Dusted and done

28 05 2018

Nobody warned me about the dust. Or the bear.

Both were features of the first Golden Ears gravel fondo that ploughed its way over dusty gravel dikes and trails from Port Coquitlam up to Minnekhada, over to Pitt Meadows and back on Saturday. Although, I didn’t witness first hand the latter, the lineup at the post-event beer garden was abuzz with stories about the young bear that wandered out of the bush next to the trail near Pitt Meadows airport, and one of my ride companions had photographic evidence.

Uncertain of my fitness after just a month of regular riding following the conclusion of our road hockey season that occupies my Sundays from October to early May, I signed on for the less arduous 50 km route, rather than the 100 km full meal deal. Plus, I’d never done a sustained ride of more than a kilometre or two over gravel while on a road bike and I’d heard it can beat you up and sap your legs over time.

Still, this would be a fitting conclusion to my first season with my new Norco Search adventure bike which had carried me through several evening trail rides and even a few road rides through the winter months. But with the arrival of warm weather and clean roads, it’s all Franco, all the time.

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The Norco is clean and shiny for the day’s big gravel fondo. Alas, it won’t stay that way.

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Flying Oakes prepares for the major ascent of the day.

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Oh no, our leisurely arrival foiled by an inconvenient train.

The fondo would also be an opportunity to experience some familiar landscapes from new perspectives; much of the route skirted roads I’ve ridden dozens of times, but veering hundreds of metres away from pavement, along sloughs and the back edges of farms offered fresh vistas. And no shortage of cat crows from chicken coops.

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A preview of what’s to come.

About 250 riders at the event were almost evenly split between the 100km hard-core and those with more leisurely intentions. Some of the former were fully-committed to gravel mashing on their tricked-out carbon fibre bikes with deep-dish wheels and 3-D printed chain catchers for when the path gets really bumpy. Our group was more of a hodgepodge, with fat-tired mountain bikes, fendered cruisers and even a single-speed fix with high-rise handlebars intermingled amongst dedicated gravel and adventure bikes.

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The FRF represent!

The event got off to a slow start because of a “police incident” that closed access to part of the planned route. The nature of that incident was never revealed, and there’s been no mention on social media of intense police activity in the area at that time. But the organizers had to do some scrambling to devise and mark out a detour.

When the countdown to send the first heat of riders finally went off an hour later than scheduled, everyone was champing at the bit to get their legs churning as the morning overcast had brought a cool breeze up the neighbouring river.

As advertised, the course was pan flat. The only inclines were up and over the Pitt River Bridge. This is what it must be like to be a cyclist in Florida.

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Following the gravelly road. For 50kms.

The course was fairly well-marked and there were traffic marshals to stop cars when we had to cross roads. Not all the motorists appreciated their efforts as a few impatient ones leaned on their horns.

Apparently there were some areas of confusion, though, as some of the 100km riders were complaining in the beer garden of riding extra loops because of ambiguous signage.

I covered the 50km course at an average speed of about 23.5 kmh, good enough for 39th place out of 115 entrants. But my legs felt like I’d ridden 80kms. The gravel dikes don’t beat you up as much as bog you down, although my slightly under-inflated front tire — as recommended in the pre-event prep email — might have had something to do with that.

And everywhere, on the bike and myself, there was a coating of fine grey dust. It’s been an exceptionally dry month, and it felt like I’d absorbed half the dikes into my socks and shins.

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The dusty damage of the day’s ride.

It had been a good morning out.

And apparently nobody got eaten by the bear.

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Don’t pay the ferryman

12 05 2018

Road hockey season is over. And while the triumphant conclusion wasn’t exactly satisfying, it’s time to move on to… riding season.

And what better way to rejoin the FRF peloton than our annual John Lee Memorial Ride, which also happens to coincide with the anniversary party for renowned craft brewer, Dageraad.

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Heading across the Port Mann bridge in glorious sunshine.

John would have totally endorsed the idea.

He was the quintessential rouleur, devoted to his lovingly restored and maintained steel Marinoni, complete with downtube shifters, old-school toe clips, and vintage-looking leather lace-up shoes.

John was amongst the FRF’s charter members. The group was much smaller and he loved to work his way up and down the small pace line, talking about his daughter, asking about everyone else’s family.

He was a regular bike commuter and his work ethic on the bike carried onto his recreational rides as well, taking his pulls regularly and without complaint, then drifting back through the group, exchanging pleasantries along the way. HIs fitness never seemed to flag.

So when we got the word he’d passed in his sleep from a massive heart attack, we were all shocked. Mortality had slapped us in the face bigtime. We all thought of his young daughter, to whom he was so devoted, of whom he spoke so frequently. We thought of his wife, who tolerated John’s cycling excursions, then must have resented them like hell when his heart betrayed him despite his apparent fitness; a couple of FRFers tried to stay in touch, to help her deal with the dispersal of John’s bike and parts should she choose to do so, but they were politely rebuffed. Her pain and shock must have been tremendous.

