The gift of free kilometres

25 07 2016

Never look gift kilometres in the mouth.

When Princess of Pavement asked me two days running, “aren’t you going for a ride?” the nature of her enquiry and the way she asked it implied encouragement.

I hadn’t planned to ride.

On Sunday I was scheduled to work on a special project so I was resigned to missing the weekly FRF ride. Instead I went for a solo roll on Friday. When I reminded PofP after her ride query Saturday night, she suggested I could head out early, before I had to work.

Hmmmmmm, free kilometres!? Yes please!

Early morning roll-out.

Early morning roll-out.

Living in an open loft presents challenges for any early or late activities. There’s no door to close to muffle the noise. And while Little Ring has a separate room with a doorway, his senses seem to roust at first light and await any cue that the day is set to begin, especially if that cue indicates breakfast is being prepared.

“Is it morning yet?” he’ll cry out. “I’m hungry.”

So an early-morning ride requires meticulous preparation the night before. That means placing the bike by the door, hanging kit in the bathroom for changing, placing shoes, helmet, gloves and emergency kit somewhere clear of creaking floor boards, honing muscle memory and arranging furniture to avoid those noisy floor boards, putting out breakfast utensils and dishes to minimize drawer and cupboard opening, rounding up breakfast ingredients to limit the number of times the fridge or pantry has to be opened and closed.

Free kilometres usually means flat kilometres to maximize the gain on the mileage goal.

Free kilometres usually means flat kilometres to maximize the gain on the mileage goal.

The pressure is enormous. One false step, one moment’s inattention, could disturb the pre-dawn peace.

The unexpected evening ride, however, usually comes with a peace dividend. It seems Little Ring is more amenable to sticking to his bedtime script when there’s only one of us around; it’s as if he has an innate sense there’s no “good cop” who will accede to his various nighttime stalling games just to keep the peace.

So when Princess of Pavement asked again on Monday whether I was going for a ride, I was gifted another great big mozza ball of free kilometres.

The sun begins to set at Iona Beach.

The sun begins to set at Iona Beach.

And while they’ll help get me a little closer to my usual July goal of 1,000 kilometres for the month, I’m resigned that I likely won’t attain it this year. Working at a new job and not having my traditional two weeks holiday during the Tour de France to pile on the rides has been the Yoko Ono to my Strava goals.





A hill too far. Almost.

16 07 2016

Everyone has a hill they’re willing to die on.

Today mine was Cypress Mountain.

Earlier this season some ambitious members of the FRF signed on to do the annual Triple Crown for Heart, a charity ride that ascends the three mountains that comprise the North Shore: Seymour, Grouse and Cypress.

It’s seemed an audacious ride; more than 2300 metres of climbing on a 70 km ride, but if we rode to and from the ride, the mileage would more than double.

What the heck, I thought; I’ve done all three climbs on their own, the descents are a lot of fun and there’s plenty of time between the mountains to recover.

My hubris almost killed me.

Even with the ultra-early 6 a.m. roll-out, spirits were high on the ride to the ride. We were a sizeable contingent, all looking very pro in our matching FRF kits. The weather was perfect; overcast, humid but not too warm.

Ten members of the FRF reported for the Triple Crown but only nine rode it as one member was still paying the price for his ambitious ride last weekend.

Ten members of the FRF reported for the Triple Crown but only nine rode it as one member was still paying the price for his ambitious ride last weekend.

As the 170 or so riders departed from a community centre in North Vancouver, the damp air turned to light rain.

Into the Misting; the clouds descend quickly on the climb up Seymour.

Into the Misting; the clouds descend quickly on the climb up Seymour.

As we climbed into the clouds, the rain became a cold curtain of mist. Nothing a gillet and arm warmers couldn’t temper. Although I wished for wipers on my glasses.

I should have packed windshield wipers...

I should have packed windshield wipers…

I beat my personal best up the mountain by about 10 minutes.

The descent had to be dialled down a bit because of the wet, slick road. But it was still fast enough to dry my damp shoes, blow the drops from my lenses.

