June is Bike Month; July is cycling month

1 08 2015

June is Bike Month.

But July is cycling month.

It’s the month when Le Tour takes over the TV; the news and other regular programming goes unwatched.

It’s the month of long days and longer rides.

It’s the month of big mileage, sore legs, new routes.

Here's something you don't see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Here’s something you don’t see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Last year, July was a bit of a letdown.

The Tour was lame. And for the first time since 2009, I didn’t achieve 1,000 km in July’s 31 days.

This year I was determined to right that ship.

The weather helped. Aside from a couple of light sprinkles, and a rainy morning that scuttled our group ride on the month’s last Sunday, every day was dry, usually sunny, mostly warm.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

The company of other riders helped. Two of our FR Fuggitivi rides in the month topped 100 km. And the summer of Grant meant there was always someone to answer the request; “wanna ride?”

In fact, Grant’s mileage made my modest accomplishment look like a medio fondo.

Still, it was a good month; I was on the bike 17 times for a total of 1,312.6 km.

That made it my best July since 2008, when I just nudged over 1,600 km in the month, also in 17 rides.

But then, 11 of those rides were longer than 100 km.

The metric century seems harder to achieve now. I don’t know why.

I doubt it’s a question of fitness or commitment.

I think it’s about time.

In 2008, with no family, no Little Ring to drop off and pick up from daycare, no errands like groceries or laundry to tend to on an almost daily basis, spending seven or eight hours on the bike didn’t feel like stealing time from other duties.

Now, those duties call constantly.

Six hours on the bike instead means a couple of hours leftover to answer those commitments of life, to ensure everything is in order when Princess of Pavement returns from school, Little Ring gets home hungry for food and attention.

It’s a good shift of ride-life balance.

The mileage may not be as extreme. But the experience is richer.





What I did on summer vacation. Ride, of course.

22 07 2015

I need a vacation. From my vacation.

As has become something of a Big Ring tradition for more than a decade, I book off for the last two weeks of Le Tour de France. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds that allow me to actually attend Le Tour de France every year.

So I get up early to watch the live TV coverage, then head out for a ride that pales in comparison to what the pros achieve on a daily basis.

It’s a vacation of many kilometres, guilt-free snacking and little rest or relaxation.

This year, circumstances have allowed me to ride in the company of my former colleague, and current cycling fashion curmudgeon, Grant, who’s taking full advantage of his summer sabbatical to crank the pedals and crank up the mileage.

Grant has an issue with simple out-and-back rides. That means we have to design circuitous loops. Not always easy. But certainly conducive to new explorations and long rides.

We climbed the highlands above Kanaka Creek in eastern Maple Ridge. We crossed an old wooden single-lane bridge to the rural enclave of Westham Island. We hopped a free shuttle service that ferries us underneath the Fraser River. We were amongst the first dozens of cyclists to try the new traverse on the Port Mann Bridge over the Fraser River. We found excellent new sandwich stops in Ladner Village, Maple Ridge and North Vancouver.

And, of course, there were flats. This is the summer of flats, after all.

And, of course, there were flats. This is the summer of flats, after all.

An old single-lane bridge is the only way on, and off, the rural enclave of Westham Island.

An old single-lane bridge is the only way on, and off, the rural enclave of Westham Island.

Fields of flowering potatoes stretch to the horizon on Westham Island.

Fields of flowering potatoes stretch to the horizon on Westham Island.

Blackberries are an unexpected treat while waiting for the Massey Tunnel shuttle to depart.

Blackberries are an unexpected treat while waiting for the Massey Tunnel shuttle to depart.

Triumph! Cycling fashion curmudgeon Grant celebrates his first ascent of Mt. Seymour.

Triumph! Cycling fashion curmudgeon Grant celebrates his first ascent of Mt. Seymour.

Don't let the shopping plaza aesthetic dissuade you from trying the excellent food at In Grain. A tasty reward for climbing and descending Mt. Seymour.

Don’t let the shopping plaza aesthetic dissuade you from trying the excellent food at In Grain. A tasty reward for climbing and descending Mt. Seymour.

With more than a week still left in the month, I’ve already achieved my 1,000 km goal, an annual yardstick of my cycling fitness that eluded me last year.

My legs are tired. But it’s a good tired.





Célébration Bastille brumeux

12 07 2015

The FR Fuggitivi ascribes to the Italian cycling ethos: ride for enjoyment, look good while doing it, and the quality of the coffee stop is as important as the Strava data.

But once a year, we channel our inner Bobet, pull on our French cycling kits, stumble through the high school french expressions we’ve somehow manage to retain and head up.

FR Fuggitivi’s French day falls on the closest Sunday to Bastille Day, which usually coincides with the beginning of the mountain stages in Le Tour de France.

For us, a mountain stage means Mt. Seymour; 1000 metres of elevation over 13 kilometres.

