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Jersey Shore Beach Cruiser

As autumn rolls in, it’s difficult to imagine that just three weeks ago my family and I were spending our summer vacation roasting ourselves on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey.

The resort communities along the New Jersey coast are like Wasaga Beach on steroids, and Wildwood is the Mark McGwire of the lot.  It’s a surreal place, architecturally stuck in the 60s and fronted by a boardwalk brimming with t-shirt shops, greasy fast food and amusement piers.

A Wildwood Bike Path

A Wildwood Bike Path

But Wildwood is way ahead of Toronto.

There are bicycles and bike lanes EVERYWHERE.  With the laid back summer resort vibe that keeps car speeds in check, Wildwood is an easy and inviting place to ride – it would give Rob Ford conniptions.

Because it’s about the only place to go, the boardwalk was always packed with pedestrians.  Bicycles are only allowed on the boardwalk until 11:00 am.  But, on the one morning I managed to stumble out before curfew, I found another surreal scene: a boardwalk of relatively few pedestrians and lots of bicycles – it was a boardcycle.

I had to get in on the action.  At the nearest bike rental shop I asked if they had anything with gears.  “No, all we have are Beach Cruisers.”

Coooool.  Ima rock da beach cruiser down the Jersey shore yo.

The Beach Cruiser

The Beach Cruiser

I don’t know how different a beach cruiser is to any other “cruiser” bike, but this was a coaster bike with balloon tires and upright handle bars.  For $5.00, a black and gray “Retro”, built by Sun Bicycles of Miami, was mine for the next hour.  (Check it: Sun has an “Industrial” line of bikes.)

I hadn’t ridden a coaster in who knows and a twinge in my knee made me skeptical at first, but it wasn’t long before I started to really enjoy the bike.

The big tires and padded seat provided a very comfortable ride and, while I didn’t want to push it too hard in unfamiliar territory, the Retro had a momentum of it’s own – she wanted to go – and I had no trouble keeping speed even heading straight into a proper nor’easter.

Taking the “bikes only” path that runs along the beach off the north end of the boardwalk, I got to see a lot more of Wildwood, including the seawall in North Wildwood, where beach erosion has been a problem, and the historic Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1874.

That one hour on my beach cruiser added an entirely different dimension and quality to my vacation.  While I missed the family, it was nice to get a moment on my own, like I do when I commute.

Posted: September 16th, 2010
Filed under: Recreational Biking
Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Hitting the Sauce on a Sunday

Is it true that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”?

I have straight, dark hair and a darkish complexion. My son has light, curly hair and is white like rice.  Our personalities are even further apart.

As a child he learned to ride early and we spent many incredibly amazing, stunningly wonderful days riding around town.  But as he got older, the riding days were fewer and, once he got his driver’s licence, they stopped.

If the apple doesn’t fall far, my children should be riding fiends.  I tried, but not even the Ride for Heart roused him.

Last weekend, as we picked what stays and what goes in preparation for him moving into university residence, he suddenly said “I wanna take my bike”.

I was in the garage before “…ike”.

I was met by two dead flat tires on an 18-speed Arashi mountain bike that hadn’t seen the road in two years.

No problem.  I figured I’d pump up the tires, add a drop of oil to the moving bits and tweak the brakes and gears – after 40 years of riding, that’s my entire repertoire of bike repairs.

As I made my way to the back derailleur, I noticed the back wheel moved from side to side.  But the nuts holding the wheel to the frame were tight.  It looked like the wheel was loose on the axle.


How do I tighten the axle?  YouTube had some helpful videos, and I went back out and wrenched the “locking nuts” tighter than shite.  No more looseness…but the wheel wouldn’t spin.  WTF.  Maybe it just needs a drop of oil.

Clearly I needed help and luckily I remembered BikeSauce.  The web site states that it’s a place where cyclists can fix their bikes for free, using BikeSauce’s tools and work areas, while volunteers are available to help those with small repair repertoires like mine.  There’s a lot more going on too with a wifi equipped “social hub” lounge and a fully stocked library/transportation advocacy centre.

After managing to get the wheel to spin, I thought I’d pop down to BikeSauce, check it out, and quickly get an educated opinion on the integrity of my repair.


It was way busier than I expected.  And way better.  Before I had a chance to get inside, someone greeted me, spun my wheel on its axle, told me it felt a little “crunchy” and set me up with a bike repair expert – Ben – who got me a wrench (I learned later it was a #15 cone wrench), a place to work, clearly told me what to do and left me to it.  Within 5 minutes of arriving, I was working on my wheel.

Without going into the full play-by-play of the entire visit, whenever I needed help I just sought out Ben who invariably stopped what he was doing to answer my question, help me or show me how.

By the end of my hour and a half at BikeSauce, I had handled the cone wrench, a chain whip, sprocket wrench and  truing stand; said “hey” to at least a dozen people and got help from three; removed, cleaned, replaced and greased all the ball bearings in the wheel and put  everything back together without finding mysterious extra bits.

Small repertoire no more.  Earlier this year someone told me my “headset” might need some work.  Then, I hadn’t a clue what he meant; now, I can’t wait to get back to BikeSauce to fix it.