Dean wrings the rainwater from his socks at the bottom of Seymour.

Dean wrings the rainwater from his socks at the bottom of Seymour.

The climb to Grouse isn’t long, but it does have some nasty pitches that can throw your Garmin into pause mode because it thinks you’re no longer moving.

Again, a PB. And my legs were feeling strong.

Two climbs down, one to go. Oh how my hubris would come back to haunt me.

Two climbs down, one to go. Oh how my hubris would come back to haunt me.

At the bottom of each descent, our group reassembled to recover en masse, fly the team colours.

But the ride to Cypress is no lazy roll to the base of a mountain. In fact, before the mountain even officially begins, you’ve had to climb about 300 metres from sea level.

It’s that progressive climb to the climb that sapped my legs.

At the official start of the Cypress climb I rolled past one of the half-dozen aid and refuelling stations set up by the ride organizers. My legs turned to inert logs.

I had stayed hydrated and I had plenty of food on board; fruit and energy bars from the aid, a stations, a good breakfast at the start of the day.

But the start of Cypress was almost 100 km into our ride and my legs were crying “Uncle.”

Of the three North Shore climbs, Cypress is considered the least challenging. It’s the longest, about 12 km; but it rarely pitches steeper than five per cent.

Today, the back end of three major climbs, it was anything but easy.

My cadence slowed, my average speed dropped precipitously. My thighs screamed. My hamstrings protested. A guy ski-poling his way up the road way ahead never seemed to get any closer.

The clouds closed in, bringing with them more cold mist to compound my misery.

Riders who’d already finished the climb and were now screaming down the opposite lane seemed mocking; I so wanted to be them.

But for that speedy descent, I’d have to reach the top. And so my legs kept turning the pedals over. Slowly. Grinding out each agonizing kilometre as other riders passed.

I wished for a bigger cassette. I wished for a triple chainring (who rides those anymore). I wished for a burger. Oh yeah, those were awaiting us at the top.

To distract my despairing legs and flagging spirit, I focussed on catching ski pole guy, which I eventually did. I focussed on joining the sinewy lines of speedy descenders snaking down the opposite lane. I focussed on that burger; my belly heavy with bananas, oranges and energy bars, it craved meaty sustenance.

One word: shattered.

One word: shattered.

The cold mist penetrated deeply this time, finding purchase in my depleted state.

But amazingly, the legs kept turning over.

And when I got to that burger, it was the best burger I’d ever had. Even if it wasn’t.

After 153 kms and 2700 metres of climbing, I earned this badge!

After 153 kms and 2700 metres of climbing, I earned this badge!





Measuring mediocrity

11 07 2016

Strava is the measure of my mediocrity.

After every ride, I dutifully download the data from my Garmin GPS to the social site that connects riders from around the world who break down their routes into bite-sized segments. Comparing my performance with previous rides can give me an idea of improvements in my own fitness, as well as affirm the sensations in my legs; feeling strong during a climb up Burnaby Mountain isn’t just in my imagination when Strava awards me a Personal Best trophy icon.

Enjoying a baguette et brie at the first lookout on Cypress Mountain during the annual FRF Bastille Day ride. The climb also served as a warmup for this Saturday's Triple Crown up all three of Vancouver's major mountain climbs.

Enjoying a baguette et brie at the first lookout on Cypress Mountain during the annual FRF Bastille Day ride. The climb also served as a warmup for this Saturday’s Triple Crown up all three of Vancouver’s major mountain climbs.

Earning those little trophies is addictive.

Strava has more than 1.5 million active users. They include cyclists and runners. Logging their activities into the site provides real-time tracking of their performance improvements over segments created by fellow users.

Those segments are also the measure upon which cyclists and runners can compare their performance with others, a sort of giant ongoing virtual race.

Those virtual competitions can get pretty intense. Setting a new KOM can be conversation fodder in the FRF peloton, a throw-down to other riders.

The FRF peloton celebrates French culture and food on its annual Bastille Day ride.

The FRF peloton celebrates French culture and food on its annual Bastille Day ride.

