Trailer update

Homebuilt bike trailer

My homebuilt bike trailer using the Wike DIY trailer kit recently passed the 100 km mileage mark and I wanted to share some thoughts about it. First off, I have zero regrets about buying the kit and only some minor reservations about my construction. Mostly, I’m as pleased as I can be to have a nice big trailer that can haul virtually anything I want it to. In all, it’s saved me more than a dozen trips that would otherwise have required the car. Some of its duties since its June inauguration have included:

  • Making several trips with three big storage totes all packed full of stuff ranging from coffee makers to power tools. The trailer can easily carry anything I can put into three bins, plus a whole bunch more stuff on top.
  • Ferrying electronics, including a new computer and a large printer.
  • Hauling short sections of lumber. In the picture at the top of this post, a dozen 4-foot sections of cedar are heading off to temporary storage along with a couple of lawn chairs.  The trailer could easily accommodate 6-foot lengths; 8-footers would require a bit more care in loading and travelling, but it could still be done.
  • Carrying sheets of foam insulation and a heavy load of deck-building hardware.
  • And, of course, bringing home big boxes of cat litter.

There are also some things it hasn’t done yet:

  • Go to the farmers’ market. I’ve been satisfied with panniers and a backpack so far this year, but with only one week left, time is getting short to haul home backpacks full of local honeycrisp apples. I usually get a big bushel of them on the last day of the market, but I could pull five or six bushels home this year if I bring my trailer along.
  • Go downtown. The trailer has lived mostly on residential roads in the east end. Although it’s done considerable duty on Danforth,  Broadview, and other busy streets, it hasn’t yet crossed the Viaduct.
  • Haul something really heavy. If the trailer can handle 150 lb as Wike claims, its heaviest load so far has been only about half that.

Despite my early concerns, the pop rivets I used to bind the aluminum tubes to the kit brackets have held up well, and not a single one has come loose or broken. So far so good. I’m still prepared to replace them with screws or bolts if necessary. The oak cargo bed is also holding up well, with no noticeable wear, cracks, or other problems. Even though I planed it down pretty thin, it’s proven to be more than strong enough. This oak stuff is pretty tough; I bet you could make giant trees out of it.

I’ve used a single-wheel BOB Yak trailer for several years and find that using a two-wheel trailer requires a bit of an adjustment. In particular, the Yak tracks so beautifully behind the bike that I never have to worry where its wheel is when I’m riding: it’s always in line with the rear wheel of the bike. A two-wheel trailer, especially one as wide as mine, tracks very differently around turns. I haven’t yet bounced it into the curb, but it’s only a matter of time. And with a wheel off to each side of the bike, it’s that much harder to manoeuvre all three tracks around potholes and other obstacles.

If I were constructing this trailer today, I’d make some minor changes based on my experience so far:

  • I’d use small rubber washers between all of the wood-to-wood and wood-to-metal joints, and maybe dip all of the screws in glue before driving them in. Riding down the street, the trailer tends to squeak and rattle a bit. I know the joints are solid and I’m not worried about them, but I wouldn’t complain if rides were a little quieter.
  • I’d reinforce the front and back of the oak slats with additional crosspieces at each end. Only after I started using the handles at the front and the back as tiedowns did I realize that I don’t have the sturdiest construction at the very edges, which is precisely where the load on the tiedowns is greatest. A crosspiece tying the ends of the slats together underneath the tiedowns would better distribute the force. I haven’t yet encountered any problems with it the way it is, but I can feel the potential for weakness every time I cinch down a bungee cord.
  • I might make the trailer about four or five inches narrower. I’d still be able to haul the same number of storage totes, but would also be able pull the trailer through many more doorways. As currently constructed, the trailer is 34″ wide with the wheels on and thus can’t be pulled through narrower doorways. Still, I like the current bed width of two feet. It could go either way.

Also, I’m planning to make a couple of additions over the winter:

  • I’d like to make a removable pull handle so that I don’t have to stoop down just to pull the trailer around by hand. The handle would also have a stabilizing foot so that I can let go of the handle and still have the trailer rest in a level position.
  • I have a bad habit of loading and unloading on small hills, so I’ve been thinking about how to implement a simple and reliable wheel brake. Chocks would be fine, but I’d always forget to bring them. I need something that I can attach to the trailer and forget about until I need it. This could take the form of a decent kickstand attached to the bike or trailer.

Tour de Kennedy


How long does it take to ride up Kennedy Road to Lake Simcoe? Almost two months, apparently. As I mentioned before, it took three attempts (and two bikes) starting at the end of June for me to complete this trip. Kennedy Road is an interesting contrast to Warden, just two kilometres to the west and my more usual route north: Kennedy seems much more wild, with fewer farms and estate houses, and more forest and overgrown meadows. Kennedy also has less industry than Warden, fewer golf courses, and less traffic. The downside is that it’s also somewhat poorly maintained, with many kilometres of the road through East Gwillimbury cratered with potholes and only haphazardly patched in a way that makes it rather bike unfriendly. Still, it’s a very peaceful ride. The landscape feels less constricted than on Warden, with several sweeping vistas that you don’t see from the other northbound routes.


