The café where everyone knows your game

13 02 2017

We all like to geek out from time to time.

For cyclists that can mean waking in the pre-dawn gloom to hunt down streaming feeds from bike races around the world because Eddy Merckx knows we don’t get those on mainstream TV. Or exchanging quips about the results from the latest World Cup cyclocross race.

Mario Bartel storyteller cyclist blogger

The winter snows still aren’t completely melted as the FRF gathers for a special Family Day ride to The Musette Caffé in downtown Vancouver.

Around here, some serious geek jones can be fulfilled by a ride to The Musette Caffé.

I’ve written about The Musette before. But that was when Vancouver’s favourite cyclists’ coffee shop was a hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley off a bike route.

In January, The Musette emerged from its secret spot to a highly-visible location on one of the main thoroughfares for bikes and cars into the downtown peninsula. It had been closed more than a year after the old site was bulldozed for a gleaming new condo tower, and the owners built out the new café. The wait was worth it.

The Musette has been a destination for Vancouver’s cycling geeks from the day it opened. The snacks are tasty and healthful, perfect fuel at mid-ride or as a post-ride treat. The walls are adorned with all manner of cycling bric-a-brac and memorabilia, from classic steel bikes to a collection of cloth musettes from various pro teams, to autographed pro team jerseys to route markers collected and kitchy souvenirs at the Tour de France and the Giro. There’s even bike racks inside the café so cyclists never have to be out of sight of their ride.

Mario Bartel blogger storyteller cyclist

The Musette Caffé has a gleaming new location but a lot of the old memorabilia is back, including vintage steel bikes, jerseys and posters.

The new location takes that cycling geek chic to a whole new level. The memorabilia is still plentiful, with new discoveries to be made every visit. But the café now offers a full immersion experience into cycling lore and legend. The outdoor patio is constructed of cobbles. The communal tables inside are made of wood reclaimed from an old velodrome track in Antwerp, Belgium. The banquette overlooking the main floor area is modeled after the open concrete showers at the Roubaix velodrome in France where the Paris-Roubaix spring classic race concludes every April; the race’s winners are commemorated on little brass plaques affixed to each “stall.”

Mario Bartel blogger storyteller cyclist

The banquette area of the café is an homage to the open concrete shower stalls at the historic Roubaix velodrome; the light fixtures even look like the shower heads.

The attention to detail is stunning. Interior pillars are wrapped with ad banners from the roadside of the Tour de France. Order number stands are modeled after number plates affixed to bikes at the Tour and the Giro. The impressive espresso machine has been painted with World Champion stripes.

Stepping into The Musette is like walking into cycling, and everything that is great and colourful and historic about the sport. And yes, there’s still racks to park your bike inside. Although it was so busy on our holiday Monday FRF pilgrimage, we had to lean our bikes amongst the dozen or so already parked outside.





Keep your head down!

28 01 2017

Keeping your head down on the bike is how you power through rough weather, or a bonk on the third mountain climb of the day.

This winter, it’s a matter of survival.

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This is the kind of massive pothole that can destroy a season if a cyclist isn’t paying attention to the road surface.

It’s been an extraordinary off-season. After a run of virtually snowless winters, we were hit hard in early December by three consecutive storms. The thaws that usually wash those snows away never really happened. Instead, we descended into a weeks-long deep freeze that iced the land and roads and bike paths.

Now that temperatures have moderated, and most of the snow and ice has melted away, we’re finally able to safely get back on our bikes. But keep your head down, your eyes on the pavement ahead!

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Warmer temperatures and blue skies have actually afforded some opportunities to ride.

Because the consequence of our wintry weather is streets and bike lanes cratered with crumbling asphalt, gaping potholes, yawning sinkholes. A moment’s inattention can collapse a front wheel, pitch a daydreaming rider over the handlebars, destroy a season.

The work crews are out there, doing what they can to patch the pocked pavement. But they can’t keep up with the structural failings. The repeating cycle of freezes, brief thaws and subsequent deep-freezes expanded cracks into fissures, pocks into potholes. And with more cold temperatures forecast, it’s only going to get worse.

Still, a couple of weeks of warmer weather has afforded some chances to ride. The legs are still feeling the effects of the season’s sloth, so the routes have been conservatively flat, the pace languid. But the air filling the lungs feels good, the muscle fatigue is welcome. Because it means we’re actually out there, turning the pedals, keeping our heads down. Dodging divots.





