Archive for ‘cycling’

November 9, 2014

Bateman Bicycle Company–913 Bathurst St

Some a**hole bent the rear wheel of my single speed a couple of weeks ago. While in general I am not a supporter of the death penalty I have pondered it’s appropriateness for bike vandals. After discussion with my son I have decided that perhaps the death penalty is not apt (although deserving). Instead I have decided that public flogging is the way to go.

However, that is not the purpose of this posting. Although if you support flogging let me know. I’m thinking of fundraising for a flogging post to be established somewhere in the city…

So I went to my local bike shop, Bateman’s on Bathurst St about 2 1/2 blocks north of Bloor to see if the rim was fixable. Alas, it was too bent out of shape (much like my mood) to be repaired.

So we had to order a new rim and have a wheel built. I wanted the same 28 rim with 30 spoke wheel that I had …an Alex 28…and I wanted to re-use my Formula hub (and freewheel). I told them that my single speed was my life (my Pinarello road bike if pure pleasure but is not my daily commuter) and I hoped they could get this done soon as i didn’t know how I would exist without it.

Within minutes they flipped over my Michelin Lithium rubber and freewheel onto a loaner wheel, returned my bike to me and said they would let me know when the new wheel was built. The next week they called me to say that they couldn’t get the same rim and offered to get me a better rim for an extra $25…after about a one second pause I said yes, I think I can suffer through a better built wheel.

Next week I dropped in on a Friday at about 5:30 pm and they flipped back my tire and freewheel onto the newly built wheel and I was ready to leave in minutes.

The cost? $70 for the rim and $50 for the wheel build plus tax. No other charges and I was never without a rideable wheel the whole time.

That’s great service for a local bike shop. Other nearby shops won’t even fix a flat for drop ins and here I had my bike back on the road in no time. I was never without a ride. And, I should add, all this was done with smiles and the most friendly of attitudes.

That’s a huge thumbs up for Bateman Bicycles.

By the way, they also have a new spin class program at their ‘warehouse’ location a block away at Bathurst and Barton for reasonable rates. And if you have a friend coming to town they do bike rentals from hybrids to high class road bikes.

Their retail prices are full retail. You can get cheaper elsewhere. But a bike shop is a service business. And on the service side I’ve never done better than here.

September 28, 2012

Playing with my Volkswagen

Ok, so call me superficial. I decided to buy a new car two years ago. At this point in my life I decided to finally get that ‘fun’ car that I always wanted: the quintessential ‘hot hatch’. I bought a 2011 VW GTI.

Since it’s a hatch that comfortably seats 5 and had folding rear seats and handles very well in the winter, it is also a practical car. It even gets good gas mileage for the performance it puts out. I’ve gotten two foldable kayaks and all relevant gear in it and can easily get three good sized hockey bags in the back.

So that was my starting point.

For some reason (mid life crisis or simply leaving children and therefore I can indulge myself) I got into this car and its possible modifications in a way I have never done with a car before.

And, being progressive, it is of course politically incorrect to be into cars. That might have been one of its appeals.

First mod? A tune. A chip. A reflash. These are all the terms used for after market reprogramming of the ECU (electronic control module–the brains of the car) for more power. Most cars, and VWs are known for this, are over engineered. That is to say, they can safely (up to a point) deliver more power without negatively impacting durability of components than the factory tunes them for. That means if you take care of your car then you can safely squeeze out more performance.

There are several companies that do this for VWs and the VW turbo engine (2.0l TSI) is particularly adaptable. I decided to go with the most popular North American tuner, APR, based in Alabama U.S.A. There is a Canadian company, Unitronic, a European, Revo and GIAC (? country of origin). They all deliver similar results but APR seems to have a very good reputation for customer service as well as a good dealer here in Toronto. So I went with them.

By the way, tuning the car actually increases efficiency and so increases km/l a bit.

Because VW doesn’t approve of this, the tuner must bypass the ECU encryption by removing the ECU and bench flashing it. There is a slight risk involved in doing this and so you must choose your tuner carefully and make sure they re-seal the ECU when it is replaced under the hood. Failure to do so has resulted in destroyed ECUs at a cost of just under $2000.

I chipped mine 18 months ago and am quite happy so far.