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It’s an FRF takeover of the ferry to Barnston Island.

The FRF rides with John’s memory in script on our kit. He would have been proud of today’s effort in the warm sunshine — the peloton 16-strong, the pace moderate, the conviviality overflowing, the sense of adventure never-ending. We had gravel sections, bridges and even a ferry ride across the Fraser River. There were croissants and pains au chocolat at the coffee stop, and fine beers at the end.

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This is the way to travel… across the water.

It was a good day for the FRF to remember its fallen friend.





On the road again

22 04 2018

I am a cyclist. Again.

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Heading out. First ride of the year on the Franco.

For the second consecutive year, it’s been a spring of bad weather and sporadic rides.

While the Norco gravel bike sustained me through some fun trail rides through the winter, the spring has been another slog of rain and cold temperatures. Riding shouldn’t be misery.

So for the better part of more than a month, the Norco gathered dust. Nevermind the Franco, which hasn’t left the condo since October.

Until Saturday.

Finally a forecast of dry weather, maybe even some sunshine. And that meant dry roads.

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Finally, the sun breaks through the clouds!

With Little Ring at Granny’s for the weekend, and Princess of Pavement deeply engrossed in studying for her final final exam of the term, I was free to ride. A promising weather report was the only motivation I needed.

So after a little tweaking from fellow FRFer, Guy, on Thursday, Franco was hoisted to the roof rack early Saturday morning to join the Saturday crew out of Coquitlam for a jaunt to Fort Langley, and beyond for some.

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Heading out by the dawn’s early gloom.

Just my luck, as I started to drive, it started to rain.

But there was light blue sky to the south, visible in the dawn’s early light.

The ride had a bit of everything one could want from an early-season venture; some banter and catching up, a bit of gravel, one flat (not me), a stretch of pace-lining, a biting breeze and burning quads.

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Franco, meet gravel. Gravel, meet Franco.

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This is what happens when a tri bike meets gravel…

It’s always hard to gauge your capabilities early in the season. Once the legs start turning, it’s easy to overestimate their fitness and bite off more mileage than they should chew.

But at about the 39 km mark, I knew I’d have to turn back if I didn’t want to blow myself up on the return ride; 78 or 79 kms is still a good day out I bargained with myself — especially in April.

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A familiar friend en route to Fort Langley.

The cycling season has begun. The weather is taking a turn for the better. And so are my spirits. I’m back in the saddle.





Sprung

19 03 2018

 

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Rolling past crocuses in Vancouver.

 

We’re well past the middle of March and, finally, we are getting tantalizing tastes of spring: daylight savings time; the odd warm day; a craving for burgers on the grill; a burning desire to ride.

The Norco prevented the winter from being a total write-off. Although, at the end of the day, getting out for a ride in the cold and darkness is mostly about overcoming a loathing for being in the cold and dark.

Now that spring officially arrives in a matter of hours, the Norco is seeing some pavement as the Franco bides its time for the winter’s grime to be washed down storm drains. But it’s getting antsy.

Friday, with some time in the bank and sunshine in the sky, it was a riding day. Franco beckoned, and its tires were pumped. But some minor mechanical adjustments gave pause, and she was rehung on the wall.

Norco is a fine bike. She’s a blast on the trails and in the snow. And she performs admirably on the road. But her lines are nowhere near as lithe as Franco, her giddy-up nowhere near as sprightly. She ploughs; Franco dances.

Friday’s effort was a modest 54 kms. It’s a far cry from two years ago when I had time on my hands and plenty more rides in my legs. But at least it was something. And the budding trees, popping crocuses and warming rays of sun portent more rides to come.





A winter’s tale

22 02 2018

 

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The Norco gets its first snow ride.

 

A ride in the cold is just that.

A ride in the cold and snow is sublime.

It’s almost March and whaddaya know, we’ve got snow. So, we might as well go for a ride.

This was the Norco’s first adventure on snowy, frozen trails, and it was a good time. It was only a couple of inches, but the blanket of white silenced the surrounding city and softened the runs over frozen mud puddles and slippery tree roots.

 

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My riding buddy, Dan. He’s still stuck in his mountain bike delusions.

 

Slick, iced roads kept us on the trails, amongst the trees where the air felt warmer than the frosty chill of open spaces. Up and down hills, we wheeled through a wintry wonderland with only the occasional tread  track indicating other riders were of the same mind.

 

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Dashing through the snow.

 

An hour and 20 minutes in and the Garmin was well past dead, our toes were frozen, our cheeks chilled. It was time for beer and Olympic hockey.





