Taunting St. Brendan, patron saint of sailors not cyclists

22 05 2016

There’s an old sailors’ superstition against allowing a woman onto a working ship, that they bring bad luck.

For the first part of Sunday’s FRF ride it seemed the sailors’ worry had beached upon our peloton.

The ride was our first with a female member. Anna is training for the annual Seattle to Portland, a hefty bike trek that covers more than 200 miles over two days. Her usual riding companions aren’t as committed; so she thought she’d get in some healthy miles with us.

The wrath of St. Brendan, the patron saint of sailors, was piqued almost immediately.

One of our group succumbed to the Expansion Joint That Eats InnerTubes on the down bound side of the Port Mann Bridge. The joint itself isn’t a problem; but the edge on the landing side is very sharp and if you don’t bunnyhop the gap properly or if you hit it too fast, a blowout is inevitable. Charlie blew his bunnyhop. Sorry Charlie.

Uh oh, the Port Mann expansion joints claim another.

Uh oh, the Port Mann expansion joints claim another.

As we waited out his tire change, it started to rain. Not hard. But enough to begin slicking the road surface that has been dust-dry for weeks.

The rain begins to fall.

The rain begins to fall.

Apparently Stickers didn’t take that into account as he rounded a traffic circle and down he went. Road rash was minimal, but he suffered an impressive gash and contusion on his arm that required some makeshift bandaging.

Flying Oakes is horrified by the gash on Stickers' arm following a fall in a slicked roundabout early in Sunday's ride.

Flying Oakes is horrified by the gash on Stickers’ arm following a fall in a slicked roundabout early in Sunday’s ride.

After the coffee break, another flat. A water bottle rattled out of its cage, onto the roadway and almost brought down some of the group.

It was shaping up to be one of those rides where everything that could go wrong, would. Somewhere, St. Brendan was snickering.

Regrouping at the edge of America.

Regrouping at the edge of America.

But then, our luck changed. The sun peeked from behind the roiling grey clouds. The pace quickened. The road ran straight and flat.

In fact, the rest of the 115 km route was completely uneventful; St. Brendan’s ire didn’t have much stamina.

Right sentiment, wrong sport. How did this pub know I was coming?

Right sentiment, wrong sport. How did this pub know I was coming?

Which bodes well for future female participation in the FRF.

More and more women seem to be gravitating to cycling. They’re creating groups of their own; we’ve encountered some that easily eclipse our modest peloton, in number of riders and speed.

But getting a female component into the FRF has proved elusive. Until today.

After the ride, Anna said she was initially intimidated by the idea of riding with a group of men; the pace might be too fast, the pack mentality too insular. But her need for training miles won her over.

Toasting a great ride, the FRF's first female rider, and our first official beer ride!

Toasting a great ride, the FRF’s first female rider, and our first official beer ride!

Hopefully the FRF’s inclusive ethos and #moremilesmorebeer hashtag will bring her back. Maybe bring some friends.

After all, we’re cyclists, not sailors.





Flashback Friday at the Giro becomes Frustration Friday

20 05 2016

Seven years ago, Princess of Pavement and I were in Florence, Italia. It was the first leg of our Mediterranean dream holiday that would also land us in the Cinqueterre, Nice and Barcelona.

It was also the finish of Stage 13 of the Centennial Giro d’Italia.

That wasn’t a coincidence.

It was a very warm week in Tuscany that spring. We set out early so we could secure a shady spot along the finishing stretch in a giant park just down river from the Ponte Vecchio. We packed a picnic lunch we’d assembled from the outdoor market near our apartment.

As we walked through historic Florence to the park, I remember being a little disappointed there wasn’t more buzz about the Giro being in town. Then again, Florence is a big city teeming with tourists who have no shortage of other distractions and passions to keep them busy.

But we were at the tail end of our week’s stay, and that Friday had been scheduled as our “Giro day.”

When we arrived, the set-up crews were still securing the inflatables. The fan expo wasn’t yet open. But the giant video screen just across the road was showing the race live. So we settled amongst the salamanders skittering out from the bushes and absorbed the growing excitement of a day at Italy’s Grand Tour.

As the afternoon passed, the sprinters’ teams started to get serious, jockeying to position their man for the long, straight shot to the banner. The crowds along the barrier grew; we couldn’t lounge on the curb anymore as we had to claim our place on the barrier.

Soon we were all elbow to elbow. Latecomers perched on the curb behind us where we’d been lounging much of the afternoon.

Cars and motos scooted down the chute, throwing up dust.

