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Grind-My-Gears

What, me worry?

Some readers might remember MAD magazine and the likeness of a guy named Alfred E. Neuman. A little known tune released in 1959 features a goofy guy singing, What, Me worry? I don’t even care

It then goes on to describe doing idiotic things this person does that anyone with common sense would know is stupid.

Usually people who act this way don’t have a long life and will usually not pass their behaviour off to the next generation. Reminds me of a bumper sticker (for those who remember bumper stickers) that said “Stupid People Shouldn’t Breed.”

Unfortunately, as a society, we are creating a wonderful generation of offspring, but we’re not helping them make choices that will allow their following generation have a better life. Instead we’re indoctrinating them with the same “use once, throw away, buy again” mentality that drives the economy to produce more, but cheaper, merchandise.

Why should we care?

Simply, the kids and the future of our world. My kids, your kids, their kids. If you’re lucky, your grandkids.

Think about the pressure you are under to make money to buy food, put a roof over your head, and the clothes on your back. Is this the treadmill you want the next generation to endure?

Think about the stress you endure to drive your car down to the grocery store, or another local destination? Has that become so normal that we feel it should endured for the rest of time?

If we don’t start thinking about more than today we’re going to be stuck in 20 years with a system that doesn’t work even half as good as what we have now.

Six-laning Highway 97/Harvey between Leathead and Sexsmith will ease things for a year maybe, but as history has shown, more roads invite more traffic. “Build it and they will come” is nowhere more apparent than with roadways. Caltrans admitted as much in late 2015. 

Gasoline prices rise; they might dip for a little, but that never lasts. We’re talking about over the course of a decade, not the fluctuations within a single year. Something that should alarm us here in the Okanagan Valley is how the price jumped when two refineries shut down for maintenance just south of the border.

Roadways are expensive. If you try to make it cheaper, you can move it outside the city where land prices are lower but forcing new residents to spend more on driving costs. If you try to make cheaper, you can make it flatter, but you’re removing the locations available to build the road.

If you try to make it cheaper by not using as much material, you just add more cost to repair and maintenance that will follow inflation and cost more during the lifespan.

So how do we prepare the next generation to do more? Not “have more,” I feel that train has left the station. People are realizing that collecting more stuff means needing more space to store it.

Hoarders is sadly a popular television show that illustrates where we don’t want to go, let’s leave a legacy that future archeologists will marvel at, not get disgusted at.

Show our kids that we’re thinking and they will do the same. When I pull out the chariot to cycle down to the pool, my daughter will whine about wanting to go in the car. I don’t win the argument by just saying “no.”

I help her understand the distance involved isn’t very far, that the route will have less traffic and be safer, and that it gets me active, so I will live happier. And then I let her have the bluetooth speaker that I blast with classic rock that she loves.

Maybe she doesn’t understand the reasoning yet, but I hope that she retains the fact that as an adult I’m doing more than just taking the convenient route.

So we should worry, we should look beyond today, tomorrow and the next two years. Gridlock is in our near future. MadMax resource fights might be what comes after that if we’re not careful. As a society, we have the ability to think in terms of Roman empire length of times, we’ve proven that but we might have forgotten our history.

Let’s make choices that give us a future, not that consume our potential just to make us happy right now. We don’t have to become paranoid, but we can’t keep our heads in the sand with a “What, Me Worry?” attitude.

Thinking that some future scientist will deliver a solution when our current scientists have already been warning us of the consequences of our actions for decades is just plain goofy.



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Helmets or heartbreaks?

A friend recently asked me my opinion of posts on Facebook about studies finding helmets don’t provide real protection.

His question made me revisit the helmet argument that comes up frequently and typically results in a stalemate between the “let me live me free” crowd and the “you’ll die otherwise” group.

When I moved to Kelowna, through my advocacy, I discovered Braintrust Canada. It is committed to helping people understand the risks around head injuries and support those who suffer from traumatic brain injury.

They got my attention quickly.

I ride with a helmet all the time. My daughter has three helmets; my wife has two helmets, and we have another couple of helmets for guests.

I have ridden without a helmet, but I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened in the last few years. I’ll admit that it happened because I was being lazy.