One of the things that I like most about riding out of the city is watching streets take on completely different characters. Two of my formative years were spent not too far from the foot of Kennedy Road in Scarborough, where it’s a sleepy residential street. Most people are familiar with the big box hell of Kennedy Road from Lawrence to Sheppard. That’s followed by the suburban thoroughfare of northern Scarborough and Markham, which gives way to a quiet concession road and a lazy country road before finally ending up at a beach in a little cottage area. It may all be one street, but it has at least eight distinct phases from beginning to end.

Before these rides, the only part of Kennedy north of Sheppard that I’d ever ridden on was the 400 or so metres between Ravencrest Road and Mount Pleasant Trail, where it forms part of a nice big diagonal shortcut from Woodbine to McCowan on the way to Sutton.

Read on for the full gallery treatment of my ride up Kennedy Road.

Read More …

The long road


Three and a half hours after setting out from home on Sunday, I was rolling up to Willow Beach on Lake Simcoe. It’s pretty underwhelming as beaches go, but that didn’t stop me from celebrating by taking my shoes off and wading around in the cool water while I ate my lunch. The ride back home was into a full-on headwind, destroying the usual downhill advantage of the ride back to Toronto. This was the third time I’ve tried this trip this summer. The first time I turned around after an exhausting traversal of a muddy, overgrown trail, but I wasn’t really expecting to make it all the way up that day anyway. My second attempt was cut short by time constraints just 20 km from Lake Simcoe.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve ridden up to Lake Simcoe, but it was the first time that I’ve gone all the way up and back in a single day. The other times I’ve made the trip, I either stayed overnight at Sibbald Point or cheated by driving over the Oak Ridges Moraine to start and finish my ride near Newmarket. The round trip was 154 km, with seven hours in the saddle and about an hour of breaks. I just didn’t have it in me to ride around Toronto for another twenty minutes to make it a full century.  Still, it was my longest ride of the year by about 35 km and my longest overall since riding to Toronto from Niagara Falls a couple of years ago.

I really like the challenge of pushing myself on a long bike ride, but I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a Hairshirt. Still, I feel that a 200 km ride is within reach. Probably not this year, but maybe next.

Two important lessons from this ride:

  1. The next time I ride anywhere near this far, it’s going to be a bit cooler than Sunday’s humidex of two and a half jillion degrees.
  2. My current carrying capacity of four and a half litres of water and Gatorade isn’t enough to last 150 km on a hot day. Are there any good bike-mounted hydration options that hold more than a couple of water bottles? I’d love some kind of frame-mounted system that would add another 2-3 litres to what I currently have. I suppose I could mount another couple of bottles under my seat or on the handlebars. Until then, I’ll just keep stopping at variety stores or farmhouses for refills when my water gets low.

What's in my repair kit?


I only started cycling longer distances about 8 years ago, after a lifetime of confining myself to Toronto’s streets and trails. Breakdowns weren’t a huge issue in the city because in the worst case, I was always within an hour’s walk of the subway. But as I started riding farther and farther out of the city, it became increasingly obvious that I needed to be prepared for flats and other common bike ailments. This is especially true because my longer rides are almost always solo.

I started with the bare minimum of a patch kit, tire levers, and a pump before gradually adding items based on actual problems that I’d had or encountered other people having. Eventually, I decided to package it all up into a bag that I could just move from mountain bike to road bike. And then I just built up three separate kits: one each for my commuting, mountain, and road bikes. They each have slightly different requirements and it was easier in the end to have dedicated kits for each than to repack a single kit for each trip.

The interesting thing I’ve found about having a kit is that I use it to help others more often than I need it myself. I’ve helped other riders get back on the road from problems as simple as a flat tire and unexpected as loose handlebars. I always stop to ask cyclists at the side of the road if they need help. Even if they wave me off, I’ll frequently hang around until they finish the repair, offering moral support if nothing else.

Let’s take a look inside my kit.

Read More …

Tour de Dufferin

Moo! These cows are really friendly to people who stop by for a visit.

There’s a lot to see on Dufferin Street before you get to the end of the road. Once you get out of the city and past the worst of suburbia, the street progresses through several distinct and varied phases as it marches north through horse farms and wooded valleys before running out of space in the heart of the Holland Marsh.

I started my trip (two trips, actually; one in a chilly rain and the other in glorious warmth and sunshine) at the TTC’s Downsview station, riding through a quiet industrial area before hopping onto Dufferin at Steeles and riding as far north as I could go.

Until I made this ride, I’d only ever seen Dufferin north of Steeles a handful of times, and always on my way to or from Pardes Shalom Cemetery (and once almost 20 years ago when I went to Eaton Hall for a wedding). I wasn’t expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the worst of the sprawl is, for the moment anyway, contained to the south of the cemetery and that the countryside really opens up to the north, allowing Dufferin to retain its rural feel.

The relentless march of suburbia to the south finally melts away into farmland as you pass through Vaughan

I’ll also add that we must have had a really good spring and summer so far because all of the vegetation—whether wild or farmed—was greener and lusher than I remember seeing in a long time. I wanted to stop for pictures almost constantly, which isn’t exactly the best way to get home on time.