Frosty first foray

15 01 2017

The last time I threw a leg over Lapierre was 57 days ago. That’s 1,368 hours off the bike. Too many.

When circumstances presented an opportunity today, it was time to end that slothful streak.

We’ve endured an exceptional winter so far; two months of almost daily rain was followed by more than six weeks of cold and snow and ice. It caught everyone off guard, especially road crews who’ve been playing catch-up ever since the first flakes settled on the pavement back in early December.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

It’s been such an exceptionally cold and snowy winter, there are ice floes heading down the Fraser River.

In this part of the world, a snowfall is usually followed in short order by a thaw to wash the wintry weather away.

Not this year.

While we’ve had some moderate days in the past six weeks, they were quickly succeeded by long stretches of even colder weather that froze the slush and water in place. The consequence has been roadways and bike routes left a rutted, snowy mess. No conditions for riding, even when the sun was shining and the skies a brilliant, crystalline blue.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

Even just a few metres above sea level, bike routes are still a rutted, frozen moonscape.

Also frozen out by the weather were the road hockey courts; we haven’t played since early December and a vigorous shovel brigade last Sunday proved futile.

But with warmer temperatures and heavy rain in the forecast for the coming week, the main roads mostly clear and our road hockey game still on ice, it was now or never to get in the year’s first ride, 15 days in.

The air is still frosty, cold enough overnight to freeze puddles into sheens of black ice; route selection was important. We couldn’t head up towards any sort of elevation as that would lead us into the maw of snow-packed side streets and bike routes rutted with bergs of frozen slush. We couldn’t go far because, well, almost two months off the bike tends to take a toll on fitness. We couldn’t be out for too long as our fingers and toes would freeze.

So a modest 37km jaunt along the river was the sum of our ambition; embarrassing in July, a triumph in a wintry January.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

We’re cold, but for the first time in 2017, we’ve actually ridden our bikes on pavement!





A letter of (re)introduction to Lapierre

27 12 2016

Dearest Lapierre,

 

I’d like to introduce myself; I’m Big Ring.

We spent 6,019 kilometres together this year. But it’s been awhile since we’ve hung out; 38 days as a matter of fact. So I can’t really blame you if you’ve forgotten about me.

It’s been a nasty run of weather and circumstance. Almost two straight months of rainy days, followed by three weeks of cold and snow and ice.

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Eternal optimism or false hope; Lapierre gets a cleaning even as the snow begins to fall again…

While others forge on with their knobby-tired, all-weather commuter bikes, or slip the studded rubber onto their mountain bikes, we can only gaze out the window forlornly as the clouds roll in yet again, and the roads are slicked with rain and snow and slush. I guess we just don’t have the Right Stuff to count ourselves amongst the dedicated, the stubborn, the foolhardy who pedal on no matter the conditions. We’re built for sunny days, dry roads.

The last two winters we’ve lived a charmed life. But for the briefest of interludes, the pavement stayed undampened, the skies clear. We were able to stay acquainted, party hearty even.

Five weeks is a long time to be apart, sweet Lapierre. Too long, as the flakes fall yet again, and the roads are clogged with a viscous slop of dirty slush and ice. The forecast isn’t promising either; a brief spell of milder air with perhaps a glimpse of sunshine – just enough to tantalize us. Then the cold and snow descend once again. The annual FRF New Year’s ride may be in peril.

But you are never far from my thoughts Lapierre. Plans are in motion to give you new environs as you rest, to bring back elements of the former bike room from which you were usurped by the arrival on the scene of Little Ring more than four years ago. But as with anything home reno related, that may take me awhile.

In the meantime, we shall commune at the work stand, keeping you clean and fit should the roads ever clear…

Yours in sloth

The Big Ring





A ride to remember

19 11 2016

We ride because we love it.

Saturday, we rode in solidarity.

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About 400 cyclists gather in Stanley Park Saturday to remember one of our own, mowed down by a car with five companions on a popular roadie route two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, on my way home from road hockey, the radio traffic update reported River Road in Richmond was closed for a “police investigation.”

My blood ran cold, my heart sank.

River Road is a popular cycling route along the Fraser River, especially on weekends. It’s flat, there are few feeder streets, not many residents and no traffic lights or stop signs. It’s a major west-east conduit for group rides. It’s essentially a rural road on the edge of the big city.

That Sunday morning was dry and mild; after nearly a solid month of rainy days, groups and individual cyclists were sure to be out in force.

