Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Here is the best decorated Halloween house in London, at least that I know of. There's eerie music, fog and excellent creepy lighting at night. It's only a few blocks from my house, and it is the only place my kids insist on visiting at Halloween, which at their age is like the Superbowl of all special days.

In addition, for all you "where's the bike?" types, I've been saving this little chestnut:


Enjoy this most excellent of special days.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Ode to Smooth Pavement

In these times of government stimulus money, good things can actually happen, like new smooth pavement. These streets had been overdue for re-surfacing, and it seems to me that if I'm going to piss and moan about bad pavement, it is only fair that I also celebrate the good stuff.

So, without further adieu:

With most new paving jobs in London, bike lanes are being added. I don't know if they added width or just paint in this case. On this stretch of road I could take 'em or leave 'em. I ride in pretty much the same spot I would without the lines, and most cars seem to behave about the same.

Keep it Smooth this Weekend,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saddle Up: Pleasure and Pain at the US Patent Office

I've been browsing at the patent office again. Despite the title of this post, let's start with the pain. It would seem that some would prefer to sit while they stand!

Patent #7331595 - Auxiliary bicycle seat for stand-up uphill pedaling support

From the Abstract: An auxiliary hill climbing bicycle seat is formed from a T-shaped tubular structure attached, preferably by welding, to a bicycle cross bar. A narrow foam padding and a cover over the T-shaped pipe form a narrow auxiliary hill climbing seat positioned in front of the regular seat directly over the pedals in an elevated position higher than the regular seat.

I have just a couple of observations beyond the most obvious ones that include "oof!" and "why?" Once this thing is installed, how do you stop for a minute or get off your bike? Since it is installed preferably by welding, do you have one bike to get to the hill, and another to climb it? I have more questions, but I'm sure you do too. Let's move on to matters more pleasant.

Patent #7108667 - Bicycle saddle with vibrating massager

From the Abstract: An improved bicycle saddle having a shell which supports at least one battery operated vibrator. When the vibrator is energized, its vibration causes the shell and therefore the bicycle seat to vibrate. The vibrator has an on/off switch so that it may be turned on periodically by the rider to improve the comfort of the bicycle saddle.

I'm just gonna let you fill in the blanks here, because I can't think of much to say that wouldn't be beneath me and the lofty goals of this blog. Well, wait. Maybe I do want to say a couple of things. At least one?! How many seat-based vibrators does any one person need? Turned on periodically? I know if I decided to obtain such a magic bicycle saddle, I would have it on full blast, all the time, mm hmmm, oh baby... That is, of course, if something like this appealed to me.

Yer Pal,


Monday, October 26, 2009

If it sounds too good to be true...

I read somewhere that powerful magnets, like the rare earth ones found in computer hard drives, could "trip" the induction loops that sense the presence of cars for traffic signals. Getting such an effect from a small magnet sounded far fetched to me, but hope springs eternal, as does my supply of old hard drives. Getting the magnets called for some destruction, and who doesn't like breaking stuff? I got down to work right on the coffee table. Our betta fish Dill (who lives in a pickle jar) looked on while I unscrewed, bent, smashed and pulled at the hard drives.

The magnets are attached to a metal plate, and are quite small and thin:

These magnets are incredibly strong for their size. In the first picture, that was about as close as I could get them to each other without them slamming together. If you let two of them get stuck together, they were super hard to pull apart. Also if you are handling two of them, watch your fingers, because they are strong enough to give you a nasty pinch trying to get together. They were so strong for their size that I was beginning to hope that these little suckers would really work. I eagerly took them to work the next day for testing.

My workplace has a shop area that includes a kind of "zip door" much like a garage door, except really fast. It can be activated by a small induction loop in the concrete floor. This loop is small and sensitive enough that the steel in safety shoes can set it off. I figured it would be an ideal first test for my magnets. They didn't work, at all. I was disappointed, but not surprised. At least I hadn't spent any time on a hack for my bike or, as some have done, shoes.

When I got home I did a little more research, and several articles I read debunked the magnet myth. There are companies that sell such things for motorcycles, but there is no proof that they work. Some people swear that they do, but the brainier looking articles I read said no. I did learn, however, that positioning your bike over the cuts for an induction loop increases your chances that it will detect your wheels. I've been doing that and I think it has been working at least some of the time.

