Some Assembly Required

IKEA now sells bikes – that’s right, bikes! The SLADDA is a city bike aimed at commuters who – like their typical customer – wants something simple and functional while not breaking the bank. If you are already an “IKEA Family” member, all the better for your wallet: the price drops from the regular $999 to $599.

Two SLADDA bikes greet customers at the Toronto/North York IKEA entrance

The highlights:

  • Aluminum Frame
  • Disc from brake + Backpedal rear brake
  • Maintenance-free Rubber Chain
  • SRAM “Automatix” Internal Gear
  • Available in 26″ and 700c

The SRAM 2-speed rear hub is notable in that it is cable-less like the Sachs Torpedo rear hubs — except that it shifts without requiring any back-pedaling. This can be both good and bad; it does shift relatively early, but is smooth-shifting.

As you can see, he’s very happy with his new SLADDA.

In any case, I welcome more inexpensive and decent bicycles to the market; it dilutes the number of garbage bikes in service from the likes of SuperCycle, et al!

Butane Refill Tool, Revisited

It’s been 4 years since I did my little review on Camping In Taiwan’s butane refill tool, so I think we’re about due for a follow up. This revisit isn’t so much about the tool, but about the durability of the canisters themselves: are they safe to refill? What about rust? Will they eventually rupture?  The TL;DR answer is that canisters are sufficiently over-designed to allow numerous refills and even some degree of overfilling.

As a kind of proof, here is my 5-year-old MSR IsoButane canister, refilled 30+ times, and still going strong:

Snow Peak GigaPower run on MSR IsoButane canister, refilled with 100% butane

A note, that some low-quality butane fuels did cause some flecks and orange-coloured flames temporarily when using the canister in inverted mode with another stove. These seem to depend entirely on the quality of your refills (cheaper fuel = potentially more impurities). When using the canister in normal, upright mode (pictured), the flames always register clear and blue.

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Clean, blue flame

I have not noticed any rattling or structural integrity issues of the canister either – moisture contamination, if it is happening, doesn’t seem to be a large concern.  The more important factor than stress from refilling is wear and tear on the fitting’s seal – a few times during cold weather, the valve has stuck open when removing the stove (oops!). It closed itself again after a few seconds, but considering these canisters aren’t meant to last forever, I would look at the seal as the likeliest point of failure. I will likely retire the canister if (when) the sticking issue gets worse.

Over the course of my summer and fall hiking and camping, I have consumed at least 12 225g bayonet-style cylinders refilling the MSR canister. That’s about 24 full refills, though in reality I did many more partial refills. I manage to get my refills for about $1 each, which means over the course of the 4 years, I’ve spend $12 on fuel. Comparable 225g IsoButane canisters go for about $7.25, meaning I saved myself $75 on fuel over 4 years! The refill tool has certainly  paid for itself!

And the stove using the refilled canister still makes coffee just fine, too!

 

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Coffee!

 

Happy Stoving!

DIY Snow Peak GigaPower Windscreen

My snow peak GigaPower stove has been a great companion on day-hikes and trips when I haven’t wanted to haul out my bigger Coleman 2-burner (only really useful for car-camping) or my MSR WhisperLite. The fact that it actually simmers unlike the WhisperLite has also made it my go-to stove for any real backcountry cooking – that is to say, anything that requires more heat adjustment than boiling water.

But the shortcoming of this stove is its windscreen – or rather that lack thereof.  I was using my MSR aluminum-foil windscreen, but that lead to hot canisters (dangerous) and it was annoying to reach down and risk burning fingers to try adjusting the valve.

Snow Peak offers their own nice, lightweight, no-fuss windscreen for the GigaPower on their website:

…but of course, me being the hack that I am,  spending $12.50 for what is essentially an metal plate with holes is just hard to justify to myself.  So I made my own DIY prototype, with an unused aluminium pan from a broken camping cookset:

IMG_0417At 50g, this is the exact same weight as a bonafide Snow Peak windscreen – theirs is made of stainless steel – but at a fraction of the cost. Go to a garage sale, or Canadian Tire, and you can often find these plates for a dollar or two amongst someone’s camping gear or in the discount section.

But how does it work? Pretty well, actually! Being slightly deeper than the official GigaPower wind screen, my small pot set is almost cradled:

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Despite a fan blowing at full 6 feet away, the flame remains upright
The Snow Peak windscreen leaves a 1/2″ gap between the legs and the bottom of a pot

The fan test showed good results with the windscreen. The stove was able to boil water! Without any windscreen, the flame’s heat just blew away too quickly to even warm the pot of water in a reasonable amount of time.

 

Flame comparison:

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….and viewed from the top:

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All in all, a respectable prototype from a DIY project that took 15 minutes!

Fatbikes Gone Mainstream?

First, it was fixies and single speeds that began to show up on Walmart shelves. Now, fatbikes too? By the way Canadian Tire has begun to stock speciality wide-tire bikes, like this Iron Horse Dolomite below, I’d say yes!