I ride outside the city fairly frequently, but this was the first time that I stuck to a single road to its end and documented the journey. I’ll be doing it a few more times as the summer progresses. The gallery below contains the highlights from the Tour de Dufferin. Enjoy.

[Note: the gallery images may not display properly from an RSS reader. Please visit Dodgeville directly to view the gallery. I’m looking for an elegant solution to this, but I’m not sure that there is one.]

Read More …

End of the Road: Dufferin Street

This is the first in an occasional series showing what lies at the end of some well-known (or not-so-well-known) Toronto streets.

Dufferin Street continues as a dirt road a few hundred metres north Graham Sideroad

Dumpsters at the end of Dufferin Street

Dufferin Street stretches from its start at British Columbia Drive all the way past Graham Sideroad in the Holland Marsh before ending its 55 km journey at a rubbish pile.

Coming up: a tour of Dufferin north of Steeles.

Update: I’ve posted the complete tour.

Things you can move with your bike #1

Carrying a full load on my bike trailer

A lot of people think that you need a car to carry big packages and are surprised at how practical bikes can be for pulling heavy loads. Whenever I’m pulling something in my trailer, someone along the way will ask me questions about it or commend me for being innovative/brave/green/crazy. In truth, I’m just too lazy to use the car.

I think that every city cyclist should have a bike trailer of some description. Trailers make bikes so much more functional for running errands and hauling gear that I don’t know how I lived without mine. I’m currently looking at options for a flatbed cargo trailer that will be even more versatile for use in the city.

Last week’s cargo was a new vacuum cleaner and accessories. Total weight was about 35 lb, a pretty small load compared to some of my previous hauls. The big box was a little too large to sit flat in the trailer, but it was easily secured with an adjustable bungee cord. Distance travelled with the load was about 4 km, mostly uphill.

Oh, and yes, Dyson vacuums really do suck like nothing you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

The face of 24 below

Like the layers of an onion

In homage to Goldfinger actress Shirley Eaton, I leave one square inch of my skin exposed so that I won’t suffocate.

The worst thing about riding in -24°C windchill isn’t trying to stay warm. It’s not the extra time I spend each morning bundling up with a face mask, neck warmer, balaclava, and headband to keep the harsh wind off my delicate face and neck. It’s not even trying to unlock the bike while wearing lobster gloves. No, by far the worst thing about riding in this weather is frightening all the kids at the daycare next door to the office. Sorry kids; spring’s almost here. I know I said that last week, but I really mean it this time.

Chester Hill bike lane construction continues apace

A sign has finally been erected allowing bikes to turn into the bike lane.

Some six months after the last bit of work done on the still-not-quite-finished bike lane on Chester Hill Road, a little more progress was made in January. And not just once, but work was done on at least two different occasions. Now that’s progress.

For those not familiar, Chester Hill has a 70 metre long contra-flow lane from Broadview Avenue to Cambridge Avenue. Yes, that’s 70 metres, not 700 metres or 7 km; not even as long as an Olympic sprint. The lane has been worked on in fits and starts since construction began in November 2007. I realize how terribly complex and difficult it can be to put up a few signs and paint a 70 metre long stripe down a quiet residential street, but surely 15 months (and counting) is a little long for the completion of such a short lane.

The temporary stop sign that was erected at the end of the lane last spring blew over in late December and was quickly buried under the snow banks that the city ploughs have been storing in the bike lane this winter. It seemed like a perfect metaphor for the bike lane (and the Bike Plan in general). But early January brought an unexpected sign of action on Chester Hill. Not only was the sign pulled out of the snow and re-erected, but it also got two fresh sandbags to hold it upright for another few months. Although the metaphor has changed a bit, it still seems appropriate.

A couple of weeks later in mid-January, another small item was knocked off the to-do list: there are now “bicycles excepted” signs hanging from the “no right turns” signs on Broadview at Chester Hill. Yes, well over a year after construction began, there’s finally some indication that cyclists are allowed to turn onto the road and actually ride the bike lane for the five seconds it takes to traverse the entire length.

As far as I can tell, some kind of work has been performed on the lane on exactly six days over the past 15 months: two in November 2007, one each in April and July last year, and now two in January 2009. At least they’re picking up the pace again.

I figure that all of the work required to complete this entire bike lane project from beginning to end would take one person no longer than five hours (including a lunch break). In fact, I’m quite confident that if the city dropped off paint, signs, and a ladder at my house, I could have done the entire thing on a Saturday afternoon. At this point, about 4 hours of the work is done. Another few weeks of hard work this coming spring, summer, and fall should be all that’s required to finish the job.

The sad thing is that as short as this lane is, it’s actually part of an important and already very popular connector to the Bloor Viaduct. A formal bike lane here is simply an acknowledgement of its long-time use as such. Too bad that it’s been so terribly neglected.

At this rate (70m in 18 months, assuming that Chester Hill is finished in May), it would take the city 345 years to finish the bike lane on Lawrence and 8,570 years to finish all of the lanes in the Bikeway Network. Here’s hoping that the Bike Plan is Y10K compliant.