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.





Follow the gravelly road: Fondon’t report part II

30 08 2016

For three years, the FR Fuggitivi has pulled the curtain down on its summer riding season with a climactic, epic ride. We call it the Fondon’t.

It has all the perks of a Fondo – camaraderie, timed intervals, snacks, beer, big mileage – but none of the expense.

The first Fondon’t was the Tour de Huit Ponts.

Last year we climbed Mt. Baker, the biggest rideable mountain in the Pacific Northwest.

This year our ride patron, and club president, @FlyingOakes, took us on some familiar roads but with fresh and fun new twists, not the least of which was a gravel climb that forced more than a few riders to unclip and portage the loose stones and rocks.

Since last year’s smokey ride up Baker, the Fuggitivi has evolved into a proper, official group. We’re registered, we have directors, sponsors and pro kit. We have numbers; 17 riders took the start although one quickly abandoned because of a recurred leg injury.

The Fuggitivi gather for their annual Fondon't, an epic group ride that heralds the beginning of the end of the summer cycling season.

The Fuggitivi gather for their annual Fondon’t, an epic group ride that heralds the beginning of the end of the summer cycling season.

Of course, big numbers bring bigger aspirations; we can no longer just slap the Fondon’t label on a long year-end ride and call it an epic day. Sunday, @FlyingOakes raised the epic bar to a new level.

The day started with a national anthem singer and only got better. (Until it got worse).

The Fondon't has all the trappings of a Fondo, including an anthem singer, but none of the expense.

The Fondon’t has all the trappings of a Fondo, including an anthem singer, but none of the expense.

The 140 km route traversed seven gravel sectors, including the 800 metre 11 per cent gravel climb.

It included three fast and flowing descents, one of which had never been ridden by most of the FRF, two sprint and four tough King of the Mountain competitions marked by signs, a lunch stop with reservations, a close encounter with a family of deer and even a champagne surprise.

It also included one total tire blowout, a couple of flats, and a shower of rain.

Most cyclists know what to expect on a long ride. It’s the unexpected that can turn a familiar route into an epic day out.

Grey skies above, grey gravel below. Sunday's route traversed seven gravel sectors.

Grey skies above, grey gravel below. Sunday’s route traversed seven gravel sectors.

 

This isn't the south of France. It's Pitt Meadows.

This isn’t the south of France. It’s Pitt Meadows.

 

One of the factors that helps create an epic ride is the mechanical challenges along the way.

One of the factors that helps create an epic ride is the mechanical challenges along the way.

 

Fuelling up for the second half of Sunday's Fondon't.

Fuelling up for the second half of Sunday’s Fondon’t.

 

For some, the final gravel sector, an 800 metre climb at 11 per cent, was a hill too far, and too loose.

For some, the final gravel sector, an 800 metre climb at 11 per cent, was a hill too far, and too loose.

 

Summiting was rewarded with points for King (or Queen) of the Mountain.

Summiting was rewarded with points for King (or Queen) of the Mountain.

 

The peloton speeds toward a tunnel of trees.

The peloton speeds toward a tunnel of trees.

 

A champagne reward awaited at the summit of the day's last climb.

A champagne reward awaited at the summit of the day’s last climb.

 

Even for the rider who had to walk the last 50 metres.

Even for the rider who had to walk the last 50 metres.





Lament for Lapierre: Fondon’t report part 1

28 08 2016

Abandonné. Abbandonato. Abandonado. Abandoned.

No matter which language you say it in, the result for any cyclist is the same: misery, heartbreak and humility.

Today, it was my fate; 118 kms into the third iteration of the FR Fuggitivi’s annual Fondon’t, I got off the Lapierre and called for a ride.

The Fuggitivi looking pro, and optimistic, at the start of Sunday's third annual Fondon't.

The Fuggitivi looking pro, and optimistic, at the start of Sunday’s third annual Fondon’t.

It’s not that my legs weren’t willing. But my spirit was broken. So was a rear spoke. And that snapped spoke may have dealt a catastrophic blow to my beloved French mistress.