Long story short, I got to break some tech stuff and am now the proud owner of 4 very powerful fridge magnets. They work beautifully.

Everyone plays the sucker now and then. I think.


Friday, October 23, 2009


Well, as usual I want to offer something up on a Friday, and as usual I'm short on ideas. Thankfully, I've got a few pictures lying around that I hope you will enjoy.

First, some unused dinosaur-head pics:

Now, something a little more sad yet artistic found on ...

And when you just don't have much to offer, nothing beats kooky dog photos...

Except of course the truly bizarre:


Go Canadian Frog, Go! Even with the excitement of competitive sport, funny hairdos, b&w photos and dog pics, I felt that something was missing from this post. At first I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but eventually I identified it as a spontaneous case of WTF (word to form) syndrome, except there weren't words this time, just dogs that almost looked like they were flying. I simply had to see it happen, so I got to work and created the following breathtaking work of canine animated art:

Wishing you all blue skies this weekend,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fanny Packs - They're Not Just For Crack Any More

Just when I thought I was overcoming the psychological damage I did to myself and the guilt over the retinal damage I may have given my readers by writing a post about Fanny Packs, I came across this.


Doesn't doggie look happy? Fanny Packs are going to occupy at least a small piece of my mind for the rest of my life. There are worse things, I guess, but I really should consider the implications before writing about stuff.

Yer Pal,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Replacement Tuesday Post!

This post, like the last, doesn't have anything in it! That last one, however, just didn't sit well with me, so I have retracted it. It's like re-writing history, and while it feels a bit wrong, I figure it's better to do that than leave a post I don't like out there in the world.

Now that I'm typing, maybe this post will have something in it after all... brain tonic. Lots of other people have written about how riding their bicycle is good for their mental health, and I'm going to sing that tune too, just for a sec.

I had an afternoon Doctor's appointment today, from which I emerged around 3:30, already dressed in my cycling gear and warmed up from riding there. I asked myself, "self", I asked, "should you go back to work and get maybe 45 minutes more work done, or just go for a nice bike ride?" I'll give you one guess which one I picked. While I always find riding pleasurable, I hadn't ridden just for pleasure in more than a month. It wasn't a long ride by most cycling standards but it was GREAT. Perfect fall weather. No time demands. In some spots I pushed myself hard, and in others just lazed along (at least as much as you can on a fixed gear). I felt that strange peace-inducing joy-joy goodness that comes over me on any ride long enough for me to really loosen up. Pure brain tonic. Interestingly, with my brain awash in endorphins, the first thing I did once I was home was remove the post that had been bugging me. It felt good, as do I.

Bartender! A round of brain tonic for all my friends! Salut!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Canadian Milk Bags!

About a month ago I took it upon myself to entertain an American guy who was working on a project here in London where I work. I always feel kind of sorry for people who travel a lot for work when Friday night comes along, so I took him to a London Knights hockey game. We had a really good time, and talked about some of the little differences between Canada and the US.

The thing that blew his mind more than just about anything else was that in Canada, we often buy our milk in bags rather than cartons or plastic jugs. This poor guy had picked up some bag milk thinking there were going to be some sort of caps or openings he could pour it from built right into the bags, and then felt stupid when he got the bags back to his lodgings and couldn't really do anything with them. So, in the interest of Canada/US relations, here's a quick primer on using Canadian milk bags.

Here in Ontario, bag milk comes in one big bag that holds three smaller bags. All three put together is 4 Litres (1 US Gallon) of milk, which means that one bag is equal to 1.33 L or 1.4 US quarts of milk.

When my friend opened the big bag and found the that the three single bags inside were just plain sealed plastic, he didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do with them. Who can blame him? He didn't know that people who buy bag milk have pitchers at home that are specifically designed to hold them. They are available for purchase right near the milk in the grocery store, most often hanging by their handles off the fixtures above the milk shelves. They look like this:

There is one important thing to know about using bag milk. Do not cut the corner of the bag until AFTER you have dropped it into the pitcher and banged the pitcher on the counter or table to seat the bag properly. As you might imagine, doing this bit out of order can be messy.

I am rather uptight about how the corner of a milk bag is cut. A clean, smallish cut is the best way to achieve a smooth and neat flow. The easiest way to achieve such a cut is with a little milk bag cutter thing:

Rantwick's actual milk bag cutter. I insist on the "snippit" brand, because I love my family.

