Travels With Lucas, and cool bike want to ride a cool bicycle?
November 26, 2014
November 26, 2014
When are two wheels better than eighteen? When you’re parked in some forsaken industrial park and your truck is going to be tied up in the dock for hours if not until tomorrow, and you want to get something to eat and maybe a little exercise, and there’s nothing within walking distance and maybe after dinner it would be nice to cycle over to a nearby park and watch the sunset instead of flaking out in the bunk.
Yes, I know it’s winter now, but I’ve always thought that a bicycle can be a good friend to a truck driver, and so many drivers run north-south corridors, even in winter you’d still get a chance to pedal around on southern turnarounds. What if carriers included a state-of-the-art fold-up bicycle as part of the signing bonus for owner-operators? Health concerns are being given priority in most workplaces, and for truckers, besides eating healthy, getting a daily cardio workout is an issue. Considering off-duty hours are mandated these days, there’s always some time in 24 hours for some physical activity, and a good little bike could actually save your life.
I love bicycles. I’ve got maybe eight and just made an offer on a 1965 Cinelli B road racer that’s going to set me back more than one paycheck. And I’ve moved bikes between Toronto and Montreal in my daycab a few times. A 27 inch road bike can be squeezed into most truck cabs with a little manipulation: remove the front wheel; take out the seat post, turn down the handlebars and your standard two-wheeler will fit in most cabs, belted in to the passenger seat. But watch you don’t rip the upholstery or mark up the interior or dash.
Alternatively, you can attach a full size bike behind the cab (if there’s room behind the bulkhead) but you want to stay clear of the air lines and hydro cord, and have it well-secured. But this is not the ideal way to transport an expensive bike.
Fold-up bikes would seem to be the answer. But I’ve had my share of fold-ups, and most of them are clunky and not necessarily compact when folded, hard to latch together, and some are scary rides. And there’s always problems with grease and oil getting on your upholstery, luggage and clothes.
But this is not the case with the Strida, a remarkable and innovative fold-up cycle that looks like a triangle on wheels, compresses to the size of a golf bag, connects together in 30 seconds, sports very effective disc brakes, and is belt driven—no grease or oil involved!
Bill Wilby, the Canadian distributor of Strida, approached TN editor Menzies about this product, and soon after I was trying one out at a professor’s house in Toronto. A couple of weeks later a demo was dropped off for me at a hotel in Montreal by a young man who writes a blog for flight attendants’ magazine. The Strida would be a good fit for pilots and flight crews, as it provides immediate urban transportation upon landing. Also the 18” wheels make it legal to drive on the sidewalks of most municipalities.
Strida passed the daycab test with flying colours. It weighs 23 lbs and swings up easily through the door and into the cockpit with room to spare for my backpack and cooler–leaving the sight lines clear and the passenger seat open. Volvo automatics have got a good bit of room between the seats, but I suspect the Strida would fit alright in most daycabs.
The bike is a very clever design and has won some awards as well as inclusion in a design exhibit at the Smithsonian starting in December. It began as a project for Brit artist Mark Sander’s thesis when he was an industrial design engineering grad student in London in the mid-1980s. The Strida was originally manufactured in England. Many thousands were produced but the bike has had little exposure in North America.
Most fold-up bikes bend in the middle, but the Strida undoes itself with a push of a thumb and three poles nestle together with the wheels at one end held together by a magnet, no fasteners required. One gets lots of comments on this bike in its furled or unfurled state.
These days Stridas are manufactured in Taiwan by the Ming Cycle company, and apparently the bike has a cultish-like following in parts of Asia, with riding clubs of Stridas taking to the roads and trails on weekends and holidays. It’s big in Japan as well, and some enthusiasts have customized them by converting the hub shift to 5 or 7 speeds. My demo was a crank mounted three speed assembly (pedaling half a turn backwards changed the gears) quite adequate for most city and country terrains in southern Ontario. In fact, you would be fine with the 16” single-speed version of the Strida (about half price of the three-speed) in most cities.