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This particular model retails for around $199, and although definitely a basic run-of-the-mill bike component wise, it wasn’t too heavy. Quality is definitely a step up from the typical monstrosities with heavy, saggy suspension and chinzy off-brand derailleurs. This does, however, suggest that fatbikes have crossed the ‘critial mass’ threshold, since they have started filtering down into department stores. Compare this (most recently) with the fad in 29ers and fixed/SS, and (a number of years ago) the glut of MTBs which flooded the bicycle market.

But hey! Maybe this popularity will bring the price point down far enough to allow me to pick up a new ride for my Bicycle Stable without breaking the bank. After all, Torontonians are expecting a heavy snowfall this year, and I am looking for something which can power through the mounds of snow + slush without taking an unexpected tumble!

Union Station, Home to some Unique Features

Toronto’s Union Stations is easily one of the most recognisable structures in the city. Upwards of 95% of GO transit’s 65+ million yearly rides are to and from this massive railway hub downtown. For many commuters, passing through Union station is a daily ritual. Union’s exterior and Great Hall are a homage to Beaux-Arts executed on a grand scale. Physically, the station and it’s train shed span 17 acres of land – 5 more than the SkyDome/Rogers Centre.

This huge, sprawling complex of railway tracks, platforms, tunnels, halls, and office space is a mishmash of new an old. Just walking from entrance to a platform, a casual observer cannot help but to notice pathways between grades, stairways that zigzag far too often, and a jumble of different architectural styles. In addition to its architecture and public areas the station also is home to some unique features that make it an interesting urban exploration location. Since much of Union is under ground level, it isn’t a surprise to learn that many of its service tunnels share connections to electrical, water and transit (think subway + streetcar) infrastructure as well. This article from Infiltration magazine is an interesting read about these utility tunnels.

Nevertheless I was surprised when I ended up stumbling into one of these paths, entirely by accident and with it entirely in plain sight! I had missed my train one night, and had about 30 minutes to pass waiting for the next one to arrive. I spent the time walking around Union. On the Bay Street side of Union, there is a small glassed-in enclosure with stairs leading down to what I presumed was the garage level. Boy was I wrong. Dimly lit and with beer bottles, dirt, and partly-cut boards laying about, it was a (slight!) departure from the usual state of affairs at Union. It was only upon walking down 3 flights of stairs and seeing a dead-end at a metal door that I began to think this staircase wasn’t to the garage….

…And that’s when I heard the subway honk!-honk! and pass by beyond the door. I had heard that there were tunnels that lead directly to the TTC subway station through Union, but I had not expected this. Although the entrance to this stairwell was in a public area, with no markings on it and without any kind of locks – I decided I had better not risk going further, lest I really find myself facing a subway train. I hurriedly removed myself from the area and made my way to the train platform bound for home. Where in the Union subway station that door opened to I don’t think I’ll ever know for certain.

Union station is currently undergoing its 2nd major renovation (the 1st being the addition of the GO concourse in the 80s), and will almost double in size by adding a second concourse level underneath the current one. I can only wonder what kind of odd stories the engineers working under station have dug up!

S̶n̶a̶k̶e̶s̶ Feet on a P̶l̶a̶n̶e̶ Train

It’s wet, winter-y weather in Toronto! Know what that means? Of course you do. Wet boots. And with wet boots, most GO train riders know to start looking out for wet seats. The GO-transit-related blog ‘You. Me. Ride This Crazy Train’ sums up the annoyance that are ‘Foot Riders’ pretty well here.

Since GO is spending big bucks refurbishing their fleet of railway coaches, replacing seats and cushions, it irks me that seats less than 3 months old now have dirty edges from all the salts and dirt from shoes.

Dammit, Samuel – /walking/ on the seats now?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much one can do about it. GO transit doesn’t have any fine system in place for dealing with discourteous passengers, though they do have a bylaw in place. And since sometimes I am outnumbered by foot riders upwards of 5-to-1 (which happened today – prompting this rant!), there doesn’t seem to be any point to chewing someone out.

Hopefully GO’s transit officers start ticketing for dirtying up the seats, because I for one prefer getting up from a trip and not having to dust off the back of my legs.

Explorations: Panel Lamp

The University of Toronto is home to some pretty unique buildings. Many of the buildings – for one reason or another – retain much of their original fixtures. A great example of this are the old, open-bodied service elevators found around Front Campus. Walking into Gerstein Library, this gem of a panel lamp glowed to life upon visiting the old journal stacks’ elevator:

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Housed in its red opal glass enclosure, it really did look like a little gemstone. However, upon closer inspection the side-spiralled filament caught my eye. This is an odd arrangement that you don’t seen any more – manufactures traded this in for shorter, more robust filament coils decades ago. Considering this elevator isn’t used much (maybe 2-3 dozen times per day at most), and that panel lamps last 10K+ hours,  I suspect this little indicator bulb is at least 4-5 decades old!

It’s neat to see something that has not been touched in ages still working as if it were just installed.