Not that I ever have to worry about setting or regaining a coveted KOM.

In the Strava world I am famously mediocre. My modest achievements are neither great nor terrible. Inevitably a personal best that I worked hard to attain will end up ranked solidly somewhere in the middle of the pack of all riders who’ve ridden the same segment.

Of course, what's a ride these days without a flat. The latest also revealed a cut in the sidewall of my rear tire, so I detoured to a bike shop to get a new tire. And more spare tubes, of course.

Of course, what’s a ride these days without a flat. The latest also revealed a cut in the sidewall of my rear tire, so I detoured to a bike shop to get a new tire. And more spare tubes, of course.

Except for descents. Apparently I can be pretty decent at those; I’ve even managed to crack the top 10 on some, even if briefly.

This Saturday I’ve signed on for the Triple Crown, a challenging ride up Vancouver’s three major mountains, Seymour, Grouse and Cypress. I’ve done all three separately, never on the same day. The route covers 75km with around 2000 metres of climbing.

I’m confident I’ll be able to do it. I’m certain I’ll be slow. I’m scared of the effort it’s going to take.

So instead, I’m going to think of it as three fast and fun descents. Because what goes up, has to come down. Before it can go up again…

I may even manage to set a downhill PB or two.





Into the Heart of Darkness aka Delta

5 07 2016

The clouds of doom began gathering as soon as the destination for Sunday’s FRF ride was announced.

As we embarked on our ill-fated adventure into cycling’s Heart of Darkness, Delta, they thickened, became more menacing.

The clouds of despair and desperation began gathering even as we set out for our Sunday ride into the Heart of Darkenss.

The clouds of despair and desperation began gathering even as we set out for our Sunday ride into the Heart of Darkenss.

Barely over the Bridge of Lost Souls that transports unwitting victims into her lair, never to be seen again, the trouble began. Mike, an FRF newbie on his inaugural ride, flattened. By the time the day was done, the fierce headwind was no longer the topic of our peloton’s consternation; it was Mike’s unprecedented FOUR flats!

Flat #1, just after entering Delta from the Bridge of Lost Souls.

Flat #1, just after entering Delta from the Bridge of Lost Souls.

Delta is where cyclists get lost, and tires go to die.

The city’s bike routes are deplorable. Not only is their signage inconsistent and often illogical, the lanes are poorly maintained.

It is July, the thick of riding and bike commuting season, and the bike routes are as dirty with gravel and debris as if it was mid-March after a harsh winter of snowplowing and sanding. The sharp stones bite into tires, ricochet into unsuspecting shins, ping off shiny carbon fibre frames and even catapult off passing vehicles. Riding in Delta, especially along busy routes like River Road, is a dangerous game of waving and weaving through a moonscape disguised as a bike lane.

This is not acceptable. Bike lanes also need to be maintained.

This is not acceptable. Bike lanes also need to be maintained.

Making roads and routes safe for cyclists involves more than just painting white stencils on shoulders. Those lanes should be swept regularly to clear them of the debris and detritus strewn by cars and trucks. A sharp stone squeezed out by a tire inflated to 120psi becomes a missile, capable of gashing shins, chipping paint, flattening tires. Just ask Mike, whom we last saw humping his bike back down the Bridge of Lost Souls to get a ride back home, his patience and our peloton’s supply of inner tubes and CO2 cartridges exhausted.

Four flats on a single ride is terribly bad luck. In Delta, it seems inevitable.





O Canada! O my tired legs!

1 07 2016

Next year, I may enter the Czech Republic Day Populaire.

That portion of the former eastern block country Czechoslovakia has only been around since 1993. So riding one kilometre for every year of its independence would make for a very leisurely 24 km roll.

But alas, this is Canada, which turned 149 today. Still an adolescent by global geo-political standards. But a hefty number when you’re riding a kilometre for every one of those years since Confederation.

That’s the premise of the annual Canada Day Populaire, an event that will only get longer and harder as the years pass.

The Populaire is kind of a populist fondo.

Checking in at the Canada Day Populaire. It's a modest affair without the hullabaloo and expense of fondo.