Seven feet of snow in Buffalo last week, but the week before I’d promised myself a little road trip for my November vacation (was gifted another week as it’s been ten years now grinding gears at Percolator), and at the same time give the Strida a little test drive. So I threw my black lab Lucas into the hatchback along with a knapsack, cooler, guitar and the folded Strida. I had decided to do a microcosmic reenactment of John Steinbeck’s Journey across America with his dog Charlie. Except my trip would be only a couple of days and 400 kms– from Acton to Welland, Ont., with stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake, St. Kitt’s, Niagara Falls and Pt. Colborne. In deference to Steinbeck, I could call it “Travels with Lucas.” My Lucas is a great swimmer and I promised him an immersion in two Great Lakes on the same day. And why Welland? Good friends and a “Pet Friendly” Comfort Inn in the Seaway City pretty well made up my mind for me.
First stop was NOTL picking up a basket of Mitsu apples from a roadside stand and scooping up my friend and amateur archeologist Zebulon O’Higgins from his tumbledown bungalow recognizable by a tree growing in the middle of the driveway. O’Higgins comes armed with lamb chop sideburns and a Super 8 movie camera, circa 1968. A retired filmmaker from Toronto he has made himself a reputation as the eccentric-in-residence for the little tourist village at the mouth of the Niagara River. Zebulon is intent on filming our little pre-winter adventure, “another grasp at the noise of our time,” he says loading his camera. He has recently come across a stockpile of Super 8 film and it’s become his favourite medium.
First thing is to get the dog into Lake Ontario. Lovely blue sky above a red tailed hawk and a few gulls. Toronto viewed across the water from a Niagara parkette is merely a scratch of distant towers on the horizon…Lucas lives for water and would chase a frisbees or sticks to the end of the world, or the end of the Seven Great Lakes, at least, and there won’t be any disappointment in his brown eyes this day. It was a good day for ticks, too. My partner Janice finds a couple when we get home a couple of days later. With winter coming on, these Niagara ticks must have seized one last opportunity to catch a ride on the dog, get a good blood meal and pop out 25,000 eggs before the snow flies.
Goodwill in Welland yields only a Donavan Greatest Hits CD, and a budding science-fiction writer working the counter in a blue vest. Zebulon goes shopping for his winter wardrobe that includes a puffed Italian shirt, a pair of corduroy green pea pants and a leather jacket that says Wexford Raiders on it. For footwear he finds a pair of platform leather shoes with leather stars sewn on the face, detritus from the 1970s. Slipping the platforms on his feet he clomps about the store looking for more bargains.
Meanwhile the young writer gives me a synopsis of his up coming sci-fi novel. An alien expeditionary force of “greys”, little guys about two feet tall, has landed inside historic Fort George and set up their death ray in the barracks where their technicians are repairing it. But they’re under the impression that the year is 1812 because all the staff is dressed in colonial period costumes and their on-board computer gets confused with all the time traveling they’ve been doing. They put the colonial soldiers and ladies into a mind lock believing that they’ve got time to work on the death ray and dissect some cattle they’ve scooped up. However, the diminutive greys are suddenly surprised to see dozen LAVs rolling into park, just before they are blown to smithereens by missiles launched from CF-18 Tomcats.
It’s going to be a good day. We swing by to pick up Ralph Pontifax at his house hard by the old canal, where I know he has 2,000 feet of copper wire strung up concentrically beneath the attic roof, feeding into a two meter aerial clamped onto to a derelict TV tower so he can talk to free-channelers in Malaysia and the Philippines. These guys are highly-evolved CB radio freaks with powerful sets that they have adjusted so they can access lower Ham radio frequencies. Needless to say, they bug the heck out of the legitimate radio operators.
Pontifax is a polyglot, understands 40 languages, speaks 25 passably and 9 fluently. I stayed up one night listening to him and his radio pirate fiends in Micronesia jabbering in Tagalog, Spanish, Mandarin and sometimes English. They were comparing and triangulating long lists of figures and deviations apparently based on movements of the magnetic north pole measured from different places on the earth.
Raph is a retired military intelligence analyst with a mystical bent. He is currently working on a divinatory system that will soon be available as an Ap, he claims. “You simply log in anywhere in the world and type in your question. Then you get a algorithmic hexagram and a reading based on your location and where the magnetic north is at that time,” he says. “It will leave the I Ching back in the dark ages” he says.
Physically Pontifax is much bigger than me or O’Higgins. Ten years since I’ve seen him. He was always tall but now he’s more imposing, bulked out, gained weight in his neck mostly, it seems, and his hair is cotton white. But now the sun is cutting faster towards the horizon and Lucas is getting anxious. We still have one more Great Lake to go.