The price of sloth

1 01 2018

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Suddenly August seems so very far away. And yet frighteningly imminent.
Last year was not a good one for me on the bike. My 2,337 total kilometres was my lowest mileage since I started keeping track in 2003. It was also less than half of what I’d managed in 2016.
Even worse; until New Year’s Eve day I’d only been on two rides since September, neither of them particularly substantial. A November during which it rained practically every day didn’t help.

 

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Finally, the motivation to ride. Even if it means bundling up for the cold.

So it was with heavy legs and an even heavier belly I joined a handful of fellow FRFers on Sunday for what was supposed to be a quick, flat roll to Iona Beach and back, about 60 kms. But it became pretty apparent pretty quickly that without sufficient kms in my legs, I just couldn’t keep up.
Even as the crew kept sending someone back to keep me company in the bright, cold sunshine, it was pretty dispiriting to realize how far my fitness had slipped. Lactic acid burning my thighs and the frosty air burning my cheeks, the return leg turned into an arduous slog that seemed without end.

 

 

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Alas, my view for most of the route.

It was not the best bonding experience with my new N+1.
Earlier in the fall, as my motivation to ride floundered, I decided a new approach might be just the shot it needed: gravel riding.
In its never-ending quest to extract money from the bank accounts of cyclists, the bike industry has conjured a new niche of riding gravel and dirt trails on specialized road bikes with clearance for wider tires, a more relaxed geometry, and disk brakes.
I always enjoyed the short stretches of gravel or dirt paths we sometimes encountered on our group road rides even though an errant rock sometimes meant a pit stop to repair a puncture. And, as I’m no longer inclined to thrash technical mountain bike trails, it seemed getting a bike that would allow me to do the former without making a mess of the Franco would be a good way to keep me riding through the off-season.
So I made a list of features I wanted, set a budget that would allow me to attain those, and started researching online and in the local bike shops.
The Norco Search I ended up with exceeded my feature requirements and budget, but it was such a good deal on a closeout sale, I couldn’t not buy it.

 

 

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The new Norco takes a break on its first trail ride.

On its maiden trail ride and two subsequent road rides, the Norco has been a lot of fun, despite my faltering fitness. It’s quicker and more responsive on the dirt than the heavier mountain bike, and its 35mm tires roll assuredly on the slick, frozen winter pavement. Riding without worrying about mucking up the Franco has been liberating.

 

 

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Rides nice on the slick winter roads as well.

Now, I’ve just got to do more of it.
You see, Princess of Pavement threw down the training challenge at Christmas when she signed me up for Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria next Aug. 19. And she didn’t hold back; she registered me for the full 162 km (that’s 100 miles!) option.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me. Eight months can roll by just like that…

 





A new era

24 09 2017
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Kana on the Port Mann.

It took all of 12 pedal strokes to reignite my love for the bike.

Franco is on the road.

When Lapierre broke earlier this summer, so did my heart. Every time I lifted a leg over her gently curved top tube my spirits soared. Replacing her wasn’t easy.

I scoured the websites of bike companies and shops near and far searching for a brand, a bike, that spoke to me. I visited bike shops to eyeball possible suitors.

There were false hopes; bikes that caught my eye but aren’t easily obtainable in Canada.

There were false starts; bikes that showed promise on their websites but ultimately couldn’t get me to unleash my credit card.

But as the weeks turned to months, my mouse kept leading me back to Franco, a small,  boutique bike company out of California.

It was started by a former motorcycle racer who migrated to getting around on two wheels under his own power. They’ve been around for 10 years and their stable is comprised of four frames; a high-end racer of Italian heritage, a mid-range speedster and distance bikes, and a very funky steel cross bike. They’re named after renowned cycling routes in their ‘hood. That’s a story I can get behind.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the Kanan, the distance bike. She’s a looker, indeed.

She has a similar silhouette to the Lapierre; a gently curved top tube and a taller head tube. But her stays are slightly shorter, her downtube is more boxy, angled.

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Franco arrives home!

She’s like an angry, aggressive Lapierre.

So, of course, she must be black, and anthracite. With fiery red accents.

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Bike build day is like brining home baby.

After collecting her at the border on Saturday, Guy at Velofix built her up on Tuesday with the components stripped off Lapierre. A minor glitch with the derailleur hanger was rectified on Friday, and my Franco was ready to ride.

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Franco is built up by Guy at Velofix. Even he had to take a photo of the bike when he was done.

So I did.

Just a short shakedown spin of about 25 flat kilometres.

The leap from Lapierre to Franco was more subtle than when I transitioned from my aluminum Orbea to Lapierre’s carbon suppleness. But even on a flat route into a headwind, I could sense Franco’s friskiness. I set six PB’s on a course I’ve ridden dozens of times. She wants to go quick.

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A second look.

I’ll only be too happy to oblige.