A missing man in the FRF peloton

21 05 2015

The FRF peloton is diminished by one rider.

A ripple of shock rippled through our small group of riders late last week as word spread that John had suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, passed away.

John, second from the right, was an enthusiastic rouleur in the FRF peloton, astride his beloved steel bike with old-school toe clips and leather straps. Sadly, he passed away last week, quite unexpectedly.

John, second from the right, was an enthusiastic rouleur in the FRF peloton, astride his beloved steel bike with old-school toe clips and leather straps. Sadly, he passed away last week, quite unexpectedly.

John was retro, but he was anything but a grouch.

While some of us revelled in our lightweight carbon fibre beauties, he pedalled furiously forward on his vintage steel frame, attached to it by traditional toe clips and leather straps.

His classic leather shoes were the first thing I noticed about John when I joined the FRF peloton. They didn’t have fancy buckles or loop closures. They didn’t have shiny reflective heels or slippery carbon fibre soles. They were beautiful in their simplicity.

Over the course of many rides, we still didn’t know much about John. Just as we don’t know much about each other. Conversations about work and family ebb and flow through the course of the morning, but they’re mostly fodder to help the kilometres roll by.

That’s the way it is for a lot of us; we lead compartmentalized lives. We have a work life, family life, social circle and then there are the things we do separate from those, and the world we create around those activities. When any of those worlds intersect, it’s usually in cursory, glancing ways.

It’s like that with road hockey.

I’ve been playing every Sunday morning for 24 years, and I can count on two hands the number of roadsters for whom I knew their real name, occupation, and would be able to recognize them in street clothes away from the hockey court. We created this world and for two or three hours on Sunday morning, it offers a bit of an escape from responsibility, work, the day-to-day stresses.

It’s the same with FRF.

We don’t have nicknames, other than those of us with Twitter handles. We come from disparate backgrounds, occupations. But in the FRF peloton we’re all just cyclists, taking a pull off the front, shooting the breeze at the back, dutifully checking our Garmin stats when we get home.

But on Thursday we got a glimpse of the John we only knew from listening to some of the stories he told as we rode. Almost 500 people attended his funeral. They were colleagues, friends, people whose lives he somehow touched as a nurse at a local hospital.

It was humbling to be amongst such a contingent, even as we represented such a small part of his life.

Ride on John. We’re going to miss you. And your toe clips.

Some enchanted evenings… on the bike

15 04 2015

There are few better harbingers of spring than the first evening ride.

But a lot of pieces besides nice weather have to fall into place for it to happen. The shift ahead by two weeks of Daylight Savings Time a few years ago was a boon for the evening ride. It used to not happen until late April/early May. Now it’s a possibility as soon as the first week of April, right after the clocks change.

The evening ride is a sure sign spring has arrived. Even if it still gets cool as the sun sinks to the horizon.

The evening ride is a sure sign spring has arrived. Even if it still gets cool as the sun sinks to the horizon.

That’s when the evening gloom doesn’t descend until 8 p.m. Late enough to make a 35-40 km spin happen right after dinner.

That is, if dinner can be assembled, consumed and cleaned up in time. Which only happens if Little Ring is cooperative getting out of his daycare, getting into his car seat and getting down to the serious business of eating dinner without too much fuss.

And that dinner has to be somewhat simple, at least partially prepared in advance so the only thing left to do is cook it.

Twice already all those pieces have clicked into place. That’s a record for me for in mid-April.

The rides aren’t long, mostly flat, along a favoured route with minimal traffic lines. That keeps the legs spinning for most of the hour-and-a-half.

The air cools quickly as soon as the sun starts its descent to the horizon.  And if clouds roll in, darkness can come on unexpectedly.

But at this early stage of the riding season, the kilometres are bonus, exercise capital to deposit in the cycling bank.

Requiem for a killer… hill

5 04 2015

It rises gently from the horizon then curves sharply left into the trees.

In the heat of summer, those trees bring welcome shade after the beating sun of the flat valley floor.

At any time of the year, the canopy hides the true menace of the slope.

Killer Hill doesn't get serious until it sweeps left into the stand of trees that camouflage its 20 per cent gradient.

Killer Hill doesn’t get serious until it sweeps left into the stand of trees that camouflage its 20 per cent gradient.