So when the traffic report said the road was closed, my immediate thought was “cyclist down.”

When I got home, I started checking on the Strava feeds of various FRFers. I knew they were out that day and likely would have traversed River Road at some point; they had all checked in safely.

A quick browse of local news sites reported the worst news possible; a car had plowed into a group of six cyclists. Two were badly hurt. One had been killed.

The rural character of River Road that attracts so many cyclists also makes it dangerous. The pavement is narrow with virtually no shoulder. One side is flanked by a water-filled ditch, the opposite by the Fraser River. Cars and trucks trying to avoid more congested routes often travel too fast.

As scant details about the tragedy trickled out on the internet through the afternoon and then on the evening TV news, its true horror gripped the cycling community; the riders had been hit head on, mowed down like bowling pins when an oncoming car drifted out of its lane for whatever reason.

That could have been any one of us.

Whenever we throw one leg over the top tube and clip into our pedals, we know there’s a chance we may not make it home. Most of us try to do whatever we can to mitigate that risk: we follow traffic rules; we stick to designated bike routes, avoid dangerous roads.

But it just takes a moment of inattention or carelessness by a motorist or cyclist to tip that delicate balance of risk vs. reward against us.

The full story of what happened that Sunday morning has yet to be revealed; police are “still investigating.” But their official statement quoted in the media that day was quick to point out the motorist “remained at the scene and is cooperating” (Yay for him!), and the “cyclists were all wearing helmets (like that will make a difference when you’re mowed down by 2,000 pounds of speeding metal). The police spokesman quoted at the scene also felt it necessary to remind cyclists to “ride in single file.”

It almost felt like he was blaming the victims, somehow implying they may not have been riding safely.

These kinds of throwaway statements appear all too frequently in media reports of car vs. cyclist collisions. The police may think of them as necessary rejoinders that reassure the public the roads aren’t filled with crazed hit-and-run maniacs, but they just serve to reinforce the narrative that the roads are built for cars, and cyclists are just guests who should feel privileged to be allowed to share their space. It’s as if the onus is on us not to get hit.

That sentiment was further inflamed when a Richmond city councilor was quoted that one consideration to make River Road safer for cyclists would be to ban cyclists from using that road altogether. He happens to also own a trucking company.

On Saturday, about 400 cyclists gathered in Stanley Park to remember the fallen 33-year-old rider and his injured companions with a mass loop through the park; it’s one of their favourite routes. I didn’t know him. Likely many in the throng didn’t either. But we are all him.

The weather was supposed to be rainy, cold and windy. By the time our group of FRFers gathered to ride into the Stan, the rain had stopped. Along the way, the sun started to fight its way through the clouds. It was, it turned out, a good day to ride. It was a good day to be alive. RIP Brad Dean.

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Returned safely from Saturday’s memorial ride, we’re able to enjoy a beer and good company at our favourite brewery.





Confidence and customer service

19 10 2016

Confidence is the cornerstone of athletic achievement.

Gold medals aren’t won by the timid or meek.

When an athlete steps up to the starting line, climbs on the block, straps into their seat, clips into their pedals, they have to believe in their ability to compete with their rivals, to win.

They also have to have confidence in their equipment, that it will perform as they’ve come to expect, that it will hold up to the most vigorous demands, that it will enable their best performance rather than disable it. In fact, their confidence in their equipment has to be so strong, they don’t even question its capability.

At the end of August, when a spoke on my rear wheel snapped during a speedy descent the damage went beyond the wobbly wheel and the carbon fibre stay that had been pierced by the flailing spoke. My confidence in my equipment had been compromised.

The spoke was quickly replaced.

And thanks to the specialized craftsmanship of Robert Mulder of Roberts Composites in North Vancouver, the stay looks as good as new, even if it is missing a Lapierre decal.

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The damaged carbon fibre chain stay looks as good, and strong, as new. Minus a Lapierre decal.

 

Mulder guarantees his work. His reputation for excellence has been built on years of minor miracle repairs to shattered frames, broken seat posts and well as custom building handlebars, rudders for sailboats, oars for paddlers.

The wheel was a longer journey.

When I was researching the Easton EA70s as a possible replacement for my worn Fulcrum 5s, I came across a few posts in forums and reviews that detailed dismay about broken and popped spokes. But almost all of those were from four or five years ago. The current model, according to the shop where I bought them, and Easton’s website, is a new design.