Guy serenades the bikes with a little piano music to soothe the savage climb ahead.

Guy serenades the bikes with a little piano music to soothe the savage climb ahead.

Fortunately, this year’s Gallic grind also coincided with a break in the heat wave that has afflicted this neck of the woods since pretty much the middle of May.

Richard channels his inner Virenque.

Richard channels his inner Virenque.

The misty clouds that shrouded us almost the entire climb were a welcome relief to the interminable furnace that softened the pavement and parched our throats on last Sunday’s epic Tour de Everywhere.

I wish I was a faster climber.

But as I’ve learned over many years of climbing the Grouse Grind, a steady, comfortable pace ensures survival.

While the mountain goats in the group spun off into the distance, Richard (Not Virenque) and I maintained a rhythm that kept us moving forward and upward, while still saving us enough breath for conversation. The mist had the added bonus of hiding from our sight the inclines ahead. Instead, we counted off the kilometre markers on the side of the road.

The view from the FRF autobus. The mist shrouds the inclines ahead.

The view from the FRF autobus. The mist shrouds the inclines ahead.

By the time we reached the foggy, chilly summit, everyone else in the group was bundled up and ready to head down. So we turned and followed.

The group is ready to head down.

The group is ready to head down.

Alas, the same damp mist that was our salve on the ascent, meant the roads were wet and slicked for the descent, so there would be no land speed records set today.

Of course, what's an FRF ride without the requisite puncture; my fourth official flat this season!

Of course, what’s an FRF ride without the requisite puncture; my fourth official flat this season!





Mann oh Mann

4 07 2015

There’s a new bridge in town.

Actually, the new Port Mann Bridge has been open to traffic for a few years now. The billion-dollar behemoth spans the Fraser River, linking the eastern suburbs to Vancouver and its immediate neighbours. For a time it was the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world, comprised of 10 lanes for highway traffic, and one for pedestrians and cyclists.

Well, it took them a while to finish the latter.

Cyclists welcomed the news of an additional crossing with a jaundiced eye.

The narrow old Port Mann bridge had no accommodation for cyclists or pedestrians, meaning a ride over the Fraser River and out to the Valley could only be achieved by a circuitous route to some of the other, more distant bridges like the Golden Ears or the Alex Fraser. The old Pattullo is an immediate option, but it’s a horrific, dangerous traverse that requires nerves of steel because of the close proximity of speeding traffic along its narrow lanes.

But the new Port Mann is bookended by complicated weaves of entrance and exit ramps that are difficult enough for a motorist to disentangle. How a bike lane would be squeezed between them was anybody’s guess.

Well, Wednesday we got our answer when the lane officially opened.

It’s on the east side of the bridge, offering a soaring view of the river below and the valley beyond.

150704bridge

The lane is wide, the climb from the west end gradual enough that it doesn’t strain the legs.

A high barrier hides much of the traffic speeding past on the highway, and adds a further sense of safety.

So far, the entrance to the bridge is still a bit of a mystery to the rookie crosser. There’s a lack of signage on the feeder bike path, and until you’re actually on the final approach to the bridge, it’s still hard to conjure how a bike path could access the bridge. Hopefully that’s dealt with.

It’s a good crossing that opens up new options for exploration. It should be used.





Enjoying the view from Dad World

21 06 2015

Being a dad was never one of the overriding goals of my life.

For most of my adult life, fatherhood wasn’t even on my radar. I hadn’t met the right partner. I had plenty of other interests and activities to occupy my time and attention. I was scared.

Years passed.

Then along came Princess of Pavement. And she thought it would be cool to have a kid.

So we did.

Admittedly I got into the game pretty late.

The patterns and rhythms of my life were well-entrenched.

There’s no doubt the arrival of Little Ring would turn them upside down.

So he did. In the best way possible.

When you’re not of the Dad World, you tend to roll your eyes at all those cliches of dad-dom: it’s the best thing ever; it enriches you in ways you never thought possible; there’s never a dull moment; you’ll never sleep again.

When you join the Dad World, those cliches start to define you.

Some dads go into the Dad World with very definite ideas of the kind of dad they want to be, the example they want to set for their child.

I had no idea.

It would be cool if he glommed onto some of my interests, so we could share them. I’d like him to be curious about the world around him, eager to learn. I’d want him to be tolerant, open-minded, accepting. Brave but not foolhardy would also be good traits to impart. Smart and funny would serve him well.

Somehow, just 34 months into his young life, Little Ring is all of those.

I have no idea how much credit Princess of Pavement and I can take for that, or how much is bred into him.

His curiosity was apparent from the get-go. Whenever we went for walks Little Ring alertly took in everything around him from his stroller, his eyes darted back and forth, his head turned this way and that. Everything he saw was a wonderment. It was as if he wanted to drink the world in in one big gulp.