For years, Lefeuvre Road has been the last hill to conquer on the 52 km ride to the Princess of Pavement’s family homestead in the tiny crossroads of Bradner. It’s a killer, maxing out at 20.6 per cent along its 800 metre ascent. If it had cobbles, it would be the Paterberg.

Too often, climbing that hill, I’ve heard the auto pause engage on the Garmin. I’m just going too slow; the satellites think I’ve died.

In 2009, I climbed Killer Hill en route to my wedding. Talk about a last hurrah to bachelor life.

Sometimes Killer Hill is more murderous than others. Especially early in the season. Never does it spare you.

Saturday, I almost bailed from my first ascent of Killer Hill of the season. I had a multitude of excuses; it was cold, it might rain, I wasn’t feeling the right mojo for a ride. Basically, I feared Killer Hill, wanted nothing to do with it.

But Princess of Pavement convinced me otherwise. Do it, she said. Just suck it up and do it.

Perhaps she knew this might be the last time I get to climb Killer HIll. You see, her parents have sold the family homestead; they’re downsizing into condo life.

Soon there will be no reason to ride Killer Hill. No beautiful wedding to call me to its summit. No roast pig on a spit to fill my belly. No cold beer offered on a hot day. No great family gathering.

It did rain on the way to Killer Hill on Saturday. It also hailed. It was cold at first, then warmed as the sun tried to break through the towering slate clouds.

Killer Hill didn’t end up killing me after all. I’d leave it at that, but I’m sure we’ll meet again.

The mystery of the random urban bike

1 04 2015

They’re kind of an urban mystery; bikes that randomly appear in a neighbourhood, locked to a tree or post for days or weeks at a time, left there by someone with no regard for the bike’s survival in rain, or snow. A thief perhaps?

But what kind of thief would steal a bike then go to the trouble of locking it up somewhere? To prevent someone else from stealing it? Or maybe bike thieves are like squirrels; they steal bikes then lock them all about town to give them transport in the coming months of nicer weather, much like a squirrel buries caches of nuts to prepare for winter.

This week an urban mystery bike turned up in our ‘hood. It’s locked with a solid U-lock to a bus stop sign, creating all kinds of inconvenience for people embarking or disembarking from the bus. Nobody knows who left it there. All the buildings around here have bike lockers or storage places for cyclists to secure their rides (or like me, just keep it in the condo proper). And there’s other poles available that don’t cause inconvenience, or offer some shelter to the bike from the elements.

It’s a decent city commuter bike, apparently in good repair. It’s got fenders, a rear rack, even a little mirror. The handlebars are taped. The tires are fully inflated.

Our random urban mystery bike has caught the attention, and ire, of the city.

Our random urban mystery bike has caught the attention, and ire, of the city.

But it won’t last that way for long.

Already it’s starting to fall askew.

If it’s like other urban mystery bikes, parts will soon begin disappearing; first a front wheel, then the rear wheel, then the seat and seatpost. Eventually it will just be a rusting frame and derailleur, still getting in the way of people trying to board or leave the bus.

Or maybe not.

A printed sign has been affixed to the bike’s rack. It’s from the city. It warns the owner of the bike that it is locked to city property and if it’s not removed within a few days, the city will be glad to remove it for the owner. Who’s likely completely unaware of its presence in our ‘hood, and is hopefully already shopping for a replacement.

Adventures in TV viewing

17 03 2015

Hello, it must be Tuesday. Or maybe it’s Wednesday?

If you’re setting your clock by the cycling coverage on Sportsnet, it’s easy to get confused.

The European cycling season has started in earnest. For the past few years we’ve actually been able to watch many of the races on TV.

But save for the three Grand Tours, most of the coverage of one-day classics and the week-long stage races is delayed. Sometimes by a few hours. Sometimes by a day or more. Sometimes a race or a stage gets overlooked completely. Sometimes a scheduled race turns out to be cricket highlights or a tennis match from some obscure tournament in Cincinnati.

Sportsnet's on-air guide says it's showing Tirreno-Adriatico, but instead I'm watching cricket highlights.

Sportsnet’s on-air guide says it’s showing Tirreno-Adriatico, but instead I’m watching cricket highlights.

It’s a bit of a gong show. And thoroughly frustrating.

This past week has been particularly challenging with both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico juggling airtime. But finding those races was an adventure.

And the delay meant staying off all cycling websites and avoiding my BigRing1 Twitter feed.