No time to waste we are hell-bent to get to Pt Colborne and the shores of Lake Erie. Heading south towards what was Atlas Steel, now a caged lot of asphalt aside the hardscrabble south end with its bars and pawn shops, and then past what was the John Deere plant, another fenced in lot of nothing, no reason for nostalgia, “nothing to see here, folks,” just the ghosts of buildings and thousands of workers who were once the industrial backbone of this region. To our right the first Welland Canal with its ossified bridges and piers, testament to the wave of French Canadian and later Italian ethnics who built the canals and added their flavours to the soup of Welland.
East towards “stinky” tunnel, shared with trains who are also wanting to crawl under the belly of the canal, thick mist of hydrogen sulphide seeping from the limestone, and then Dain City, crossing the canal again Our objective is Nickel Beach, and after several missteps we land in the west end of Pt. Colborne, the white hip hop kids we ask for directions scowl but point southward, and we take the road adjacent to a brightly-neoned tavern called Boozey McCLuskeys or something. It’s Nickel Beach alright because of the INCO smelter next door and the labyrinthine tailings ponds secreted behind nearby berms.
“Just don’t eat the sand,” says Ralph Pontifax. Lucas runs for the water and the O’Higgins is filming the beach grasslands, finds a spinning mouse in the sand, a little mouse spinning in circles clockwise, no fear of hawks or us. Clearly the mouse is crazy, but for Zebulon, this is good cinema.
“What kind of portent is this? I ask Pontifax. “What hexagram denotes a mouse spinning insanely clockwise?” “Nickel poisoning, I suspect,” he replies.
We have dinner in the Spotted Dick in the Seaway Mall, a British pub named after a type of pudding popular in the UK.. Bangers and mash and then back to NOTL to drop off O’Higgins. A road-weary Lucas and I turn the Hyundai back towards to the Comfort Inn in Welland where the marquee advises. “Proud to be Pet Friendly.” Something about southern Ontario, where some of the towns seem to be clones of each other. This part of Welland looks remarkably like the consumer strip in Chatham’s north end. Both cities have similar malls supported by an array of fast food and retail outlets. The ubiquitous Tim Horton’s, Burger Kings, etc.
Other than a few contractors, Lucas and I have the motel to ourselves. The Comfort Inn Welland is nestled between a Tim’s and a car dealership, with a copse of trees out the back. There’s lots of room to make laps with the Strida and run Lucas. This dog is an athlete, once jumped off a 15 foot roof unscathed and it is when riding a bicycle that I am his physical equal. For us, trail riding in Halton Hills is nirvana, but laps around the Comfort Inn in Welland is not bad either.
The Strida snaps together in seconds. I mount up and we head next door to a field and trail that runs behind the T-Ho’s. In no time Lucas sniffs out a lean-to and makeshift shanty partly concealed in the woods. We avoid the bush camp and head back to the plaza. The Strida was alright on the dirt path, but the 18 inch wheels wouldn’t be too good in the mud. Rain would be OK, as it has an effective pair of lightweight fenders. This is an urban bike, not an off road vehicle.
I like heavy equipment and bicycles, don’t see any conflict there. For me a bicycle has always meant freedom. Bicycles can go places where cars can’t. Never have to worry about parking, licencing, traffic jams. All the parts on the Strida are top quality and the bike is not cheap. A I mentioned the one speed model is quite adequate and half the price. But really good folding bicycles aren’t cheap. A rival model, the “paratroop” fold-up, turns into a mountain bike that would be very cool but I imagine it would be hugely expensive, and wouldn’t fold up nearly as clever as the Strida.
Anyway I’ve had my time with the Strida and I’m ready to pass it on for the next demo ride. I promised the Canadian distributor Bill Wilby that I would try to find a southboud trucker who appreciated bikes and would like to try it. You have to give it back but it really is a sweet ride. So if you’ve read this far, and you want to try out the Strida and live somewhere around the GTA, I can probably get it to you. Leave a message. This would also make a terrific Xmas gift for the cycle-motivated trucker, if your spouse is listening. Also check out the you tube video on how quickly the Strida comes apart and together. You’ll be amazed. And if you do decide to get a fold up bike, stock up on extra tubes 16 and 18 inch tubes can become extremely hard to find when you most need them.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs