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Porco Rosso 1

I mentioned previously that the next model plane I’d build would be the plastic model kit that my friend gave me. Tah-dah! When I was a kid I made a few plastic model airplanes, but since I re-started this hobby a couple of years ago, I’ve only made those three wood and tissue paper planes. So this was an enjoyable change of medium.

Porco Rosso 2

I foolishly neglected to take photos of the building process. But it’s not that hard to imagine. Paint the pieces, cut them out, glue them together. The only tricky part is that it is so tiny!

Porco Rosso 3

It was the first time that I ever painted a model airplane like this (I never pained the ones I made as a kid) and I didn’t buy all the recommended colours. Still, I think I did okay, all things considered.

Porco Rosso 5

In any case, it was a lot of fun to put together. It’s such a fun-looking plane! That mix of whimsy and function. Its the main character’s plane from one of my favourite films, Porco Rosso.

 

Striving for the perfect blend of fun and practicality

The bicycle pictured in the header (at least at the time of writing) was the first bike I ever built up myself. As such, it has a special place in my heart. I put a lot of thought into the selection of different parts of the bike. As a result, it was very representative of what I valued in a bicycle at that time. My tastes have shifted slightly since then, but it’s a bike that I still value a lot.

Bicycle

There are a few conceptual “parents” for this bike. First is the Raleigh Sports that I’ve written about already. It’s mid 70s Raleigh with an internal gear hub, and the bike that I built is a mid 70s Raleigh retrofitted with a modern internal gear hub, so the lineage/inspiration is not hard to see.

Raleigh Sports

The other obvious “parent” is one of Sheldon Brown’s bikes that I read about on his website.  My own build very closely resembles his. I was already attracted to old Raleighs, and steel frames with pretty lugs. Seeing a modern IGH in Sheldon’s International is what sealed the deal. That was the design I wanted to follow.

Over a year or two, I collected the necessary parts for a functioning bike, and put them together using the workspace and tools at Bikechain. The bike continued to evolve as I rode it for the next few years, swapping out parts here and there. As the title of this post indicates, my choices were inspired by both practicality and fun. It was a fun bike to ride, but it was also an extraordinarily practical bike for commuting around town.

That broad front rack is not only stylish, but it is super convenient for carrying a grocery bag (or a box of donuts). The metallic fenders matched the other silvery accessories. But they were also super-long and effectively protected the bike and my clothes from getting splattered by dirt and grit from the road. And of course, the modern 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub is a perfect drive-train component for city commuting. It provides decent gear ratios for climbing up Toronto’s few hills. But it also allows you to downshift while stopped at intersections, unlike a derailleur. All the moving bits are sealed from the weather, so maintenance is a breeze.

rack

It got me to work and back in all weather conditions. It was a grocery getter. It zipped me over to friends’ houses. It was also great for longer, exploratory, recreational journeys like this one I took a while back:

nearly 43k bike trip

Even the Google Street View car bore witness to my enjoyment of this bike. Twice!

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It was a lovely bike that I rode almost daily. Until…

I had a minor bike accident. A car up ahead pulled out of a parking spot without signalling, which prompted the car in front of me to slam on the breaks. I was following a bit too close as I came around a bend in the road, and I rear-ended the car. I was uninjured, but my lovely International frame was bent out of shape. It doesn’t look like much of a bend when viewed at a distance, but the tubing buckled in a couple of places.

I am sad at the loss, but I am comforted by the fact that I enjoyed it for many years and many miles. And I am fortunate enough to still have the lovely green Sports to get me where I need to go.

Of course, I am also excited about the opportunity to build a new bike in the future. Only the frame was severely damaged, so most of the other components can be reused – including the modern IGH.

Once I have the income to afford it, I will start the process of collecting components and building again. The bike that I am envisioning will be similar in many ways, but I am also excited to try out some new ideas and new technologies. And as always, I will be seeking that perfect blend of fun and practicality. Now that I have this blog up and running, I’ll be able to document the process as I go.

Bike by tree

Bike Links

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my Raleigh Sports and Bikechain were instrumental in shaping my appreciation for biking and bike commuting. But there are a number of websites that also influenced my particular tastes.

Sheldon Brown – The late great master of online bicycle information. He had a wealth of knowledge about bicycles, and generously shared it with the world. He was an early citizen of the web, and put his knowledge and point of view online long before most people did that sort of thing. One of his own custom bike builds was the inspiration for my first build.