Second best is with a pair of sharp scissors, and third best is with a knife. Depending on the knife used, you can end up with scraggly torn plastic that causes drips. I know, because despite my obsessiveness about a good cut, my laziness has often won out and I've used whatever was closest to hand, including crummy knives. Last, I guess if you were really stuck, you could use your teeth. I have never done that.

In conclusion, please note that drinking milk straight from the bag is an acquired skill, and should not be undertaken lightly.

Well there you have it; Rantwick's primer on the use of bag milk. If even one less American or other traveller to Canada is spared the mind-blowing impact of such a bizarre thing thanks to this post, it will have been worth it.

Yer Pal,


Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Hold Your Mutant

Recently while riding in to work in the morning I was caught off guard by how cold it was. Most of me was fine, but my bare hands (fingers in particular) were aching. It was one the first days that I was riding "Mutant Winter". I have decided to rename her "Mutant Winter" because I really like saying and typing "Mutant Winter". Mutant & Winter are two excellent words when used together. Firstly, they describe pretty much how the cycling (especially in the worst parts) of winter feels. On the coldest days I look much like a scuba diver, sans snorkel: mutant. On the heaviest snow days I am the only cyclist for miles around: mutant. My bike is a fairly nice dirt jumper transformed into a weirdly fendered, pink cabled, plastic-tub-carrying abomination: mutant. Secondly, it sounds like an excellent name for certain kinds of bands, or maybe a nice scary movie...

background image used with permission from: In an act of abnormal respect of copyright, I discovered that the blog from which I grabbed the image was authored by a woman not far from me, here in Southern Ontario! Her stuff isn't for everyone, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Anyway, my hands were really cold, and I had no mitts or gloves with me. So, in true mutant fashion, I grabbed a pair of old spare socks out of my way groovy blue Winter Mutant tub, and stuck 'em on my hands. Nothing says "mutant" like sock hands. That did the trick for the coldness, but shifting was difficult because my thumb was trapped. If only the sock on my right hand had been blessed with the hole I found on my left hand, all would have been well. Please do not comment on how how I could have switched the socks. I had already stopped once to put them on, and I wasn't stopping again, no way. In addition, that would have placed the baggy heel part on the top, which totally goes against my personal rules of hand sock fashion (I honestly thought that to myself at the time, god help me). My left hand sock action was great, so much so that I put it back on and took a picture when I was home that evening:

So, the answer to the age-old question "how should I hold my mutant?" is finally fully clear to me: with sock hands. When you think about it, what other answer could there possibly be?

Please don't stop reading this blog because I am a mutant in thought, deed and written word...


PS - I came this close to registering and throwing a web page up just for fun, in case anybody tried to go there. I managed to resist, without any help from my sweet wife. I guess I'm not 100% mutant just yet...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Obviously Have a Deshaker Fixation

I know I write about deshaker way too often, but I accidentally skipped a step in processing some video with it, and ended up with a neat result. Deshaker works by looking at video in two passes. The first pass compares each frame (my videos have 30 frames per second) with the previous one and maps how far certain pixels move. The second pass compensates as best it can for those movements if they don't make sense based on various criteria you can set.

Well, I forgot to run the second pass and got this instead, the results of the first pass in "real-time", instead of the 10 minutes the first pass actually took to process. Looking at it shows much better how deshaker works than my trying to explain it...

I know. Fascinating. To me alone. I know.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Anonymous Tipster

Think we've got it bad in North America? Look at this link, left by an Anonymous commenter on my last post:

As he or she says, Have a look, then laugh, then cry.

Just ride in the street.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Summer's Swan Song: Plugging My Ears

At about 10 degrees Celsius (48 F) I start getting earaches, especially if it is windy. I never hear other people complain about pain in their ears in this weather, and I am beginning to wonder if I'm a little odd in this regard. When I get to wondering if I'm weird, I naturally turn to a survey of unknown people on the Internet, because everyone knows that the readers of blogs are among the most normal and balanced individuals anywhere. So, cycling friends, answer me this:

Cool Winds...