Checking in at the Canada Day Populaire. It’s a modest affair without the hullabaloo and expense of fondo.

It’s put on by the BC Randonneurs, those crazy cyclists who think nothing of getting on their bikes at the crack of dawn and then not getting off until they’ve got 300 km or more in their legs. Sometimes they even keep riding through the night.

The Populaire shares many of the characteristics of the big money fondos. There’s a mass start of cyclists of varying ability. The route is long, punctuated by rest stops stocked with smiling volunteers, fruit, biscuits, banana bread and fresh water. Your finish time is recorded, and you’re rewarded with a special little lapel pin.

There's no traffic control, no course markers. We're given a time card and a map with instructions.

There’s no traffic control, no course markers. We’re given a time card and a map with instructions.

What it doesn’t share with the fondos is the hefty cost of entry.

Riding a fondo these days can cost $200-300. That’s not even including the expense of getting to the event, staying in a hotel and eating out if it’s out of town; you can crack $1,000 pretty quickly.

Pre-registration entry fee for the Canada Day Populaire? 25 buck.

Flying Oakes and I are ready to ride!

Flying Oakes and I are ready to ride!

This was my first Populaire. Truthfully, I expected more riders with beards and bandanas astride vintage steel-framed bikes adorned with all manner of panniers, saddle bags, bento boxes, lights, reflectors, maybe even a horn. Heck, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a recumbent or two.

But the majority of the riders seemed to be the same crowd that signs up for fondos; guys and women tricked out in club kit riding carbon fibre Pinarellos, Cervelos and even a Canyon, a German brand that is currently unobtainable in North America. I saw two other Lapierres within five minutes of arriving at the check-in; that’s more than I’ve seen on the road in five years!

Everyone was keen for a big day out to celebrate Canada’s birthday.

Unlike the hullabaloo starts at fondos, with excited speeches, the national anthem a countdown and even a starting gun, everyone just rolled out in groups at the time chosen at check-in. The route itself isn’t marked; we’re given a map and a sheet of instructions. There’s no traffic control.

Yes, there was gravel!

Yes, there was gravel!

At each of the designated rest stops we lined up to get our time cards stamped and our arrival recorded. A full time card was rewarded at the end of the ride with a special pin

It was all very casual, laid back.

Until we hit the long, flat roads of the Sumas Prairie. Then it was on.

Flying Oakes and I, along with a couple of part-time FRFers latched onto a fast group being propelled by club riders out of South Delta. We quickly got organized into a two-by-two pace line and the speed of the peloton increased. Pull. Peel off. Work back up through the line to pull again. Repeat.

The first rest stop. Appropriately, it was at the summit of the day's only major climb. So, well earned.

The first rest stop. Appropriately, it was at the summit of the day’s only major climb. So, well earned.

We’re not pros. But it sure felt pro. Especially as the Garmin kissed 40 kmh and didn’t dip.

We ripped past a large group from Gastown that had been driving the ride’s pace from the get-go. Left them in our wake. Not gonna lie; it felt good.

But the effort took a toll.

Well, of course we're going to get lost at some point!

Well, of course we’re going to get lost at some point!

By the last 20 kilometres of the ride, riding the rollers of Princess of Pavement’s old familial ‘hood, my legs felt like lead pipes, hamstrings cried out, “enough already!” Thoughts of moving to the Czech Republic danced in my head.

The reward for a big day out!

The reward for a big day out!





A tip of the cap

29 06 2016

The Fraser River Fuggitivi isn’t the most competitive cycling club.

Most of us don’t race.

Amongst our peloton, we’re lucky if we’re able to hold onto just a handful of Strava KOM’s.

But in our relaxed mediocrity, we sure look good.

Don't turn around! Or Richard may not put the key in the car's ignition for his journey east.

Don’t turn around! Or Richard may not put the key in the car’s ignition for his journey east.

We have our resident milliner, Richard, to thank for that.

A founding FRFer, he marked the trails for many of the routes our group would eventually follow as we grew from a motley assemblage of cyclists into a proper peloton.