Eco Velo – This blog is no longer updated, but the owners were kind enough to keep it live, at least for now. Sadly, this site seems to be down, probably for good. They covered beautiful bicycle commuting gear and technology, and have been a huge influence on my own personal tastes. They introduced me to things like belt drives – something that I have not personally used, but I’ve wanted to try out.

Rivendell Bicycles – Although I am not quite as enamored with lugs as I once was, I still appreciate the beauty of a quality lugged steel frame. This company sells several lovely examples of this style bicycle, along with equally lovely components and accessories. Several of my component choices for my first build were influenced by this site’s philosophy.

Off the Beaten Path – I had encountered this website once in a while in the past. But I only recently started reading it regularly it as I considered choices for an upcoming bike build I am imagining. They do some pretty thorough testing of different types of bicycle equipment.

Biking Toronto and Dandyhorse – these are my go-to sites for local Toronto biking news.

Lovely Bicycle – A well-written and interesting personal blog that covers a wide variety of bicycle topics.

Film Festivals!

Well, the Scarborough Worldwide Film Festival has wrapped up. Phew! Crazy busy. It feels like it was over before I knew it. But at the same time, the beginning feels like a hundred years ago.

Already on to the next one! The Toronto Korean Film Festival starts in a couple of days. I was the Festival Manager for the Scarborough one, and I am a Senior Programmer for this one. But with such small teams, there is a lot of overlap between the positions.

Busy busy!

Bikechain

Wow! The Scarborough film fest job has been crazy! It’s been a busy few weeks.

Anyway, here’s a bit I wrote about working on my bike a while back:

I was fortunate to be a student at U of T right when Bikechain was opening. It is a DIY bike repair shop at the university. The mechanics and volunteers there help you repair and maintain your bike yourself. I volunteered here for a couple of years while I was still a student.

Ron Richardson’s gift of the Raleigh Sports did a lot to spark my current enthusiasm for bicycling. But I also owe a lot to Bikechain. This is the place that got me interested in working on my bike, not just riding it. This is where I really learned all of the ins and outs of a bicycle. As I write this, I realize it is not all that dissimilar to the experience of building a model airplane that I described in a previous post. As you spend an extended amount of time handling the individual parts of a thing, your imagination gets to explore it from the inside out. Your relationship to the thing changes.

Although I now do most of my bicycle maintenance at home, I still go to Bikechain once in a while for bigger projects. And I consider myself lucky to live in a city with multiple other options for DIY bike maintenance like Bike Sauce and Bike Pirates.

Pontoons

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As I’ve discussed previously, my tastes in cinema and media are pretty broad and hard to pin down. I like a lot of different stuff! What can I say. Anyway, I really like animation. It’s one of my favourite art forms.

And as I’ve also mentioned before, I love airplanes and flight.

Broadly, these two interests overlap in the work of Hayao Miyazaki, But in particular, his film Porco Rosso is one of my favourites.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it is set in the in the Adriatic Sea, sometime between the first and second world war. The film is chock full of seaplanes inspired by historical designs of that era. This film made me fall in love with those planes. There is something simultaneously elegant and ridiculous about seaplanes. They are sleek, yet bulbous. Practical and whimsical.

That era saw an explosion of innovative aircraft designs. Many had unique and oddball shapes like the twin hulled flying wing, Savoia-Marchetti S.55, which apparently was actually a very capable and airworthy aircraft.

After building a couple of simple stick and tissue model kits, I wanted to make something like the planes in Porco Rosso. So I started searching the internet for a kit. Eventually, this search lead me to http://www.outerzone.co.uk/ where I discovered the world of building from plans rather than kits. I ultimately decided to try this plan of a Curtiss Racer for my first attempt.

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I made a lot of mistakes and had a couple false starts (not unlike this blog!), but I also learned a lot.

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The final result is a little squiggly and uneven, and I’m not sure it will ever fly. Some of that is a result of the hand-drawn quality of the plans, and some of that is due to my lack of experience. Nevertheless, I am pleased with the result. It’s elegant and goofy, just like I wanted!

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Coming up next: I will be returning to my childhood roots when I built a plastic model. Fittingly, it is a model of a fictional plane from Porco Rosso! My friend Will gave it to me after he visited the Studio Ghibli museum in Japan. I can’t wait.