Mario Cipollini and his entourage strolled by looking every bit as regal as his nickname, Il Re Leone (The Lion King).

The Jersey girls strutted past. Then teenagers on Segways hawking special promotional copies of La Gazetta, the sports newspaper that is the Giro’s main sponsor and originator.

As the race on the big screen intensifies, the convoy of official and advertising vehicles roll past. It’s not as large, colourful or as generous with tossed trinkets as the similar parade at the Tour de France; but it percolates the anticipation that the race is near.

Then come the police cars and motorcycles, some scattered media vehicles. A helicopter’s rotors whack the sky above. We start leaning out over the top of the barrier, craning to see the pixellated images on the giant monitor across the street become a real-life peloton, single-mindedly charging to the line.

We are at 300-metres from the finish banner; through the blur we can just see Mark Cavendish launch his winning thrust. Back then he was a young, brash sprinter with a fearsome, untamed kick as well as a knack for pissing off the peloton’s patrons and winning Princess of Pavement’s adoration. He didn’t let her down.

Of course, if you’re a Giro fan in Canada in 2016, all of this visceral anticipation and excitement is now lost.

After a modest run of live broadcasts on Sportsnet, as the cable sports channel tried to position itself as the go-to broadcaster for cycling (not like there’s a whole lot of rivals), they let the rights drop. Maybe they spent too much of their money on hockey broadcasts nobody is watching.

Once again Canadian cycling fans are forced to hunt and peck for pirate feeds on the Internet, enduring inopportune drops, annoying pop-up ads and finicky streaming speeds instead of settling in on the couch to enjoy the race in High Def glory on the big TV.

Watching sometimes sketchy pirate feeds of the Giro on the Internet can be frustrating. But the Eurosport presentation and commentary is a joy.

Watching sometimes sketchy pirate feeds of the Giro on the Internet can be frustrating. But the Eurosport presentation and commentary is a joy.

It’s like being thrown back into the Dark Ages.

Australians get to watch the Giro live on TV, even if it is in the middle of the night. Japanese and Chinese fans can also watch live, as well as those in Colombia, the Middle East, North and South Africa. Heck, even cruise ship passengers in the middle of nowhere are able to watch the Giro in their staterooms on something called SNTV. In fact, according to the Giro’s website, the race is being shown on TV in 184 countries on 29 different networks, 24 of them live. Except not in English Canada.

Sure, there’s a paid online option; but being asked to fork over $20 US (oh the irony) to be able to watch a race on a computer monitor I used to watch on my 50-inch plasma as part of my Cable TV subscription feels wrong.

The pirate feeds are out there; some of them are quite good, put up by true fans not trying to infect my computer with perpetually-opening pop-ups. And being exposed to the presentation and commentary on networks such as Eurosport and SBS is a revelation; North American sports broadcasters are stuck in a stick-and-ball rut.

Instead of relaxing on the couch to watch his beloved Giro on the big screen, Little Ring has to fight for play space on my cluttered desk.

Instead of relaxing on the couch to watch his beloved Giro on the big screen, Little Ring has to fight for play space on my cluttered desk.

Even the small efforts to show international programming can’t seem to progress beyond soccer and rugby. Meanwhile, on Eurosport I’m watching promos for the European Diving Championships, MotoGP, Handball, Field Hockey, even Fencing.

Canada prides itself on being a multi-cultural, multi-national country. Surely there is an appetite to view some of those ancestral sporting connections, support a broadcaster and advertisers who could help make that happen?

Sadly, the suits at Roger’s seem to think British Premier League is exotic enough for their Anglo-Saxon chequebooks. It’s time for someone to pitch a Canadian branch of Eurosport.





Adding and subtracting in the FRF peloton

14 05 2016

The peloton giveth. And the peloton taketh away.

The most well-attended Fraser River Fuggitivi ride thus far rolled out from River Market powered by 13 pairs of legs. Over the course of the planned 85 km route, we were joined by four more, bringing our peloton to 17. But it’s the 18th rider who wasn’t there that brought us all together for a special Saturday outing.

The FRF prepares to roll out for a special Saturday ride to honour the passing of the peloton's missing man, John Lee, on the anniversary of his death.

The FRF prepares to roll out for a special Saturday ride to honour the passing of the peloton’s missing man, John Lee, on the anniversary of his death.

It’s the one-year anniversary of the passing of John Lee, our peloton’s missing man.

The memory of the FRF's missing man is carried with us on every ride.

The memory of the FRF’s missing man is carried with us on every ride.

