Thursday, May 09, 2013

You Might Be Your Own Biggest Weakness - And You Might Not Know It

Since I started teaching, I've tried to bike to work as often as I can.  This means that for most of the fall, and a good chunk of the spring I cycle about 80 km per week.  Not a huge amount for serious cyclists, but decent.  Last week I was especially proud when I noticed that I had worn through my rear tire.

It's funny, because wearing through that tire (and needing to buy a new set) was part of a startling revelation for me.  You see, I have a 15 speed mountain bike, it's a solid, fairly basic machine.  No shocks or anything fancy, a bit on the heavy side with big tires on 26" wheels.  It's not really the best bike for suburban commuting, but not the worst either.

On my rides I frequently encounter more serious cyclists.  You know, road bikes, pedal clips, spandex everything.  I was always amazed, and frustrated, as they appeared to effortlessly sail passed me, no matter how hard I was (or thought I  was working).  This got me thinking about getting a new bicycle, but a decent bike runs for somewhere north of $700, so I needed to give it some consideration.

Once my tire wore out,  I decided to replace my 2" tires with more road-friendly 1.5" tires.  I figured that this  would make a HUGE difference in my speed.  I put the tires on this morning and headed off to work.  Sure enough, the ride was stiffer, and it felt like I was going faster with the same effort.  Here's the kicker though, two "serious" cyclists whizzed past me, just like before.  To add insult to injury, they were old.

I was pissed.  Clearly, my 26" wheels were too small, and my bike frame was too heavy.  This bike would never cut it -  I had to get a new one.

As the two drew ahead of me, I had two startling realizations:

1.  These guys had giant, like GIANT calf muscles and more importantly,


Holy crap.  It's not the bike.  It's ME.  I'm the reason that I'm slower than those guys.  I forced myself to match their pedaling rhythm, and lo and behold - I was able to stay much closer to them.

Now don't get me wrong.  I know that a lightweight 21 speed bike with skinny tires on 29" wheels will go faster than a heavy bike with smaller wheels and wider tires.  But those guys would have kicked my ass if they were riding tricycles.

All this to say, when you're bitching about things not going your way - because you don't have the right job, or the right gear or the right tools or the right whatever - double check and make sure that the problem isn't YOU.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

An Open Letter to David Pollock, Mayor of Beaconsfield

Every month, Beaconsfield circulates a newsletter called CONTACT that lets us citizens know about all the great stuff happening in our town - like eBooks (and French eBooks) from the library, swimming lessons, hazardous waste collection days and the like.  This month, I noticed a little notice about changes to the noise/nuisance bylaws for Sundays.  It used to be that the only time you could mow your lawn or do renovations on a Sunday was between noon and 4PM.  This was a bit annoying sometimes, but I totally understand the need for a bit of peace and quiet.  Apparently, this wasn't enough peace and/or quiet for some folks, because now you can't use any motorized equipment at all, at any time on Sundays.

So I wrote a letter to the mayor, which I sent on May 3, 2013.  As of this writing (May 8) I haven't heard back.

Mr. Pollock,    As I read this month's CONTACT, I was very disturbed to find that the city's noise by-laws had been amended to prohibit the use of any motorized equipment or tools at any time on Sundays.
While I appreciate the need for controlling noise pollution, this by-law presents a number of problems, both practical and philosophical.
Neither Kirkland or Pointe-Claire restrict noise on Sundays to such an extent.  This means that Beaconsfield residents who live on the borders of these other cities can still be subject noise coming from their neighbours in  those municipalities.  In fact, no other municipality in West Island has such restrictive regulations.
In many families, both adults work full or part time, leaving the weekends as the only time for activities and yard maintenance.  Given the vagaries of the summer weather, it is not uncommon for one of the weekend days to be rainy and unsuitable for yard work.  In addition, families with children often find themselves shuttling between multiple activities on one of the weekend days, and this by-law further complicates their lives needlessly.
My last argument, is a moral one, and perhaps the most important.  The choice of Sunday as a quiet day, or day of rest, reflects a strong Christian cultural bias on the part of Beaconsfield.  I am Jewish, and though I am not overly observant, my traditional day of rest is Saturday.  The choice of Sunday by the city is based solely on tradition, since I am sure that the majority of "Christian" residents of Beaconsfield do not regularly attend church.  Although Beaconsfield has a reputation for a certain degree of cultural homogenity, the population is rapidly become more diverse and the value judgement implied by the new by-law does not reflect an openness of spirit toward residents of different cultural communities.
I appreciate the need for controlling noise pollution, and I applaud council for it's proactive approach.  However, the previous version of the by-law was already among the most restrictive in the West Island. The current by-law will ultimately be ineffective because it cannot protect those Beaconsfield residents who live adjacent to neighbouring municipalities.  It is needlessly restrictive and authoritarian and discriminatory.
I trust your better judgement will consider a revision of this by-law.
Please do not hesitate to contact me, should you have any questions.
Michael Lautman