From that statement, you might conclude that I am in the camp that everyone should wear a helmet or they might as well be doing something equally as foolish like playing games on train tracks wearing earphones blasting away with death metal.

Nope! 

I think people should have a choice. After they legally become an adult.

Before the age of 18, you should wear a helmet because (yes, I expect teenagers to egg my house after this sentence) young minds have not developed enough to know how to weigh the risks involved with all behaviours.

Back to the topic of these studies.

Taken at face value, the studies conclude that helmets don’t provide a level of protection that is useful for cyclists and are harmful because they create a false sense of safety.

But you have to look beyond the words and apply it to the psychology.

Helmets are tested to an average of 10 km/h. A person might fall at this speed from a standstill, but what about getting hit by a car from behind going 50 km/h? Easy to see why someone might conclude that helmets aren’t built to standards we need when riding on the road.

Everyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows that the reason for full-face helmets is because the worse damage happens to your face and jaw and not the very top of your head. Why do bicycle helmet only come in the “brain pan” style?

While there was a study that concluded cars give more room to cyclists not wearing helmets, this conclusion has not been recreated and is the subject of many questions, possibly being discredited.

The message from this information? A helmet will not keep you safe on a bike. The studies conclude that just by putting one on your head, you’re more inclined to think yourself “armoured up” and take risks you wouldn’t otherwise.

We also have to remember that helmets prevent 85 per cent of brain injuries when you look at collisions impacting the head. More people live from brain injury than die from it, but that injury can be disastrous and affect more than just the injured.

When something happens, a fall, a collision, a momentary lapse of judgment — the helmet will do all it can to minimize the impact to our noggins.

When something happens, a helmet keeps our precious brain matter from getting jostled too much or worse, coming out.

While no one would question wearing a helmet to go out and hit the trails on a mountain bike, it seems like smooth pavement is not seen as dangerous. I’d agree that pavement isn’t a hazard to worry about.

The rest of the urban environment in most North American cities is where the danger lies.

If you’re an adult, I hope you choose to wear a helmet.

If you’re under 18, you have to wear a helmet, otherwise you might end up not enjoying your adult years the way you should.

The helmet needs to be part of our arsenal of “personal protective equipment.”

Other parts of our PPE will be:

  • visible clothing
  • bright lights
  • awareness of our environment.

As a whole, these will keep us safe, maybe not unhurt since we can’t control other road users, but it’s the best we can do to make sure we have a fun and safe ride.

Promoting helmet use while cycling should not give you the idea that riding a bike is dangerous. Cycling is healthy and safe at its core. Using a helmet is a nod to the fact that the environment is dangerous, risks exist in the current infrastructure design.

A helmet can never hurt us, it can only help us. Forget about your hairstyle, carry a brush, live a little longer with all your faculties.

Braintrust Canada needs our support, we don’t want to be a person who needs theirs.



Open season on cyclists

The weather has become better and with the time change, people have more daylight. 

Sadly we’ve also seen a couple of disturbing collisions between cars and bikes.

By the numbers, each year we see more people leaving the car at home and pedaling to their destination. In Kelowna, this number is still a small share of the total, but it represents a growing change that more people are willing to make use of an alternative mode of transportation.

Details were very sparse when reading the news of the collisions. On March 4, this was reported: Cyclist, pedestrian struck.

The following week, the following collision was documented: Cyclist hit by car.

Both of these seem to be what’s known as a “left hook,” where a vehicle turning left hits the oncoming cyclist. 

(A “right hook” is where the vehicle makes a right turn and cuts off the cyclist in a side-swipe manoeuvre.)

Left hooks are pretty common because people are looking for big and fast moving and don’t see the smaller, slower-moving cyclist. They might be trying to look too quickly because the larger traffic is overtaking the cyclist, who disappears.

Right hooks are another thing. People rail about cyclists who are riding against the rules of the road because those are the easiest to notice since they don’t follow the expected traffic pattern.

The cyclist who is riding to the right of the vehicle lane and maintaining a straight line just blends in, then WHAM! A car makes a right turn just after passing the unnoticed cyclist.

A great meme that is getting passed around Facebook and other social media sites has a message that really hit home with me as a parent.