I laid down my credit card. With confidence.

And frankly, until the spoke issue first presented itself , the wheels had performed admirably. They rolled smoothly. They were relatively light. They seemed strong.

But the spoke failure shook my faith. Perhaps the wheels had something to do with the frequent flats I endured this season? Will other spokes fail? Can I count on the wheels to hold up during speedy descents? My ears listened for every tell-tale click or pop that might indicate another spoke exploding.

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Listening for tell-tale pops and pips in my wheels took some of the pleasure out of fall riding.

My ears listened for every tell-tale click or pop that might indicate another spoke exploding.

To its credit, Easton stood behind its product.

Shortly after I posted my story of the Fondon’t failure, and promoted it on social media, they reached out and offered a deal I’d be hard-pressed to refuse; send back my EA70s, plus a little money, and they’d upgrade me to their top aluminum wheelset, EA90SLs.

 

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My new Easton EA90SL wheels look sharp and roll smoothly.

 

The new wheels are a revelation. They’re extremely quiet and beautifully smooth. Their lightness, 200 grams less than the 70s, was immediately apparent the first time I hoisted the Lapierre.  That seemed to translate to the road as well.

As for their durability; only time will tell. For now my confidence in my equipment has been fully restored.

Of course now that Easton customer service has whetted my appetite for $1200 wheels, my upgrade path just got a whole lot more complicated. And expensive. First World problems…





Riding into the falling leaves

26 09 2016

Snap! The seasons have changed.

It seems only a few weeks ago we were organizing 6 a.m. Dawn Patrol rides to indulge in waffles. Now it’s still dark as night at that hour.

The FRF’s calendar of official club rides wrapped up Sunday with our seasonal Ride of the Falling Leaves. Ironically, it was also one of our smallest rides, with only six of us heading out under a leaden overcast that threatened to spray rain at any moment but never did.

It's the Ride of the Falling Leaves, the FRF's traditional final formal group ride of the season.

It’s the Ride of the Falling Leaves, the FRF’s traditional final formal group ride of the season.

Fall riding can be a tricky – and bulky – undertaking: shorts or knickers or full-on tights; sleeves or jacket? rain cape and fenders or risk it?  But it’s also one of the best times for rides; summer fitness lingers, the air is fresh, the light dazzles, the bike is lighter because you only need to pack one bottle instead of two.

Jacket, tights and changing leaves; signs of the end of another cycling summer.

Jacket, tights and changing leaves; signs of the end of another cycling summer.

 

The leaves are changing colour.

The leaves are changing colour.

Maybe all that indecision kept the numbers down?

The FRF enjoyed unprecedented growth; over the course of our first season as an officially sanctioned club we more than doubled our riders. At times on the open road we actually looked like a real peloton instead of just a motley assemblage of weekend warriors. Maybe that’s what happens when you get matching kit. Imagine the possibilities if we had a team car?

Even as the season winds down, an FRF ride isn't an FRF ride without at least one flat. And this time not even in Delta!

Even as the season winds down, an FRF ride isn’t an FRF ride without at least one flat. And this time not even in Delta!

As one of the group’s early members, it’s been a fun ride (pun intended) to be part of a growing community, to welcome and learn from new riders, share experiences and stories of the road. I came to cycling as a lone wolf; I could get on the bike on my own terms, ride at my pace, go where and when I wanted to go. But riding with others is more enriching; you learn new routes, gain confidence, challenge your capabilities. You make friends.

As we ride into the off-season of privateer rides, sporadic group efforts, stabs at cyclocross and indoor trainer torment, we’ll have some work to do to keep the FRF’s momentum moving forward while not letting it overtake the fun and camaraderie that got us to this point. Nobody wants to become the entitled throng that was infamously splashed all over an evening newscast recently for hogging an entire lane of a known and popular cycling route, much to the dismay of a single motorist and an accompanying reporter.

Taking advantage of the new bike lane along SW Marine Dr., a formerly narrow, scary stretch of pavement.

Taking advantage of the new bike lane along SW Marine Dr., a formerly narrow, scary stretch of pavement.

On the road cyclists pedal a thin line between the tolerance and hostility of motorists. We have to work hard to earn the former but even one small mistake can incite the latter. As a group, the stakes are even higher, the margin for error thinner. It’s not fair, but we’ll never win that argument against a 2,000-pound hunk of steel that travels at twice our speed.