In this time preceding balaclava / hat / headband action, I have found that plugging my ears with something is my best preventative measure against earaches. Most commercial earplugs, however, are designed to block out sound, and I don't like that. The best thing I have found so far for plugging my ears is about a third of a cotton ball. Sufficient wind reduction, without as much sound loss. I've often wondered if some cheap foamy stereo earbuds would work well... I could just snip off the wires altogether. I just keep forgetting to try it. If you use earplugs on the bike, let me know what's worked best for you. Because it really is quite annoying to me, I'm ready to try anything.

Yer Pal,


Hey, Wait! I almost forgot to wish all of my fellow Canucks a Happy Thanksgiving! I know I'm thankful as hell for a great many things. Here's hoping that you are too. Also, turkey sandwiches are the BEST.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Clearing Snow in London Ontario: Should They Do The Pathways?

Source: - Chronicle file photo/Ken Stevens

London City Council, as part of its transportation master plan, is looking at whether to maintain pathways in winter, and if so, which ones. As much as I love riding the path in winter, I am undecided on this one. Recent winters have included some very heavy snowfalls, and everybody has an opinion on this stuff. I ride all winter long, and the number of other cyclists I see doing the same is growing. As it stands right now, as soon as the snow stays for a while and people walk on the paths, they become very difficult to ride a bike or even walk on because they develop an icy, dimpled surface that really knocks you around.

When the City is struggling to get snow cleared, however, I know I can ride on the street, and I often choose the street for speed reasons anyway. People who are disabled need the sidewalks cleared in order to get out, and certainly trump my desire to ride on the path.

So, let's assume the City has its priorities right, and clears sidewalks before pathways. It then becomes a question of whether the money spent to clear the paths benefits enough people (whether they cycle or not) to justify the cost. I guess it is worth a study, because I have no idea.

I was home sick last week, and watched a little city Council on TV. It seemed to me that Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser thinks winter cycling is stupid, and the City is stupid for even thinking about helping people do it on the paths.

The gist of his comments were "who the hell rides their bike in the winter anyway? We're thinking about spending money on this?" He has chosen to focus solely on the cycling aspect of cleared paths, when there are other benefits for pedestrians and joggers and who knows who else. I have determined that Stephen Orser and I should probably never go out for a few drinks.

He's totally put me in the mood for every winter's letters to the editor suggesting bicycles be banned in winter. I love those. They are like the seasons themselves, in that you can count on them pretty much every year, just as you can count on a bunch of cyclists attacking the author in the comments. I never engage in that way, but I do enjoy reading that stuff. It used to make me angry, but these days it just gives me a chuckle as I suit up and ride on.

Agreeing to disagree is totally acceptable, and I do it a lot.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

I'm Getting Pumped! And then Deflated!

Around March of the last few of years, I begin to ache for Spring and open bike paths and an end to riding through heavy snow, rain and dirty slush. Around now, the last few years, I start getting excited to ride in all that stuff all over again. Don't get me wrong, dirty slush is not really my thing, but the joys and challenges and beauty of winter riding in London Ontario most definitely are.

I intend to wax poetic about all that stuff as winter progresses and camera provides in the coming months, so I'll stop there for now. I've got to get cracking on cleaning up my winter bike, (named "Winter", if you'll recall) right NOW. Of course there's no snow yet, but snow before the end of October is not unheard of, and I don't want to miss any of the precious first snows before the paths get packed down, icy, pocked up and almost impossible to ride.

Another reason I need her ready is that I like to ride the bike on dry, non-icy roads before things get bad, so that when they do I have re-adjusted to having gears, a freewheel, disc brakes, flat bars and most of all a high centre of gravity, thanks to that crazy tub on the back. During that fair-weather period, I run the knobby, studded MTB tires at as high a pressure as I can in the interest of speed. They sound like rice crispies when you ride on bare pavement. The worse conditions get through the winter, however, the more air I let out. It is not uncommon for me to run at 20 psi in mid-winter, since it increases the size of your contact patch, and provides some "float" over packed snow.

Well, it took me a while, but now you know where that title came from. This is the first winter that I'll be blogging here in a steady way, with the camera and all that. I'm really looking forward to sharing some of what makes winter riding so very crappy and so unbelievably great.

Wishing you all a happy Winter Deflation,


Monday, October 5, 2009

Encounters with Rantwick, episode seven: Pathside Fizzie Bomb

Everybody who doesn't ride a bike in the street seems to know for sure that it is terribly dangerous. I beg to differ. It is not dangerous, especially when done well. Car and cyclist collisions are in most cases predictable and preventable.