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New Job

I realize that I have not posted in quite a while.

I started a new job last week, and I have been pretty busy. But I have a few drafts that just need some editing, then I will post them later this week, I hope.

I am the new Festival Manager for the Scarborough Worldwide Film Festival. It is a very busy job, and there is a lot of intimidating work to be done. But I am enjoying it! It’s a good group of people to work with and I am glad for the challenging experience. It will be intense, but over relatively quickly, as the whole contract is just about a month and a half long.

Stick and Tissue Battle of Britain, Part I

Here is the completed model airplane from the kit given to me by a kind stranger when I was little. I finally built it a few years ago. As you can see, I still need to give it a propeller and wheels. But a visit to John’s Hobbies will rectify that. You’ll also notice that I have not painted it. I haven’t painted any of my models actually. Maybe I will give it a shot someday. But I also like being able to see the underlying structure clearly.

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New experiences on an old bike

Raleigh Sports

Bicycling has been a part of my life since I was a child. But, as is the case with many people, it was primarily recreational when I was young. I would ride with my friends and cousins on trails in the woods behind our homes. Some summer weekends we would ride to a church about a mile and a half away for some event or another. And during the Tree Peony Festival* we would bike ahead of visitor’s cars in order to lead them through the labyrinth of trails to the parking area. But that was about as utilitarian as it got.

My relationship to bikes changed because of an extraordinarily generous gift. Family friend and bicycle enthusiast Ron Richardson had a mid 70s Raleigh Sports that was a bit too tall for him. He offered to give the this lovely old English roadster to me to take back to Toronto, where I had recently begun my university studies.

Initially I thought that I would just use public transit while living in Toronto. But now that I had this city bike at my disposal, I decided to give bicycle commuting a try. I have not parted with the bike since then. I had always liked biking, but having this bike in Toronto is what made me love biking. It fulfilled something that I did not know I was missing. All the cliches about biking apply here. It’s fun. It’s good exercise. It’s a quick way to get around a city. It’s an affordable way to get around a city. It’s an environmentally friendly way of getting around. It feels like flying. The utilitarian aspect of bicycle commuting did not diminish the fun I associated with biking. Rather, I developed even more enjoyment than I had when it was purely a recreational activity.

This bike sparked an appreciation for bicycles on a few levels. I started noticing the aesthetics of different kinds of bikes more. This bike had neat little details in the lugs, fenders, and chainring. I saw how bikes could be beautiful and charming.

Raleigh Sports Detail

I also started learning more about the different mechanical aspects of bicycles because of this bike. It had an internal gear hub instead of derailers for switching gears. I had never even heard of this mechanism before, but I was immediately intrigued.

There is a lot about this bike that makes it excellent for city commuting. The fenders, the riding position, the durability, the wide tires. But I want to spend a little extra time praising the internal gear hub, or IGH.

Most modern bicycles (at least in North America) use a derailer to switch gears. That’s the mechanism that moves the chain from one sprocket to another. An IGH, on the other hand, contains all of its mechanisms inside the hub of the wheel. The chain never has to switch sprockets in order to change gear ratios. Even though IGH technology predates derailers, they are only recently regaining popularity.

IGHs require much less maintenance and care, since all of the mechanical bits are protected from the elements. Since the chain does not have to switch sprockets, it almost never pops off while riding. Also, IGHs are compatible with belt drives, which do not rust or distribute messy grease all over your clothes/bicycle. Unlike a derailer, you can switch gears while at a stop. This is very convenient for stop-and-go city traffic.

While repairing and overhauling an IGH can be more intimidating and time consuming than a derailer, this is offset by the fact that they so rarely require any maintenance in the first place. The old Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs like the one in this Raleigh Sports are famously bomb proof. While modern ones may be somewhat more finicky, they are still remarkably robust and reliable.

Below is the bike as I have it currently equipped. It’s a bit dirty, but it still gets me around town reliably and comfortably!

Raleigh Sports 2

*For those unfamiliar with this festival, some information can be found here. Linwood Gardens is a place, as well as a not-for-profit that is run and cared for by my extended family. I should really do a full fledged post on it someday. It’s an interesting place, and I had the tremendous privilege to grow up in and around it.