John was a devoted family man who made it one of his life’s missions to instil his love for cycling into his daughter.

He brought her along to local races to share with her the excitement of the pack rounding a corner at speed, pedals and spokes whirring, the breeze generated by its passing blowing hair and hats askew.
During our group rides John told us of his cycling adventures with his daughter. Often, if our planned route was a long one, he’d veer off and head for home for an afternoon ride with her.

When word spread through our peloton last year of his sudden passing, we were all in disbelief; John seemed fit, a strong rider whose calves tirelessly pumped like pistons up hills, through the countryside, along the urban bike routes.

Sometimes the clock of life operates on its own schedule.

John made our group stronger in its formative seasons; he was ready to ride in all weather. He wasn’t caught up in cycling’s fickle fashion foibles; he loved his classic steel bicycle and eschewed modern clipless pedals for old-timey toe clips and leather straps wrapped snugly around his vintage lace-up shoes.

But he’d be proud of the group’s growing dynamic and the new kit that turned heads as we rode into the turf of other established groups like Glottman-Simpson on their traditional riding day. It was as if the FRF was announcing its official arrival on the local road riding scene.

The new FRF kit turned heads.

The new FRF kit turned heads.

It’s fitting then, that our John Lee Memorial Ride was also a bit of a coming out celebration for the FRF.

After picking up a few stragglers, the FRF peloton was 17 strong, it's largest pack thus far.

After picking up a few stragglers, the FRF peloton was 17 strong, it’s largest pack thus far.

 

An impressive assembly of bikes as the FRF represents at Dageraad Brewery.

An impressive assembly of bikes as the FRF represents at Dageraad Brewery.

 

Hoisting a toast to John Lee at Dageraad Brewery, which was marking an anniversary of its own with an outdoor party.

Hoisting a toast to John Lee at Dageraad Brewery, which was marking an anniversary of its own with an outdoor party.

 

The FRF peloton will soon lose its cap man, as Richard pulls up stakes to head east and fly the new team kit in and around Ottawa.

The FRF peloton will soon lose its cap man, as Richard pulls up stakes to head east and fly the new team kit in and around Ottawa.





Going pro (or at least looking the part)

11 05 2016

It was an inauspicious start to my first official ride in the new FRF kit. The pothole jumped up at me; and while I was able to lessen the jolt at the last moment with a bit of a bunny hop, a kilometre later I could feel the front tire begin to soften. Pinch flat. Bane of my existence.

First flat while wearing the new FRF kit.

First flat while wearing the new FRF kit.

But hey, at least this time I looked good changing it at the side of the road.

The FRF has gone pro. Or, at least we look pro.

The kit project grew from the nub of an idea to at least convey the image of looking pro. After all, other clubs in the area have their own kit, some of them kaleidoscopic assaults on the eyeballs.

From there, discussion grew to the possibility of getting sponsors to foot the bill, or at least subsidize the cost. We’re not proud, we’ll pimp ourselves out as rolling billboards if it means saving a few bucks.

A list of potential local cycling-friendly or FRF-favoured businesses was drawn up: a stylish new Mexican restaurant; the local craft brewery where many of our Sunday rides end; the only local bike shop, also one of the oldest in the province; a physiotherapy clinic for those suffering aches and pains after another Curtis cyclocross special; our resident cap maker.

Our patron, Guy WR, drew up formal proposal sheets, with various financial options available to sponsors. Meetings were scheduled.

Amazingly, everyone we approached was enthusiastic.

As New Westminster’s only organized riding group, it’s a unique opportunity to promote the city and some of its businesses as we roll around Metro Vancouver and beyond.

Heading to the North Shore, where ominous clouds embrace the mountains.

Heading to the North Shore, where ominous clouds embrace the mountains.

The sponsorship commitments allowed us to move forward on design. A competition was struck, votes were cast. The end result incorporates some of the ideas from several designs onto a central concept by Richard, of Red Dots Cycling. We like to think it’s classy, not too loud, and shows off some of the spirit that drives the FRF.

An extreme cyclocross maneuver necessitated when a bike route spit us onto the shoulder of a busy highway.

An extreme cyclocross maneuver necessitated when a bike route spit us onto the shoulder of a busy highway.

The kit is manufactured through the custom program at Louis Garneau, who worked carefully to refine our rough design sketches and delivered the end product affordably and fairly quickly. They’re also Canadian, and make the custom kits in Quebec.

Wednesday's kit ride was the "Triple Collar," climbing 1,500 metres up the early slopes of all three of Vancouver's big mountains.