The rear wheel’s issues date back a couple of weeks when I noticed a curious pinging noise the day before the Cypress Challenge. A spoke was loose and the wheel a little out of true.

A few turns with a spoke wrench got me on my way, and a visit to the mobile repair guys at VeloFix prior to the Challenge seemed to correct the problem.

Today, early into our official season-ending ride, the ping returned. Again, a few turns with a spoke wrench seemed to straighten things out. But I was nervous.

I’m not a heavyweight, so I’ve never had issues with spokes before; but two wobbles in two weeks seemed a little odd, a portent of something serious?

I listened carefully for further problems. As I rode, I checked the back wheel incessantly. I dialled back my descents.

But it was on a descent, at about 72 kph, the problematic spoke finally snapped. I stopped as quickly as I could fearing a total collapse of my rear wheel. The twisted spoke clung at odd angles to the nipple, its wild flailing having inflicted a major divot into the top of a stay.

The damage to the Lapierre's carbon stay from a flailing broken spoke that snapped on a 72 kph descent.

The damage to the Lapierre’s carbon stay from a flailing broken spoke that snapped on a 72 kph descent.

Carbon fibre doesn’t take kindly to cracks and heavy blows. Any deviation in the layers of fibre and resin weakens the whole structure. Repairing broken carbon fibre is complicated and costly. There is a local shop that’s done some renowned work, and Lapierre will be paying it a visit for a thorough assessment.

With the offending spoke removed, I limped slowly, and somewhat wobblingly to a bike shop along our return route. As if the cycling gods were having a lark, it started to rain.

The shop fixed the wheel, the wrench said the damage to the stay looked worse than it likely was. But deep down I fear the worst. I called for a pick-up, my heart heavy.

Lapierre is bowed. Let’s hope she’s not broken.





Rising to the Challenge

15 08 2016

Five years ago, Fondos were everywhere.

The big, organized group rides offered growing legions of cyclists the chance to attain personal goals, compete against others, visit new places, commune with each other. Signing up for a Fondo became a kind of affirmation of your dedication to the sport.

I did two myself; the inaugural Whistler Gran Fondo and the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa, California. I loved both experiences. I enjoyed the training, the camaraderie at the start line, the legions of helpful and cheery volunteers, the snacks along the way, the reward of the finish celebration, the settings. It felt good to be king of the road for a day.

Warming up for Sunday's Cypress Challenge with the Just Giver crew from Coquitlam on Saturday.

Warming up for Sunday’s Cypress Challenge with the Just Giver crew from Coquitlam on Saturday.

But Fondos are expensive. All that organization, security, traffic control costs money. Sign on for a destination ride and you’ve also got to factor in travel, food and accommodation expenses. Even a relatively local Fondo like Whistler can set you back $1,000 for the weekend when you add up the entry fee, an overnight stay at a decent hotel in the village, dinner, breakfast the next day, maybe a celebratory beer or two, gas to get home.

On August 28, the Fraser River Fuggitivi will be holding its third annual Fondon’t.

It’s our club’s own modest attempt to capture some of the qualities of the Fondo experience without the hit to the wallet.

We’re promised an epic route by this year’s organizer: the first Fondon’t traversed the eight major bridges in the Lower Mainland; last year we climbed Mt. Baker; this year’s plan is still a mystery.

There will be snack stops and some sort of post-ride celebration.

Most importantly, there will be camaraderie.

But there’s a third option.

Modest charity rides to support a cause or organization may not offer all the bells and whistles of a full-blown Fondo like police escorts and a beer ticket at the end. But they do give cyclists a chance to gather for a ride en masse, share experiences on the road, and support a worthy cause. All for a fraction of the entry fee to a Fondo.

Sunday I did my third such ride this season, including the Canada Day Populaire.

The Cypress Challenge for Pancreatic Cancer was my chance at redemption for the beat down the 11 km ascent of Cypress Mountain administered to my wearied legs a month ago when it was the third climb of the Triple Crown For Heart to support the cardiac ward at Children’s Hospital.