Chipping it increases horsepower by about 10 to 15% but increases torque by about 20%. It is noticeable when you step on the gas. It’s all very controllable, though. You just have to know how to drive.

So now I have a more performance oriented engine which will do 0-100 in about 6 seconds. As important, however, is that the stock suspension on these cars is great and cornering and on-ramps are a hoot.

A word of warning: if something goes wrong with the engine and VW determines it was the fault of a chipped ECU, they can deny repairs under warranty.

Applying power is nothing without control. I know I should have dedicated summer and winter tires but I decided to change over the stock (and pretty crappy) tires to Continental Extreme DWS (size: 225/45/17). These tires have a bit of a soft sidewall so aggressive cornering can feel a bit squishy. Personally I find them just fine but others have complained.

What is amazing about these tires is their grip on dry put particularly in the wet and slush. These tires are truly great in the rain and I feel a real added safety factor in wet weather. They have also been very good in the past two winters. I know last winter had very little snow but I was pretty impressed by their performance.

The DWS stands for Dry, Wet, Snow. As the tires wear and lose tread depth the S, then the W on the tires are worn down and disappear. That’s how you know what to expect from them. Two years into them I think I still have about another year on the S. In other words I should be good through this winter.

Next year we will see but I would buy these tires again.

I should note that I kept the 17″ wheels (most GTIs I see have upgraded 18″ wheels). The 17 s have better road feel (more comfortable as compared to lower profile tires), are cheaper to replace the rubber on and, since they are lighter in weight by at least 5 pounds (less inertial mass) they perform better in the corners. They also have better winter traction. I don’t know why people insist on getting the 18″ wheels. Looks, I guess.

So now I have the power and the contact with the road. Next I got a short shifter. The Audi TT has a short throw shifter that is an OEM direct replacement for the one that comes stock on the GTI. It is under $100 to purchase and instal. The difference isn’t huge but it makes the manual transmission just that bit nicer.

By the way, the DSG automatic transmission on the GTI is very nice. I’m just a ‘row the boat’ kind of guy.

These three mods are my main performance changes. I’ve done a couple of cute cosmetic things. I bought some decals to go over the dummy buttons that all cars have. The eject button on my console is my favourite.

I changed all the light bulbs in the interior of the car to LEDs. They are much brighter and much whiter. For $25 I really like the ambience that much better. I went with SuperbrightLEDs superwhite 5000.

To enhance level cornering and stiffen the body a bit I installed a Unibrace UB body brace underneath the car. As well, to prevent wheel hop and tighten up shifting through the gears I installed a modified polyurethane lower engine mount (cost all of $10 and makes quite a difference). Shifting gears is now a tighter more precise experience.

I’ve done a couple of minor cosmetic stuff I won’t bother mentioning for now.

Last week I disconnected the Soundaktor–a device under the hood that responds to the ECU to essentially pipe noise into the passenger cabin. They have so well insulated the passenger cabin that people can’t hear the growl of the engine, thereby detracting from the performance experience of driving the car. A number of high end cars do this.

I decided to see what the car sounds like with it disconnected. It’s not hard to do. You have to remove a rubber gasket under the hood, lift up the rain tray and reach under the windshield and disconnect. I am pondering this one.

The car is definitely quieter. On the highway it’s very nice. Around the city I kind of miss the growl that makes me feel I’m sitting on a more powerful power plan than I actually am. I may reconnect it in the future but for now it will stay disconnected.

May 26, 2012

Ask the Bike Maven | How to get your bike ready for the season

Everything you need to keep you–and your bike–happy: a pump, chain cleaner, degreaser fluid, chain lube, helmet, u-lock.

By The Maven | I was in Portugal 18 months ago for a cycle trip from Lisbon to the Algarve. We rented bikes from Portugal Bikes, a locally owned small cycle touring company–great people and good prices if you ever go.

Riding to Lisbon’s Belém Tower, built in 1515.

The shop owner asked our nationality before prepping us on basic bike maintenance. He was relieved to hear we were Canadian, mechanically competent people.  The Dutch, he said, were completely incapable of doing any maintenance work on their bikes. Since a cycle shop can be found on every corner in Holland, they can’t even fix a flat tire he told us.

So as Canadians we have an international standard to maintain, to wit, some advice.

