder messenger-type bag to carry my everyday gear about, and for shorter rides I just don’t need to carry that much stuff… But from now on this is definitely my bag of choice for any longer expeditions short of a full-on camping/touring trip!! I’ll probably even use it as an extra bag on any camping touring trips!

Here’s what I managed to pack into the luxurious 10L of cargo carrying capacity – just to give you an idea of what you might be able to cram into one:

Wool Vest
3x Cliff Bar (Cool Mint Chocolate)
Small First Aid Kit
Extra Water Bottle (700mL)
Spare Tire
4x Spare tubes
Tire levers
8/10mm wrench
15mm Wrench
Multi-Allen Key Tool
Small Multi-tip screw driver
Couple Extra Links of Chain
Tire Levers
Small Note Pad

(Uh, yeah... I guess I kind of took that whole Boy Scout "Be Prepared" motto to heart...)

All loaded up!

Even with all this stuff I didn’t exactly have to cram it all in. I could easily have stuffed in another half-dozen or so Clif Bars or tubes if I ever really thought I’d need them!? Also, if all that wasn’t awesome enough, there are four D-rings on the top of the outer lid to which I could lash on my jacket (or other things), which would free up more space inside for some PB&J sandwiches… or whatever!

One of my main concerns was moisture. The leather was dealt with by the liberal application of Proofhide (Brooks Saddle’s leather conditioner/preservation stuff). The canvas is untreated and I wondered why they had not made it with waxed or oiled canvas or some similarly treated material? When I think of untreated cotton and water I think of wet t-shirt contests (c’mon, like you don’t…) and the old phrase “cotton kills” – the furthest thing from waterproof, takes forever to dry once wet, and just not a material one seriously considers for serious outdoor use. I should have known better…

Well, for one, this is far from t-shirt material! I did a little research into the treating and waterproofing of canvas. While I found a nice recipe for treating canvas involving soy bean oil and turpentine that I might try out, many sources indicated that cotton canvas WAS waterproof. Once it gets wet the fibres swell up and, in theory, won't let water through. I have to say I was still somewhat suspicious. Although, when I thought about it, I did have a canvas tent when I was young and stayed relatively dry in it through some pretty fierce storms. I seem to recall it had a much tighter weave to it.

On the morning of my first trial ride, I got up to grey skies. At first I was a bit bummed (who wants their first ride of the season to be in the rain), but then I realized this might be a perfect opportunity to see how well it does in the rain (there really is a silver lining to every cloud…)! Well as it turned out I managed to dodge all the rain falling about the land and arrived home bone dry, only to have it start pouring rain a couple minutes after I arrived. So I dumped out all my gear and loaded it up with a couple of towels and hung the bag out in my yard in the pouring rain – just to see…

Well it POURED rain for over and hour! I checked the bag as I was heading out for the afternoon, the lid was soaked but the flaps underneath and the towels within were still completely dry! The rain was tapering off but I left the bag out in the yard in hoping it might rain some more. It didn’t. When I returned in the early evening the bag had completely dried out!

I thought afterwards for a more “realistic” test I could have set up a water sprinkler underneath it as well to simulate spray from a tire… Ah, well..

Minnehaha suggests using Nikwax to treat the canvas. I think I’m going to leave it as is for now, but I might try out the soybean/turpentine recipe at some point…

One of my other concerns is the quality of materials and craftsmanship. The bag is quite soft to the touch and I somehow associate soft with not-so-durable. I bought a pair of canvas sneakers last fall and they are already shredded. The bag was also made in China and I generally associate stuff made overseas with lesser quality materials and poor craftsmanship. The bag seems sturdy enough, but then, so did my shoes. These are just hunches based on personal prejudices, only time and use will really tell. I was wrong about the waterproofness… So, hopefully I will enjoy watching the leather darken and the canvas fade over years of dutiful service.

On they subject of durability though I do have to note that there are no zippers or Velcro on this bag. These are the things that always wear out and fail on all other bags I have owned, leaving them essentially useless and fit to be tossed in the trash. A buckle is pretty low tech and not much can go wrong with it other than getting bent under load. The ones on this bag seem pretty darn sturdy. I imagine they could very likely be cut off and reused on a another bag when the rest of this bag reaches the end of its service life and is cast into the compost bin (another reason why natural materials rock!)

One thing I did notice while riding – and this may be due to how much stuff I had in it and the geometry and set up of my bike – but the back of my legs touched the bag with every pedal stroke. It didn’t impede my pedaling in anyway, nor did I find it annoying, I was just very aware that it was there, and I imagine that might have the potential to bug some people.

Also, again due to the bike I was using and its particular angles and set up there wasn’t a lot of tire clearance. This wasn’t an issue until about half way through my test ride when I got to some moderately steep climbs and had to get out of the saddle. The bag rocked back and forth with each pedal stroke which, being heavily loaded, threw me a bit off balance and caused a couple wobbles. Once I got used to it (three pedal strokes later), it wasn’t a big deal. However, due to the lack of tire clearance, the bag sometimes rubbed against the tire as it rocked back and forth. Not terribly annoying, but it did get the bag a bit dirty. If this carried on for too long, or repeatedly, it might create some wear issues. On a touring or similar bike with fenders and/or a rack this wouldn’t even be an issue.

Tire clearance

Overall this bag rocks my world and I am looking forward to some long rides this summer with everything I could possibly ever need carried neatly out of the way on the back of my saddle in my sweet Minnehaha Saddle bag! The only thing that could have made it better was if it was a handlebar bag – for easier access to stuff while on the bike… Maybe Minnehaha will make one of those someday!

(This review was originally written for Bicycle Smile. Thanks to Ryan at Bicycle Smile and Minnehaha Bags for the opportunity to try out their bags!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to the Skate Park

Amanda’s been moaing about getting out to the Skate Park for weeks… but there’s always been convenient excuses not to. I think she really does want to get out there, but is nervous about having lost all the skillz she learned last summer over the winter… I’ve tried to reassure her it’s just like… well... riding a bike…

So this holiday Monday morning I went out and gassed up her tires and sent her on her way. Me and the kiddies went to watch for a few minutes but didn’t stay long as it was grey and windy and bitterly cold - +1°C and wind 40KKph, gusting to 60Kph!!! In MAY!?

(Remember: click on the pictures for a bigger version)

With a smile like that she can’t be having too bad of a time!

She didn’t quite get up the nerve to drop into the fishbowl today but I thought she was looking pretty smooth… Certainly not nearly as rigid and petrified as she was her first time out last summer!!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Bike Train

…or Finnegan’s New Ride.

Last week we went and tried out a Trailer Bike my friend Don’s kids have grown out of. Finnegan was super excited! We tried it out around the block and then rode it all the way home.

The next day we rode it, along with Keira in tow, all the way to the zoo. Nothing like starting with short trips to try things out. The trip to the zoo, including a side trip to Steep Hill Food Co-op to pick up some groceries, was about a 23km round trip…

Here’s some pics of the new set up…

(Remember: click on the pictures for a bigger version)

Just leaving the zoo.

Stopping by to visit Amanda on the way home.

The Bike Train in action!

We have a bit less cargo carrying capacity with this set-up.... I guess I could put Keira back in the two-seater chariot, but I figured the single would be lighter to tow and offer less wind resistance. I figured I'd be doing most of the pulling of both units.

Finnegan actually helps out quite a bit. He's very clever and attentive - he watches when I'm pedaling and pedals when I do. I never even suggested that he do so, he just started doing it on his own. (I can tell because he has a loud freewheel and a small wheel so it buzzes when he's not pedaling).

More on this later, we’re going for a ride now…