“Teach your kids to count bicycles on car trips and they will automatically notice them when they learn to drive.”

Another thing to think about in the spring is that every winter the snow and ice overtakes the roads and the City of Kelowna is out there keeping us safe by sanding and plowing.

When the white stuff disappears, all that crud is left in the bike lane and gutter. The City can’t get out there and sweep soon enough or cover all the roadways fast enough, but they do their best.

During this transition time, cyclists will be riding the white line or they’ll be sharing the vehicle lane. The cyclists will be doing their best to keep themselves safe, while still making the choice to be a road user.

Even with mountain-bike tires, that layer of loose sand and gravel isn’t a surface to trust if something goes wrong.

Other things to watch for are the bright, morning sun and the late, afternoon glare. The angle of the sun makes it harder to see things on the road that aren’t as big as another vehicle.

Make sure you pay attention.

And for those readers who will be automatically ranting about cyclists who behave badly and refuse to follow the rules of the road. Here’s a new study that came out this month, Cyclists break traffic laws for personal safety and to save energy.

I’ve been hit while riding my bicycle, I’ve almost been hit by cars, and I’ve even hit someone on a bicycle, thankfully nothing that anyone couldn’t walk away from.

Mistakes will happen.

It’s all our responsibility to make sure that preventable mistakes are prevented.



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Spring Into cycling

The weather is getting better, the paths are drying out, the temperatures are rising. What better call to get your bike out of winter storage?

Yes, out of three bikes that I own only one stays idle in the winter so my maintenance regime is the same month to month. Maintaining the bicycles for all the riders in the family keeps me in practice, but that might not be your story.

Spring means that your local bike shop will be offering discounts for tuneups but at the same time requiring you to make an appointment instead of just rolling by with your bike and dropping it off for the hour or so that is needed.

Rubber gets old, brake pads wear out, cables get brittle. These are the things that will affect your ride, and sometimes in really bad ways.

A few years ago, I took my bike out for a nice ride and when I went to shifted gears there was a large “ping” and all of a sudden I was stuck in my lowest gear. Needless to say, my ride was redirected to the nearest shop where I could buy a replacement cable.

Checking your air pressure, making sure that your bike can shift into all gears, verifying that your brakes are going to stop you in an emergency, these are the basics. You can take 20 minutes and check the points that will let you roll down the road with peace of mind.

Reading the sidewall of your tires will usually tell you what the recommended pressure should be. If you have access to a pump that has a gauge on it that should be the ticket, otherwise you might need to hit the gas station where they have the gauge built into the compressor.

Visually check your brake pads to make sure there is plenty of rubber left. Then take a short ride and apply both brakes separately to see how much pressure it takes to stop the bike while riding it. The levers shouldn’t touch the grips, maybe have a finger width still to go.

If you have both a front and a rear derailleur you should exercise both to make sure shifting goes smoothly and you can reach all the gears. Remember that if you’re on the smallest front gear that should match with the largest set of gears (closest to the wheel) on the back, and while on the largest front gear you will use the smallest set of gears on the rear.

Using the smallest gears together or the largest gears will bend your chain more than you want and it will wear out quicker.

Another check you can make is to see the shape of the teeth of the gears. When the sprockets are new the teeth will have flat tops to them and as they wear they start to look like shark teeth. The sharper they look the more they’ll have a tendency to skip under pressure and affecting the chain.

If you’re a DIY type of person, you can buy replacement parts and talk to the guys in your local bike shops to fix it yourself. Though even after all my years of doing this, I still find myself taking the bike in for some repairs that I can’t quite fiddle enough into working perfectly.

Knowing what your bike might need is satisfying and will get you rolling that much quicker. Local bike shops are great resources whether you want to just hand it over for a tune-up or get specific repairs done.

The street sweepers will be hitting the road soon and more cyclists will follow. Will you be there?

And make sure that if your kids are getting back on their bikes, they still fit them. My daughter just asked me today to raise her seat after our ride this afternoon.



More Grind My Gears articles

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About the Author

As a youngster on two feet, a teenager on two wheels, then a young adult on four wheels, Landon has found that life is really about using all modes of transportation. Currently a cycling advocate with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition he tries to lower road rage on both sides.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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