1. Cleaning: Clean your bike. If it’s been in use in the salt and slush of winter, hose it down. If it sat outside or in the basement for the winter it still needs to be cleaned and lubricated.

Cleaning the chain is the most important for a smooth and happy ride. You can just hose it down, let it dry and then oil it.

Take the top off the bike chain cleaner, add de-greasing fluid, fit your chain in the cogs, snap on the top, and rotate your pedals backward about 100 revolutions.

But best to clean it properly. MEC sells a nice chain cleaner for only $5.50 and a bottle of citrus-based biodegradable degreaser for the same amount. Why degreaser? Because the oil on the chain picks up dirt and abrasive particles and this grit acts like sandpaper to wear down and destroy your chain, cogs, and chain rings. Shifting becomes  rougher and requires more force, you skip gears, ugliness–in the form of a repair bill to replace your drive chain–soon ensues.

With a chain cleaner you simple fill up the chamber with a degreaser, click it on to the chain and run the chain through it for a couple of minutes. The chamber will become black and disgusting while the chain will become shiny and silver again.

I also pour some degreaser directly on the derailleur and cogs and let it sit a while. You can then wipe all these parts down with a rag or rinse them with water. After everything has thoroughly dried (I like to do cleaning on a sunny day and let my bike sit in the sun for an hour to dry) you need to re-grease the chain. Do NOT use 3-in-1 or household oil. By oil specifically for a bike.

Or make a homebrew like I do. I mix one part light grade synthetic motor oil to three parts mineral spirits (pain thinner). I apply it liberally to my chain and all moving parts of my bike. The idea is that the mineral oil thins the oil and helps it penetrate and carry into metal parts. The mineral spirits then evaporates leaving behind the lubricating oil. About $10 worth of ingredients has lasted several years for me, and I maintain four bikes of my own and three of my son’s. I oil my road bike chain after every one or two rides. I will wipe down the chain and re-lube. I do a full clean ever few weeks.

Information about optimum inflation pressure is printed or embossed on the sideall of your tire.

2. Tire pressure:  Information about optimum inflation pressure is printed or embossed on the sidewall of your tire.

Tire pressure is crucial. The maximum inflation is on the tire side wall. If you are heavier go toward the higher end. Up to a point a higher pressure will aid efficiency but your ride may be a bit bumpier. Too little air can cause ‘pinch’ flats by pinching the sidewall of the tire between the road and the rim. And the bike won’t ride very nicely on half flat tires.

Tires lose air daily. The rubber tubes are not entirely air proof. There is some leakage. The higher the tire pressure (eg: road bikes) the faster the leakage. Pump your tires twice weekly at least. A good quality pump is worth the extra few bucks as it makes pumping so much easier.

I even use my bicycle pump to pump up my car tires (ok, I’m a little obsessive about these things).

3. Inspect your bike

Check your bike now and again to make sure the brakes aren’t rubbing, and that nothing is loose.

It’s a good idea to just walk around your bike and do an inspection now and again.

Check the brakes are not rubbing and that they stop a spinning wheel promptly. Check that the crank and headset have no play in them. If you are riding a single speed–particularly a fixie–the crank is your bread and butter. Keep it tight!

Use an

An Allen key set or hex wrench is all that is needed to adjust and tighten most parts on your bike.

You may not realize it but metal not only fatigues and breaks but also stretches. For instance, not only do your brake and gear cables needs tightening but your chain stretches. Not checking and replacing the chain when it needs it can wear the rear cogs and front chain rings, and then they too will need premature replacement…something that is much more expensive than a new chain.

If you aren’t confident enough or knowledgeable enough to do this stuff on your own, spend a few bucks at your local bike shop. Rob Bateman of Bateman’s Bicycle Company at 913 Bathurst just north or Barton is a great local guy and cycle enthusiast. He and his guys will look after your bike for a reasonable price.

A well tuned bike is a pleasure to ride.


March 17, 2012

An appeal to cyclists….

So what’s going on out there? As a cyclist I am well aware that there is a struggle going on for use of our public streets between cars and bicycles.While Toronto is pretty supportive of cycling, the weight of public opinion still seems to be in favour of cars when there is a choice between road usage.