Since Sportsnet acquired the Canadian broadcast rights to all three Grand Tours, it has been trying to position itself as the country’s cycling broadcaster and building the sport’s audience by showing more of the season’s myriad of races.

That’s a good thing.

For too long cycling on North American television consisted of the Tour de France and not much else. As far as casual viewers were concerned, that’s the only race big time pro cyclists did all year.

But even though Sportsnet has no fewer than five channels in its broadcasting basket, it treats cycling as little more than filler programming. That means races are at the bottom of the priority list when there’s a baseball game, a hockey game, a tennis match, or even cricket or darts fighting for airtime.

So we see the races only when Sportsnet manages to find a gap. That means Sunday’s climactic stage of Paris-Nice might be aired Monday. Next Sunday’s Milan-San Remo will be broadcast in the wee hours of Monday morning.

And when it does show the races, the delayed coverage is often subject to random edits so the program can fit into an allotted two-hour time slot.

This is particularly frustrating because European time zones mean most of the races would be live in North America in the early morning hours, when there is NO OTHER LIVE PROGRAMMING. And aren’t live events the reason for sports networks existence?

Perhaps Sportsnet could find a better home for cycling on its World channel, which is mostly populated by Euro football matches and the occasional rugby match. It’s a premium channel but I’m betting it would get more subscribers if live, or very close-to-live, World Tour races were in the mix. I know I’d pony up.

Or perhaps it’s time for a broadcasting entrepreneur to step up with a proposal to create a North American version of Eurosport. I know fans of World Rally and British Touring car racing share similar frustrations trying to follow their sports on North American television. I can’t even imagine the frustrations of a handball or field hockey fan.

In a country filled with multi-cultural communities, it sounds like a slam-dunk.

Tainted love. Or how my Garmin let me down.

8 03 2015

I went for a ride on Sunday.

I swear.

In fact, I even blew off road hockey to take the Lapierre out.

The weather was that nice.

But there is no evidence of my ride.

My Garmin seems to have failed me.

The data registered. I watched it, 65.65 kms. Even mentioned the final distance to one of my FRF companions.

But when I plugged the Garmin into my computer, all I got was the screen every cyclist, runner, rower, hiker addicted to its affirmation of effort dreads:


The horror. The horror. If the Garmin didn't record a ride, did the ride actually happen?

The horror. The horror. If the Garmin didn’t record a ride, did the ride actually happen?

First time this has happened in the five years I’ve owned my Garmin.

I opened the .fit folder and there’s no data for today’s ride.

It’s as if it didn’t even happen.

Which is a shame. As I know there had to be some badges on there, maybe even a trophy or two.

It was good to be spinning this early in the season with some of the renowned FRF speedsters. The route was flat, so that made for a good pace. Important to tame the early chill.

Daylight savings time means a Sunday ride starts in the morning chill.

Daylight savings time means a Sunday ride starts in the morning chill.

But after the snack stop, the air temperature was definitely on an upward trend. Or we were.

Of course, when I glance down and still see the sustained pace a couple or few kms less that what I might be pedalling in July or August, I have to keep reminding myself it’s still early in March. Sometimes we still have snow on the roads this time of year.

February flora

1 03 2015


This is the blog post in which I get to boast about wonderful spring riding conditions… in February.

So, if  you’re in a part of the world where winter still has you gripped in its icy claws, and you’re going mad pedalling the stationary trainer, you may want to point your browser elsewhere…

For the second winter in a row we’ve… well, we just haven’t had much of winter. Sure we endured some cold snaps and stretches of rain that seemed never-ending. But the only snow happened right at the beginning, quickly melted and never returned.

That’s made for dry, mostly clean roads.

And, the best part, a lot of the nice days have actually coincided with riding opportunities!

The past two weeks have been exceptional. The crocuses are already starting to wilt, the cherry blossoms and daffodils are bursting. That’s the earliest I can remember that happening.

The cherry blossoms are already bursting!

The cherry blossoms are already bursting!

Daffodils are always a welcome sight in the spring. Even more so in February!

Daffodils are always a welcome sight in the spring. Even more so in February!

On the last day of February, it was warm enough to keep the tights in the closet and wear knickers.

A true February rarity: knickers!

A true February rarity: knickers!

The rides still aren’t long or particularly fast; the legs start to feel it at 60 km. But they’re more frequent than winters past, 400+ km in the first two months of the year.

Hopefully that portents well for the coming season. Which seems to be coming faster than ever!


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