Who says newspapers are a dying medium. Little Ring gives his daddy hope.

Who says newspapers are a dying medium. Little Ring gives his daddy hope.

Little Ring’s bravery is a force. He wants to try new things, he wants to climb, he wants to explore. But he seems to have an innate sense for his limitations, and he’s not afraid to ask for help when he needs it. That’s the biggest bravery of all.

He’s sharp. He asks questions and makes note of the answers. He can connect the dots.

Road bike party!

Road bike party!

He’s funny. And usually he knows it. preceding his own jokes with a sly, knowing giggle.

That he’d share my love for cycling and hockey was inevitable. One of the first things we did when we got home from the hospital was watch the Vuelta together. I told him what was happening, I regaled him with tales of Eddy Merckx. We hung a cycling alphabet poster in his room.

Little Ring pays rapt attention to the Giro, cheering for his favorite team.

Little Ring pays rapt attention to the Giro, cheering for his favorite team.

The hockey was more accidental. Apparently whenever I watched a game, he was taking note of what was going on. He knew the goalies, the players, the referee and the zamboni. He figured out penalties.

Being Little Ring’s dad is a marvel every day. His smile lightens my heart. His giggle uplifts me. The quirky things he says make me laugh out loud.

As his vocabulary widens, and his understanding of the world deepens, we can share stories, have conversations, and I’m able to see my own world from a new perspective. And it looks pretty darn good.

So on this, Father’s Day, I’d like to thank Little Ring for letting me be his dad. Forever.





Group dynamics, or, the importance of beer at the end of a ride

15 06 2015

FR Fuggitivi is growing.

I haven’t been able to attend many of the Sunday morning group rides so far this season. Scheduling and daddy duty often take priority.

But in my absence, the group has added a number of riders.

What started a few years ago as a chance posting to the internet to gauge interest in a riding group based in suburbia has grown from an occasional handful to a consistent eight to as many as a dozen. Reportedly there are a few more out there sitting on the fence, wondering if the group ride idea is for them.

I had the same hesitation.

I’d always been a lone wolf, preferring the company of my own thoughts, planning and executing my own route, my effort on the road accountable only to myself.

But the routes I favoured had become repetitive. My motivation waned occasionally.

Joining a group ride reinvigorated my sense of adventure on the bike. Everyone brings new route ideas, new places to stop for refuelling, new skills, new challenges, new conversation.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn't get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

Yes, Guy really does pack latex gloves in his emergency kit so he doesn’t get his hands dirty while changing a flat.

But the group dynamic can be a tricky, perilous tightrope. What if not everyone shares the same goals, or ideas of what the group should be?

Factions can form. Cohesion and common purpose break down. Chaos ensues.

I know.

I’ve walked that tightrope for 24 years as the organizer of Sunday Morning Road Hockey.

Every new face is an unknown quantity, a bit of a risk to the status quo.

The group has to balance its principles and raison d’être with being welcoming, open to newcomers and what they can bring to the dynamic. The differences can be subtle. They’re often unspoken, rarely quantified.

A strong group leads by example, manages its parameters by its own behaviour.

Those with other ideas usually get the message and move on. Or adjust their own expectations.

On the cycling group scale from casual to competitive, we definitely ride closer to the former than the latter. We keep a good pace, but bragging sprints are rarely contested; we leave those to Strava trophies. We design our rides to be long enough and challenging enough to test our legs, but short enough to still give everyone time for familial pursuits the rest of the day.

Of course, the group’s success at maintaining that level might have something to do with its unofficial motto; More Miles More Beer. Pretty tough to harbour delusions of Cat 1 racing when that’s what brings you home every week.

 





Wind beneath my cleats

12 06 2015

I’ve got a need for speed.

Usually I’m only able to indulge it on descents.

Today I aired it out on the flats.

With a little help from the breeze at my back. Or maybe it was a gale.

Overnight the wind howled, flailing our blinds, spinning our patio umbrella. Further afield, it knocked out power, tore branches from trees.

This morning it was still blowing with purpose.

Usually I cower from riding on windy days.

The constant rush of air over my ears is annoying. The effort to get anywhere can be frustrating.

But sunshine and new wheels on the Lapierre beckoned.

Of course with every tailwind must come a headwind.

But some clever routing along urban bike routes, sheltered by trees and houses, mitigated much of the headwind.

When we turned for home, the full force of the day became apparent.

The wind picked us up and sailed us along. With minimal effort, the Garmin quickly climbed through 30 kph, 40 kph, kissed 50 kph.

This is what it feels like to ride like a pro, I thought. Except they can do it uphill.

I’ll take my victories, and Strava achievements, any way I can.

The reward for a fast day out on the bike; grilled lamb with rosemary from our garden!

The reward for a fast day out on the bike; grilled lamb with rosemary from our garden!








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