BikeSauce is a great, welcoming place full of very nice people.  Visit.  Fix your bike. Donate. Enjoy.

Or check out the BikeSauce’s Biking Toronto blog.

Posted: August 31st, 2010
Filed under: Bike Repairs
Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Two Problems, One Solution

JamSometimes when I’m in a car stuck in traffic, I often think of how bad the traffic jams are in Los Angeles and I’m glad that I don’t have to put up with them.  On visits to New York City, I wonder at how terrible it must be to get caught in their rush hours, with only so many ways to get on and off Manhattan.

So learning that Toronto’s commute times had grown worse than those in both New York and Los Angeles was a shock to my T.O. pride (our commute times are also worse than London, Chicago and – arrggghhh – Montréal.)

That pride took another hit when I read that Torontonians are less active than other Canadians.  A study shows that 57% of us over 12 years old are inactive during our leisure time (is blogging leisure time?)  And it looks like we’re getting more inactive, with an increase of six percentage points in the last 4 years.

According to the report, the most frequently cited barrier to activity is: lack of time.

So we have one of the longest commutes in the world, and we are the most inactive people in Canada (which means we’re in worse shape than people in – arrrggghhhh – Montréal.)

We spend more time in our cars and we have less time for physical activity.

Hold the phone!  What if we reduced our commuting time?  Then we’d have more time for physical activity!  Wow.

BicycleIf we had the $4 Billion for transit infrastructure that the provincial government has withheld, and met the 10-year-old goals of the Bike Plan, maybe we will start to get people out of their cars and onto public transit, their bicycles and other modes of transpo. New York City proved that if you build better bike lanes, they will be used.

Simply using public transit increases our activity exponentially – from walking five seconds to our car to walking five minutes to the bus.

Then we will have fewer cars on the road, which means buses, street cars and bikes will move faster, further reducing commute times and more people will be encouraged to use them and … OMG!  It’s an enviable upward spiral of faster commute times and improved physical fitness.

Hmmm, all we need to start is $4 billion that is already earmarked and to meet the 10 year old goals of the Bike Plan.

Oddly, despite the profound benefits of these initiatives, a lack of courage and leadership stifles them.

Fortunately, there are positive signs, like the approval (so far) of a Public Bicycle system for T.O..

Now we’ve almost caught up to – arrrgggghhhh – Montréal.

Posted: April 28th, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized
Tags: , , | 8 Comments »

Do You Remember Your First?

Ever have a sight, sound or smell bring back a lost memory?  I love to check out bicycles as I walk or ride along, looking at the different brands, colours and types and thinking about the personalities who ride them.  Two weeks ago, one bike made me do a double-take.  It was something I hadn’t seen since about 1970.  Something I used to stare at for hours; that filled my chest with pride.  It was the near forgotten, but immediately familiar again logo of an Eaton’s Glider, soaring gull and all.  My first bike was a Glider.

Do you remember your first bike?Sturmey-Archer

Unlike the 3-speed model with the classic Sturmey-Archer thumb shifter that I saw the other week,  mine was a 23” coaster, but with similar fenders, seat and striping.

Shopping used to be so much easier before the internet.  In the days of catalogue shopping, to order a bike; you picked up the phone; dialed the Eaton’s order line (always answered – by a human); gave them a catalogue number and that weekend, when all your friends were about, the Eaton’s truck would appear on your street to deliver your new bike, assembled, to your door.

Or that’s how it should’ve happened.

The truth is that we took delivery of my green with white fenders Glider (I think the chrome fenders were a feature of the geared models) before the snow melted and its first weeks were spent propped against a basement wall.  That’s how I got so familiar with the gliding gull on the front badge – for weeks I could do little else than teeter on the bike and stare at the logo.

I know you’ve heard this a million times, but I really was always the last one picked for sports teams; couldn’t hit a ball, skate or run to save my life.  I was picked second-to-last once, when we played the pre-schoolers. With no budget for training wheels, prospects were dim for me learning to ride in a reasonable time.

Benny, a good friend of our family who is now in his 70s and still a very nifty guy, volunteered.  I started off ready for it to take hours, if not days. On my second pass I thought I was going a little fast for Ben to keep up and I turned slightly to check on him, but he wasn’t there.  I can’t remember ever learning anything, that previously seemed so daunting, so easily.  But being a quick learner has its downsides.  Unprepared for my early success, Benny hadn’t yet shown me how to stop.

I fell off the bike a lot that first summer. I got the nick-name Sergeant for all the band-aids that neatly lined my knees.

Life changed.  I fractioned my school commutes.  I didn’t have to run after my cycling friends to keep up.  And slamming the always reliable coaster brakes laid a patch a mile long.

GliderbadgeThe Glider was stolen twice.  Once from the side of our house, but the police quickly returned it. The second time, it was gone when I got out of my Cub Scout meeting.  After a long search, I made a late-night, non-stop run home from Lawrence to Ellesmere, crying all the way for the loss of my Glider.  I never saw it or the soaring gull again.

Until two weeks ago.

My research since shows the Eaton’s Glider to be a coveted classic on the local bike market.  But I haven’t seen a coaster.  Got any info?


Posted: April 20th, 2010
Filed under: Uncategorized
Tags: , , , | 13 Comments »