So why would cyclists want to further piss off public opinion by acting like idiots? I ask this because either there is some current obsession with wining a Darwin award or a great number of cyclists are socially impaired.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see a cyclist rudely and dangerously ignoring all common sense and courtesy. Let me first point out, though, that I do ride through stop signs (after checking that it is safe to do so and that I am not inconveniencing anyone who has the right of way, yes, even a car). I also ride the wrong way on one way side streets (never a main street) because I think those one ways are made to protect neighbourhoods from car traffic and not the occasional cyclist.

But whipping through a stop sign when a car is forced to slam on their brakes to not hit you, or riding the wrong way up a street in the middle of the road so a car cannot proceed in the lawful direction is just asking for trouble. And don’t get me started on cyclists who ride on sidewalks and imperil pedestrians.

Unfortunately although cycling is superior to driving in so many ways (healthier, less pollution, often faster…) the people riding those cycles are too often morally inferior.

A friend of mine feels that the reason so many cyclists are so stupid is because they don’t have drivers licenses and so have never learned the proper rules of the road. I don’t know if that’s true. I think most cyclists likely have drivers licenses, but I really don’t know. Whatever the explanation these acts of public vandalism are hurting our cause and putting people at risk.

I don’t think cyclists should toady to the car driving neanderthals like the Brothers Ford, but in any political battle one has to pick their fights and one has to strategize. Why piss off bystanders?

Of course there is also the simple argument of courtesy and respect for our neighbours. Why would you cut someone off on your bicycle if someone doing the same thing to you would piss you off? It certainly has taken away my sense of solidarity with other cyclists.


August 10, 2011

Bateman’s Bicycle Company: a little local treasure

Unpaid advertising for Rob Bateman’s little bicycle shop. He rents space just beside Stanley’s variety store at 29 Baron St (southwest corner of Barton and Bathurst). The actual store is a tiny affair and he has the adjoining two garages that he uses as a workshop.

While Rob sells some new bikes, I haven’t ever bought one from him. But I have had him do some work on my bikes. About two years ago I put together a single speed for myself from a beautiful Jamis Sputnik frame (with Easton carbon fork) and a number of parts I bought off eBay and other places. After assembling it I went to Rob to let him give it a once over to make sure I didn’t screw up.

Since then I’ve had him look at a few things on my bikes and friends’ bikes.

Rob is very reasonably priced and knows about customer service. He is always happy to help out and is meticulous about the work he does. If you ask him to fix a chainring, he is just as likely to disassemble your bottom bracket to check that out. And while you think this may just be a money making attempt on his part, his rates are so reasonable that you really appreciate it.

And, as I mentioned, Rob is not the typical arrogant techie.

Bateman’s is a real community gem. His site:

July 26, 2011

Road rage/cyclist rage

Ok. You’ve just got to let me vent here.

But first I have to start off by saying that between two drivers in my family, we put on only about 5000km annually on our car. I cycle almost everywhere across Toronto. In fact I rarely take the TTC because I cycle so much. I even have a ‘Share the Road’ bumper sticker on my car. I’ve got the credentials to write this column.

So when I get mad at cyclists, I’m serious about it.

I’m not into ‘blaming the victim’. You know, it’s when the cops get upset about the road carnage of cyclists and so they clamp down on cyclists rather than work with drivers and bicycle friendly infrastructure to makes streets safer for everyone.

No, that’s not what this is about.

But these are times when cycling is under attack by the right wing on City Council. And, I think, it behooves us cyclists to behave responsibly. I jay walk all the time. I walk through red lights when there is no traffic and it’s not a major intersection. I don’t stop at stop signs on my bike and I cycle the wrong way on one-way streets–all provided it’s safe.

But I resent cyclists on the side walks weaving between pedestrians and scaring them or running them off the sidewalks. I am tired of getting the finger from cyclists when I exercise my right of way either as a driver or a pedestrian at a light or a stop sign.

When I cycle through a stop sign, I know I am in the wrong should anything untoward happen. I only do so if it will not inconvenience a pedestrian or a driver. If I am breaking the rules (which I do gladly) I only do so when some one else doesn’t have to pay for my decision.

So, by what god-given (because that is the religious fervor of some cyclists) right does a cyclist give me the finger when I enter an intersection in my car following traffic rules? Why do I get yelled at by a woman on her cycle when I proceed down a street when she is coming the wrong way up a one-way street on the other side to what she is supposed to be on (and, I might add, not wearing a helmet or with a light at night)?

