Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Swedish for Difficult Steering

Finally getting tired of having an empty corner in my kitchen for the past five years, the boy and I decided to buy some shelves. The plan had been to custom make some shelves that would fill the corner space nicely but seeing as how I'm not even likely to finish making the nightstands I started ages ago, with piles of expensive cherry hardwood in my basement, it seemed best to buy something that already existed. I like supporting local stores but wasn't aware of any that would have something suitable. So in the interest of getting shelves quickly and cheaply, we decided to go to the devil of all furniture stores.

My main objection to IKEA is that the furniture begins to look tired after a few years. I'd rather buy a well-made solid wood piece that looks timeless and I'll keep for a lifetime. Of course when I was a student, I couldn't afford to acquire any "real" furniture and now I seem to have more IKEA stuff than I would like. The kitchen in my house looks rather IKEA-esque already, so I figured any shelves from there would look okay.

Now the sane way to buy stuff from IKEA would likely have been to ask someone with a car if they wanted to go shopping at IKEA, or take transit or a cab. But after seeing other cyclists carrying all kinds of crazy awkward objects on their bike, I figured it must be possible to do an IKEA shopping trip as well. There are two IKEA stores in the megacity, IKEA North York and IKEA Etobicoke. Both being equally inconveniently far away, we decided to go to the Etobicoke store because the route there is flat. Of course now that I think about it the return trip home from the other store loaded down would have been downhill.

We wanted to have a fun time, get some exercise, and enjoy the scenery as well as the actual shopping expedition. We set off along the bike trail along the lakeshore after a quick detour for some sugary fuel. The tailwind was absolutely glorious! Flying along at 40 km/h on old beatie on the flats, without getting out of breath. Halfway through the trip, we took a little detour for lunch to get some of the best roti in the city. At the end of the trail we managed to sneak up the back way to IKEA so we avoided any crazy suburban traffic. Luckily I had brought some cable locks as well as a U-lock, as they had those dumb on-the-ground type bike racks where all you can easily lock with a U-lock is your front wheel. Distance so far: 25 km.

We saw lots of neat things that we would have been tempted to buy had we not realized we had to carry it home. I think the bike would have buckled under the weight of the armchair - thankfully the boy provided the voice of reason.

When we went to pick up the shelves which were a nice manageable size to put on the bike, I had the sudden realization they were no good for my cookbook collection. Oversized cookbooks such as the French Laundry Cookbook would surely keel over on the narrow shelf. They had similar deeper shelves that could be cut to the length but they would surely be awkward to carry. Well we can't have biked all the way out to IKEA and not buy shelves, so big and awkward it was! I was thinking of getting four, but the box said 14 lbs on each one, so we decided three would look better.

Doing some mental math, I figured out the stuff we had was about $20 short of the amount I needed to spend to use my $20 off coupon. I picked out a wicker waste basket as we have way too few garbage receptacles around the house. This will fit in a pannier won't it? NO! The boy says. But it will be free I protest. So we buy the basket.

Armed with a couple of bungees and a whole whackload of IKEA-provided twine for tying car trunks down with purchases we set off to load up the bikes. A 1 ft x 4 ft shelf does not fit so well on a little bike rack. This would have been easy to do with a utility bike trailer although I wouldn't use one enough to justify the cost, nor do I have a good place to store one. IKEA rents roof racks to help carry things home, I think they should also rent bike trailers :) The boy took two shelves and the majority of the knickknacks, leaving me with one shelf and the basket tied on top to carry.

I lowered the seat so it would be easier to balance the rear-heavy load, trading the balance off for sore knees. The boy spent what seemed like an eternity tying knots in order to make sure the loads were secure and didn't shift. You can see his bike on the ground behind mine in the photo of the arrival home. The bikes nearly balanced themselves on the rear wheels with the weight distribution. As I started to ride through the parking lot the bike wobbled everywhere. There was no way I would be able to ride this 20 km, more like doable for a trip of 500 metres. It was now 5 pm - would we make it home before dark at this rate?

As we made our way out of the parking lot I got the hang of it and was able to ride it without wobbling. A couple of teenagers making their way on bicycle into the parking lot said "hey cool, you bought something!" Of course its now rush hour and we have to contend with busy suburban traffic for a few clicks anyway to get back onto the trail. Roads I would normally feel confident on feel quite different when I have limited steering. Sideways movements have to be made gradually and stopping distances are longer. I would have thought with a large load cars might have given us more room when passing, but with the taxi driver talking on his cell phone buzzing by us really closely, I realize this theory was flawed.

The headwind wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared it might be, but we were still slogging our way into the wind. We weren't actually that slow either, the main thing was we went slower on purpose most of the time to minimize bumps and jolts and to avoid obstacles more easily. I must admit to speeding up to pass a few unloaded cyclists out of a sense of competitiveness - particularly when some budded in front of us at a red light assuming we would be slow.

Anyway we made it home in one piece and invigorated with a total round trip distance of 46 km.
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