He leads by example.

Richard lives and breathes cycling.

He raced for a time, then expressed his passion for the sport in sketches and paintings.

He eschews the trendy trappings of the cycling like carbon fibre and PowerTap for his beloved classic steel steed, a beautifully restored and maintained Marinoni whose lithe straight lines still look fast even amidst the sinewy swoops of our group’s Giants, Orbeas, Cervelos and even Lapierre.

The FRF is growing. But it's also shrinking, as we gather for one last ride with one of the group's founders, Richard, who designed our distinctive and stylish kit.

The FRF is growing. But it’s also shrinking, as we gather for one last ride with one of the group’s founders, Richard, who designed our distinctive and stylish kit.

He pays the rent through cycling; Richard and his partner, Carrolle, design, sew and sell cycling caps through their little online enterprise, Red Dots Cycling.

The short-brimmed, eight-panel caps used to be a staple of the sport, keeping the sun off balding heads, sweat off the brow and shielding eyes from the sun’s glare. But as helmets became more accepted, caps began disappearing from the peloton. Even at podium ceremonies, the classic cycling cap seemed to be losing status to the conventional baseball cap (I’m looking at you Alberto Contador).

Red Dots found a niche with designs that paid homage to cycling’s heritage, its monuments, moments and heroes.

As a news photographer I liked them because the stubby brim allowed to me to bring my camera’s viewfinder up to my eye without having to flip it up or turn it around. They also sparked conversation; “hey where did you get the cool cap? haven’t seen those around in years.” I can only hope a few of those exchanges eventually turned into sales.

When it came time for the Fuggitivi to up their game by dressing up in official kit, all eyes turned to Richard in anticipation of what he’d come up with. He didn’t disappoint.

We’re biased of course, but we like to think Fuggitivi Kit v1.0 is some of the finest looking club kit around, classy in black with just the right amount of colourful accents to make it immediately stand out from all the other Sunday riders, as well as at the finish line at official events.

Of course, could we expect anything less from our milliner, a quietly class act himself.

Richard rides into a Vancouver sunset for the last time.

Richard rides into a Vancouver sunset for the last time.

But as Vancouver real estate and rents spiral out of control, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for small home-based businesses like Red Dots to earn their proprietors a sustainable living. Coupled with the presence of most of his fabric suppliers and an enormous untapped market three time zones to the east, Richard and his partner today pulled up stakes.

Toasting our resident milliner, who is pulling up stakes to move east.

Toasting our resident milliner, who is pulling up stakes to move east.

Safe travels Richard. The Eastern branch of the FR Fuggitivi will soon be open!





June-uary blues

18 06 2016

What’s wrong with this picture?

Rainy, cool days and work obligations have kept me off the bike more than on it in June.

Rainy, cool days and work obligations have kept me off the bike more than on it in June.

Well, pretty much everything. It’s taken from inside my car, instead of from my bike. And I’m inside the car because it’s raining outside. Kinda cold too.

Welcome to June-uary.

That’s what we call the month when we’re supposed to be welcoming the first days of summer.

After an awesome April and magnificent May, rain and cool temperatures have been the rule, rather than the exception, in June. The weather is more like January, than June.

Sure, there have been nice days. Even some spectacular ones. But, so far, they haven’t coincided with riding days. Especially now that the availability of those days has been constricted by work obligations. Three days shy of the solicit and the Garmin is still woefully shy of 200 km.

Sunday’s forecast isn’t encouraging. Two or three more poorly scheduled rain days, and this could be the worst June since I started tracking rides in 2004.

The Weather Network called it earlier in spring; their forecasters said the ongoing El Nino pattern would bring us nice mild, dry weather early in the season, then a dip of the jet stream would carry rain and cold.

A typical June scene for the FRF; heading out for a Tuesday climbing ride under leaden skies.

A typical June scene for the FRF; heading out for a Tuesday climbing ride under leaden skies.

Scroll back through the history of this blog and you’ll find no shortage of photos from June rides against a backdrop of leaden skies or posts lamenting woeful weather.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by June-uary weather. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.








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