And just today I was the recipient of road rage from an idiot on a bike who took offence at something I apparently did wrong (I have no idea what it was) and caught up with me at the next light, leaned on my car and proceeded to shower me with verbal abuse. It was all I could do to not get out of my car and start a brawl with him.

I know drivers do this as well. And it is only a percentage of cyclists who behave this way. But it appears to be a growing percentage and it is all the more distressing when I feel like I am doing my best to accommodate my fellow cyclists.

If you are on a cycle and that pissed off at the world, go home and leave the rest of us in peace. I enjoy cycling. I hate arguing.

March 28, 2011

Bike fitting 101

Good question. The way I see people riding around on their bikes in the ‘hood, I often wonder: is it me or is it them?

I know that not everyone is into long distance or fitness riding. Sometimes a quick toodle to the store is all you are out for. So who cares what position you are in on your bike?

Well it can make a real difference. Your position on the bike effects both the efficiency with which you pedal and your comfort in doing so.

And if you are more comfortable and more efficient aren’t you going to enjoy riding your bike more? Unlike Steven Harper,  I admit to a hidden agenda: I want to see as many people on bikes as possible. Take that Mayor Robdoug!

So what’s involved in making sure your bike fits and that you are properly positioned on it?

Bike fitting has some scientific aspects to it. No, it’s not just an eyeball affair. I once gave a lecture on this and it took me almost 90 minutes. That’s more than the West Annex News (and you and I) can stand. And a proper fit on a road bike can take an hour. I’m not going into that kind of detail here.

So here’s just some basics that will help you enjoy your ride a bit more.

Step one, you have to get the right seat height. Muscles have an efficient dynamic range. Stretch them too much and they won’t contract back as strongly (think of a rubber band). When adjusting the seat height, you never want your legs fully extended on the down stroke. You want your legs extended to 20 to 30 degrees flexion at the knee. That means you still want your knee flexed at little bit and the bottom of the pedal stroke. And when measuring this, the ball of your foot should be on the pedal. I don’t ever want to see any of you riding with the heel of your shoe on the pedal, or I will stop you and chew you out. And your foot should be level to the ground. And, many people don’t realize it but the down stroke is longest with the crank parallel to the seat tube (the tube that your seat sits on top of) and not vertical.

If the seat is too high, your legs will be extended beyond their point of efficiency as well as comfort. Additionally, you will be swiveling your pelvis from side to side in order to reach the pedals.  That is going to chafe your private parts, and that isn’t good for you or your significant other.

If the seat is too low, you aren’t getting all the power you could by stretching your legs out more, resulting in a more tiring ride.

But the seat also has a fore and aft adjustment. Correctly placing your seat over the pedals also helps efficiency as well as knee comfort. There is a proper way to do this by dropping a plumb line from your knee cap to see if your foot is positioned correctly . With your foot parallel to the ground, the nubbin at the bony prominence just below your knee cap (your tibial tuberosity) should be directly above the middle of your forefoot (or the spindle of the pedal).

About saddles, and those big-ass seats: they are often much less comfortable than a smaller, firmer seat. Think of wearing a Birkenstock sandal (firm, molded) compared to slippers on a long walk. The tilt of the saddle also needs attention. Start with it level, make small adjustments from there.

And remember, when riding your arms should never be fully extended at the elbows. There should always be some flex.

A full bike fitting involves adjusting handlebar height, width and stance as well as several other contact points on the bike. Tires, handlebar tape, wheels, gear ratios all contribute to a bike’s comfort. As I said, it can get quite detailed. Most of you likely won’t care or notice a detailed fitting. However, when you buy your bike, don’t just get on it and ride off. Make sure someone takes the time to have a good look at you while you are on it. Ask about the seat height, position and tilt…. even if it is just for riding to the store. Unfortunately, many bike shops can’t even offer the most basic fitting advice, even shops that sell expensive bikes.

The wrong size bike cannot be made right by a bike fitting. First off, get the correct size bike.

I’m afraid that while we are lucky to have several good bike shops in the neighbourhood, none are equipped to do a proper fitting. If you plan on doing some serious riding,  a good fit makes a world of difference to how far you can ride and how much enjoyment you will get out of it. In my view, Heath at La Bicicletta, 1180 Castlefield Avenue is the best fitter in the city.  And once you’re at La Bicicletta, have a gander at the most wonderful, luscious, sexy, fabulous bikes you can imagine. This is THE bike store in Toronto.