Multi-use Pathways, on the other hand, can be a jungle; you never know what you'll run into on the path. No Road = No Rules, man. If you don't believe me, check out this latest instalment of Encounters with Rantwick. I didn't choose the word "jungle" lightly... we're talking guerrilla warfare-style exploding devices, man!

Wishing you fizz-free cycling,

P.S. - My computer clock read 11:55 PM just before hitting the Publish button. Take that, Tuesday!

It's Monday, and I've Got Nuthin'

Monday is supposed to be my regular posting day. I usually try to do something a little bigger or more involved on Mondays. Today, however, I've got squat. The computer that has all my extra pictures and stuff isn't available to me either.

So here's what you get on one of Rantwick's worst Mondays, posting-wise. It is representative of my mental state this morning.

I expect to be Back In Tune next time.


Friday, October 2, 2009

That Guy Saw My Post!

My post about "the friends you don't know" resulted in the person actually answering my 20 stupid questions in the comments! How cool is that? I just wanted to thank him for being such a good sport. I am freaked out that this one person actually reads or got directed to my blog, since my stats only show a very few visitors from London.

Yer Pal,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nobody Speaks My Language Like Mighk

Mighk Wilson is a full-time cycling guy in Florida that I first ran across on Commute Orlando. He doesn't write as often as some, but man, when he writes stuff it is very good. I am a sucker for a reasoned, balanced and logical approach to cycling issues. That's this guy in spades, and I think he may be my very favourite serious writer on cycling stuff. That's saying something, because I (God help me) read tons of this stuff, at least online.

I know lots of my regulars are already very familiar with Mighk, but for those of you who aren't, go here for the latest thing from somebody who isn't just some goof.

Yer Pal,


Friends You Don't Know - 20 Questions

I'm guessing most regular bike commuters have other riders they see often enough to recognize. In my case, there's one guy in particular that I see kind of infrequently on the bike path, somewhere near downtown. I think we both ride every day. Timing and route choice make us familiar, yet not. From what I can gather, he travels out of the east end somewhere to work either downtown or in the west, and I do the reverse. It has to be a couple of years now that when we pass each other and recognize each other in time, we say "hi". It is a strange thing that when I do see this guy, and we say the quickest "hi" imaginable, it feels good.

I have friends I actually know, believe it or not, but I also categorize this guy as a "cycling friend". We have riding that path often in common. That's all! Yet, the fact that we both try to say hello in passing means that at least in that small respect, we think alike as well. For all I know, this dude is a complete ass, but based on nothing more than a gut feeling, I don't think so. I happened to catch this guy for a split second on video, about a month ago I think:

I got my "hey!" out late thanks to the blind corner action. In case you were trying to see if it was you in the video, here's a super slo-mo of that quick glance:

Is it just me, or does that look an awful lot like classic Bigfoot video, with its jerky motion, blurry images, etc? Am I conducting a hoax on myself, pretending I have a "cycling friend"? "Cycling friend" is starting to sound kind of like "Imaginary friend"... I am filled with self-doubt now, but that's kind of a constant with me anyway, so as usual I'll just have to embrace my inner Bigfoot and forge ahead.

un-doctored photo source here

There aren't a great many Londoners who read this blog, but if you managed to see yourself in the video, hey man! Are you riding this winter? I thought I saw you trying it early last winter near South St hospital. What's your favourite colour? You look a little roadie... do you race or club ride? If you had the choice between the ability to be invisible at will or being able to fly, which would you choose? What's your favourite bike store? Are you on parole? Where's your house? Who's your mama? Favourite bike tire brand / model? Do you have any siblings? What about pets? Ever fall over in public because of clipless pedals? Ever fall over in public due to drunkenness? The movie "Heathers": thumbs up or down? Are you right or left handed? Got any kids? Are you rich? If yes, will you be my blog patron and financial supporter? How many pairs of shoes do you wear regularly? And oh yeah... what's your name, dude? We should stop and compare notes sometime.

Uh oh. If you were that guy, would you want to know me any better after that? I already had my grey pallor, squinty eye and protruding tongue working against me, and now this.

With Full Social Gracelessness,