Both rides were organized entirely by volunteers; most of the modest entry fees went directly to the rides’ causes. Both rides enjoyed support from sponsors that supplied snacks like power bars, energy drinks, at the start, along the way and at the finish. Both rides attracted plenty of like-minded cyclists keen for a big day out.

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The support of sponsors like VeloFix give charity rides like Sunday’s Cypress Challenge some of the trappings of more expensive Fondos. They also give me a chance to get a wobble in my rear wheel fixed for free!

While the Triple Crown was held on a dreary, cool day, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the Challenge, sunny and warm all the way to the summit.

Five of the FRF rode all the way from New Westminster; a sixth joined us at the mountain. All but one achieved new Personal Bests going up the mountain; I bettered my time from a month ago by 19 minutes, last year’s effort by seven minutes.

Five of the FRF roll to Sunday's Cypress Challenge.

Five of the FRF roll to Sunday’s Cypress Challenge.

The FRF is ready to rise to the Challenge of climbing Cypress Mountain on a warm, sunny day.

The FRF is ready to rise to the Challenge of climbing Cypress Mountain on a warm, sunny day.

At the top, in warm sunshine, we snacked on fresh bananas and peppers, breakfast burritos, cinnamon buns and even cricket protein bars. I wasn’t in a buggy mood, but one of our members assured us it didn’t taste anything like cricket (not that anyone would really know).

Trying to decided who's going to brave the cricket protein bars.

Trying to decided who’s going to brave the cricket protein bars.

With no washed-up ex-Grand Tour winner to keep us around for photo ops and idle chitchat, we quickly descended – quick being the operative word – then rendezvoused with the rest of the FRF contingent that timed their Sunday route to intersect our return so we could ride home together.

A dozen FRFers strung along in a pace line in the bike lane may not look quite as impressive as a few thousand roadies crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge. But it is a heck of a lot cheaper.





By dawn’s early light

12 08 2016

The early bird gets the… waffles

My late push to exceed 1,000 km for the month of July came at a price. I didn’t get back on the bike until the ninth day of August. It was the first time since Christmas I’d gone an entire week or more without at least one ride.

So my legs were fresh for Tuesday’s FRF climbing ride up Burnaby Mountain that even included a little pump track action in the dirt.

In fact, my legs were so well-rested, I signed on for a dawn ride the next morning.

I’m an early-riser; I maintained my 5:30 a.m. wake-up call even when I wasn’t working.

But I like to ease into my day, sort through the garbage emails that hit my In box as I slept, catch up on the overnight news on the internet, maybe find a streaming feed from a European bike race. By the time the rest of the loft awakens an hour or so later, I’m showered, informed and relaxed.

The prospect of being astride the Lapierre by 6 a.m. so we could pedal a solid 65-70 km AND stop for breakfast before everyone’s workday officially began was a little daunting.

It's not yet 6 a.m. and we're already rolling for waffles.

It’s not yet 6 a.m. and we’re already rolling for waffles.

It’s incredible how busy the world already is that early. The bus stop outside our condo building already had a queue. Trucks were rumbling along in the dawn gloom. Flaggers were putting out barriers for some road maintenance project. The sidewalks were bustling with dog walkers, none of them looking particularly pleased about their pooch’s preferred bowel habits.

The air hadn’t yet had a chance to be warmed by the sun, which was ducking in and out of a morning cloud cover, so the arm warmers stayed rolled up.

Morning over the Burrard Inlet.

Morning over the Burrard Inlet.

Five intrepid FRFers reported for this mid-week dawn patrol. The pace was determined, singular in its determination to reach our destination, Café Orso in Deep Cover, with plenty of time to enjoy their sweet Liege waffles, sprinkled with icing sugar, swimming with fresh strawberries.

FRF early risers.

FRF early risers.

 

The ride IS worth the reward!

The ride IS worth the reward!

The calories we consumed probably exceeded those we expended to get there and back. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet and we’d have to quicken our return pace if everyone was to get to work on time; we’d earned our 15 minutes of breakfast debauchery!