Let us know if you want to know more about bike fitting. I will answer any questions posted in the comments section below.

March 27, 2011

Ask the Bike Maven: How to lock your bike

Nothing is sadder than coming across the remains of an improperly locked bike.  The mistake here?  Locking only the front wheel to the bike ring. The thief just flipped the quick-release lever on the wheel, and bye-bye bicycle.

By the Bike Maven | Spring is here and with it legions of cyclists are venturing back out on the streets. Which reminds me of a subject of perennial puzzlement: in a city as bike-mad as Toronto, why do so few cyclists know how to properly lock their bikes?

Bicycle theft is a major deterrent to cycling in Toronto. Even with Igor Kenk out of business, Toronto is still one of the bike theft capitals of the world. And don’t think your cheap beater bike is immune to the vermin bike thief. It can and will get stolen if you aren’t careful.  A bit of thought goes a long way to deterring bike thieves. I say deterring because there is no way to make your bike completely theft-proof.

I’m going to talk today about how to secure your bike with a single lock. Yes, you can nail it down even further with multiple locks, chains and cables, but who wants to ride around the city burdened with all that heavy paraphernalia?

Replace your quick release skewers, right, with a set that requires a wrench or allen key to remove, left. 

So let’s start by at least making it a little harder for thieves to take your bike or its parts. First, replace the quick-release skewers on your wheels and seat post with a set that needs a wrench or an allen key to remove. Conversion kits are available at your West Annex LBS: Bateman’sCurbside, and Sweet Pete’s. There are fancy anti-theft skewers out there for $45 a set and more, but the simplest sets starting at about $20 will do.

Next, invest in a good quality lock. U-locks (like Kryptonite) are more secure than cable locks. And I believe the smaller the U-lock the safer it is. Why? Because smaller makes it harder for a thief to get an instrument in the U to lever it open. My lock of choice is theKryptonite Evolution Mini. For a U-lock, it’s light and easy to carry.

So what’s next?  The biggest mistake most cyclists make when locking their bike comes when selecting which part of the bike to lock to the bike ring. The most expensive part of the bike is the frame, followed by the rear wheel with its cassette of gears. In fact, if you have an internally geared hub on the rear wheel as is becoming popular these days on city bikes, the entire (and expensive) gear system is in the rear wheel. Really, relatively speaking, the front wheel is pretty cheap to replace compared to the rest of the bike.

So why do some cyclists insist on locking the front wheel and leaving the frame and the rear wheel unsecured? I think the answer is that most non-mechanically inclined riders find it harder to remove the rear wheel than the front since they have to disengage the chain from the cassette. They reason that the rear wheel is less likely to get stolen.

Wrong. Anyone with a bit of experience can remove the rear wheel in a snap.

So how to lock your bike?

The proper way to lock your bike: within the bike frame’s rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post.* 

Close-up detail of the image above. Note that only the rear wheel–not the bike frame–is locked to the bike post.* 

The best way to lock your bike securely? Within the bike frame’s rear triangle, lock your back wheel to the bike post. Yes, I know, it seems a little freaky at first because the bike frame itself is not locked to the post, only the rear wheel is.

But the rear wheel rim has tremendous strength. It’s built to carry most of the rider’s weight and to resist the torque placed on it by the chain and the derailleur.  That with the tension created by the spokes means that only the most determined of professional bike thieves are capable of cutting through a wheel rim. And so long as you catch the wheel within the bike frame’s rear triangle with the U-bolt, it’s impossible to separate the wheel from the bike.

I learned this technique from my personal bike guru, the late great Sheldon Brown. His Lock Strategy article is worth a read, as is everything on his comprehensive website.

Yes, thieves can still take your front wheel. But they won’t bother, since the owner of the bike locked next to yours hasn’t read this article, and his rear wheel is available to rip off.


* Note: the City recommends that you lock to the bike post, not the bike ring as pictured above. Thank you to Jody Levine for pointing this out.

The Bike Maven is a Serotta-certified bicycle fitter who lives, works, and cycles in the Annex.

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