Tricking out omafiets with essentials. Or keeping the romance alive

My life partner Heather has a one-speed omafiets (Dutch for grandma bike). When she rides it reminds me of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on her bicycle. Being upright she looks practically regal.

Statue of Queen Beatrix, not Heather

The only problem with this particular omafiets—at least for Canadian weather—is that it only has a coaster brake with which to stop, which can make cycling on icy downhills sometimes tricky. While a coaster brake is the height of simplicity—just pedal backwards to stop—it can lock up the back wheel if someone really steps on it.

So for Christmas I put together a front wheel with a rollerbrake (yes, I know, I'm such a romantic). So now she's got two brakes with which to stop. A rollerbrake's mechanisms are all internal (like coaster brakes) so it requires less maintenance and isn't affected by the weather like regular rim brakes. Even with wet rims the bike stops just fine.

Just perfect for city cycling.

I actually didn't set out to lace together a wheel. I couldn't find anyone locally who was selling a complete wheel with rollerbrake for this oma fiets. So I had to put it together myself with help from Hoopdriver and Urbane to get the steel rim, spokes and hub. I had also looked at Dutch Bike Bits. Curbside might also have had what I needed since they sell Dutch bikes.

Here's the result. Just in time for icy roads.

Turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself.

Bike wheel sizing is esoteric to say the least. Older Dutch bikes use the ETRTO 635 wheel size and I could only find the 622 built up with Sturmey Archer drum brakes on Dutch Bike Bits. The 622 standard is the same as what is commonly (at least with bike geeks) referred to as 700cc.

Once Hoopdriver and Urbane got me all the parts (rim, hub, rollerbrake, spokes, brake lever), I used Sheldon Brown's handy tips for wheelbuilding. I've built wheels a couple times before, so it may take some practice if you haven't done it before. It can be a nice, relaxing experience if you've got all the right parts.

There are actually people at machines in Asia that can quickly lace up and true millions of wheels a year. But what's the fun in that?

Sheldon Brown's wheel.

The bike in its full glory. Note the magnificent basket. It can carry so much stuff that I feel guilty for not putting one on my bike. The basket and rack came from Curbside.

Dr. Monica Campbell, champion for people on foot and on bike

Welcome to 2014! May we actually get some real, protected infrastructure this year!

At the end of last year I ruffled some Vehicular Cyclists' feathers by posting this: Avid Cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame but themselves (I still stand behind my analysis though I would probably now use the more accurate label of "Vehicular Cyclists" to better reflect the ideology and not just people cycling in car traffic because they have no other choice). Buried in the controversy was my mention of Dr. Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health, who had won an award at the 2013 Toronto Bike Awards.

(Photo: TCAT. From left, Dr. Monica Campbell, Nancy Smith Lea of TCAT)

Dr. Campbell is no Lance Armstrong. This is something which Vehicular Cycling seemingly holds as a prerequisite for a transportation planner - as in "If we all just rode at top speed all the time and never made errors then we'll be perfectly safe in car traffic". She is not that kind of expert, but one who knows how to bring science to the transportation planning profession; a profession that has notoriously avoided dealing with most injuries, deaths and health impacts such as obesity and asthma that are a direct result of our car fetish society.

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, who presented the award, describes Dr. Campbell's work thusly:

Dr. Campbell has city-wide responsibility for ensuring the development of evidence-informed public policies that best protect the health of Toronto residents. She was selected by a majority vote of the TCAT steering committee for her leadership in demonstrating the link between active transportation and health and for spearheading numerous evidence-based initiatives within Toronto Public Health to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto.

Under her leadership, Toronto Public Health has been producing reports such as the recent report "Improving Safety for Bicycle Commuters in Toronto" and has become more active in creating safety guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians (something which you'd think would have already been a higher priority for Transportation Services).

Some of the safety items that Public Health is pushing for, for which most cyclists will be pleased to have:

  • making construction zones safer for cyclists
  • stop using bike lanes for "storage"
  • review the "Watch for Bikes" by-law and improve it
  • advocate for side guards on trucks (only the feds can implement this but have been dragging their feet for years)
  • improve safety of cyclists at intersections

Her work, I think, is a signal that the underbelly of our municipal government is slowly understanding the new reality where fighting obesity and improving the safety and the comfort level of citizens is more important than obsessing about making cars go faster. Thank you Dr. Campbell for helping to make Toronto more equitable, safer, healthier and more fun in 2014.