BIKE MINDS March 2020: Bikes and Limits

Story & photos by Robert Zaichkowski

The BIKE MINDS storytelling series has covered a wide variety of bike related stories since its inception in 2018 involving themes such as belonging, travel, career, and growth. The storytelling event even launched in Ottawa this past January with a second Ottawa event currently in the works. The theme for the Tuesday, March 3, 2020, event at Curbside Cycle was “Bikes and Limits” - illustrating how the power of bikes can be pushed to the limits, though there was no limit to the energy of the event’s emcee Janet Joy Wilson.

Jun Nogami – a University of Toronto engineering professor and author of the Biking in a Big City blog (and a regular dandyhorse contributor) – kicked things off in the fast lane by talking about the World Human Powered Speed Challenge, for which he is the U of T team’s faculty advisor and a chief timing official. The challenge is held annually at Battle Mountain, Nevada, on a straight section of State Road 305 known as the world’s fastest track. Riders have five miles (8 km) to accelerate and a 200 metre window where their speed is recorded before slowing down for one mile (1.6 km). The bikes are essentially recumbents with an aerodynamic shell. While earlier bikes such as the one Canadian Sam Whittingham used to reach 82.82 MPH (133.26 km/h) had clear windshields to see through, newer “camera bikes” and their aerodynamic improvements broke the record by at least 3 MPH (4.8 km/h) when first introduced in 2015 with the current record standing at 89.59 MPH (144.17 km/h).

Anne Fleming’s story was about a kayaking and mountain biking trip she and her husband took in Newfoundland 20 years ago, which she started with a brief aviation history about Gander. The town of 11,000 people welcomed over 6,000 during the September 11 attacks and was an important refuelling stop for early transatlantic flights since the airport was built in 1935 including during World War II. The area was known for wood, bogs, lakes, and rivers while a long hill – which Fleming likened to Poplar Plains – tested her limits. When the “tick mist” cleared, she saw the remains of a DC-4 plane crash from 1946 which she was not prepared to see, but her guide told an inspiring story. The crash prompted the largest rescue effort at the time which helicopters had to be de-assembled before being delivered to Newfoundland. 18 survivors were rescued over two to three days and the crash was featured in a CBC Land and Sea episode in 1992.

Mark Franklin is the founder of Career Cycles and spoke at a past BIKE MINDS event in 2018. His talk focused on his experiences as a trip leader for Backroads Active Travel based in Berkeley, California in which he led 25 people on a ride from Banff to Jasper. The job posting for trip leaders called for those serving others, hard working, sophisticated conversationalists, and problem solvers to meet the demands of an upper middle class clientele. After the application and interview, candidates then had to go to California for a weekend event where 60 people would compete for ten spots. They would respond to situations such as a suitcase being left behind, trying to raise and lower helium sticks, and go through tests involving problem solving, teamwork, mechanics, and public speaking. Franklin later designed his own trips including career counselling and left the audience with a new word – liminal – which refers to a transitional stage.

Najia Zewari moved from Afghanistan to Canada six-and-a-half years ago and co-founded the ck out of the Gateway Bike Hub in Thorncliffe Park. She reflected on how she felt depressed upon moving to Canada given she couldn’t connect with her surroundings. Through the Afghan Women’s Organization, she was among 15 women who took up CultureLink’s Bike Host program and Evergreen Brickworks also helped with bike training. Despite only being aware of her surroundings in 2017, Zewari’s experiences led her to learn bike mechanics through the Gateway bike hub, a group ride to Open Streets, and work with Markham Cycles before the Women’s Cycling Network started in October 2019. Zewari noted how the bike was a tool for empowerment and helped connect her with more communities.

Michael McMahon is a self professed “web geek” and talked about riding the BT700 with Melanie Chambers in which BT stands for butter tart. The BT700 is a 770 kilometre bike loop in Southwestern Ontario which starts and ends at St. Jacobs – a Mennonite community north of Waterloo – and passes through Owen Sound, Collingwood, and Orangeville. The ride is held at the end of the season with trail apples, tastings of beer, wine, and cider, crazy elevation gains, and close friendships made from such intense experiences. While there were several highlights, McMahon also mentioned some challenges such as how bringing a backpack was not a good idea, his tires were too narrow to handle some of the rougher terrain (40 mm tires were recommended), and some of the nights were as cold as 1’C in Mono Cliffs.

The final BIKE MINDS Toronto event for 2020 called “Bikes and Boundaries” will take place at the Ontario Bike Summit on Sunday, April 5 with tickets being available on March 20. The emcee left us all with a final message: We all can be “spokes” people for change, one story at a time.

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