Wednesday’s kit ride was the “Triple Collar,” climbing 1,500 metres up the early slopes of all three of Vancouver’s big mountains.

When the big box arrived on Monday, it was like Christmas for the FRF. Twitter couldn’t move fast enough as members made arrangements for pickup.

Saturday will be the kit’s debut on a large group ride, a special memorial roll for our friend John Lee, who unexpectedly passed away in his sleep exactly a year ago. It will be a fitting tribute to his missing spot in our peloton.

A just reward for a big day out. Of course the refreshing radler is by our sponsor!

A just reward for a big day out. Of course the refreshing radler is by our sponsor!





Down and up

7 05 2016

It’s been a down and up week.

I don’t mean the eternal quest for employment.

Sunday’s FRF group ride included a descent of Killer Hill.

It’s a pitch of pavement with which I’m well acquainted as it’s en route to the Princess of Pavement’s familial farm. Until her parents sold it last year.

Usually I’ve ridden up Killer Hill, on my way to some sort of family function, like a BBQ, a birthday celebration, my wedding. The curvaceous climb gets as steep as 20 per cent along its 800 metres; not long and arduous but short and steep.

Sunday, Killer Hill was the turnaround of our 103 km group ride. And instead of grinding our way up it, we bombed down.

I love the down. I’ll endure all sorts of pain going up to attain the reward of a descent on the other side.

Descending Killer Hill is the Jackpot of Down.

The pavement is pretty good, traffic is light and the curves are gentle, with a long, straight run out at the bottom. The biggest challenge is the dark shade of the trees on a bright sunny day that could hide a wayward pothole or rock.

Sunday’s descent came up boxcars. At one point, a quick glance on my Garmin on Lapierre’s stem told me I was doing 88.5 kmh. I was feeling fast and there was more speed to come.

Later, at home, the ride’s data revealed I’d topped 104 kmh just before I squeezed the brakes lightly to take Killer Hill’s last curve into the run out!

Friday came the yang to that downhill ying, as I joined a half-dozen FRFers for our first group ascent of Mt. Seymour.

160507seymour1

A handful of FRFers gather their senses, and strength, before tackling the 12 km slog up Mt. Seymour.

Normally such a ride doesn’t officially happen until July, our annual Bastille Day climb to celebrate the French holiday and what is usually an epic mountain day at Le Tour.

But with our ranks now populated by a cadre of climbers, and my legs already in July form from all the kilometres they’ve achieved, the two-month advance was welcome. Even after a 92 km ride the day before.

Seymour’s climb of 1040 metres is stretched along 12.5 kilometres. It’s steepest pitches, about 10 per cent happen early. Get through those and the ride becomes a steady, rhythmic slog to the alpine.

Friday’s weather was perfect; warm like July but still early enough in Spring that the bugs have not yet emerged to torment you through the last two kilometres. And weekday traffic up the mountain was minimal.

As our little group splintered, I chugged along with our resident cap-man, Richard. We chatted for a bit, then retreated into our own worlds of heavy breathing and steady rotations of the pedals.

160507seymour2

The FRF group splinters on the early, steep pitches.

At one point, FRF patron, Guy, rolled back to join us.

Richard pulled off at the seven kilometre marker; he was cooked, needed a moment to regroup, decide if he could continue.

Guy and I carried on, steady as she goes. But a few kilometres later, his legs needed to stretch, so he shot up the road in his usual mountain goat way. I was alone, but feeling good. My legs churned to their reward: the swift, swooping descent.

160507seymour3

The downside of an early-season ascent of Mt. Seymour is still pasty legs.

As for Richard; he gutted his way to the top. Chapeaux monsieur.





Keeping it weird in Portland

4 05 2016

There’s something about Portland.

Yeah, it’s weird. But in a comfortable, endearing way.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog travel Portland

These weird billboards pop up around the city.

Portland’s weirdness is fun, not threatening.

My first visit to Stumptown was a respite from a camping road trip down the Oregon coast with a buddy. We’d secured tickets to They Might be Giants at the Crystal Ballroom, so a night in the city, bunked in a motel room was a bit of a break from sleeping in a damp tent.

The city’s network of geographical streets and avenues is confusing; the first place we alighted after exiting the interstate was a leafy part of town called Nob Hill.

We booked into a cheap motor hotel called the Carriage Inn that seemed stuck in the 1960s. The linoleum was worn, the bedding threadbare; but it was  reasonably clean and all the rooms had fully-equipped kitchens.

We explored the neighbourhood, populated with old, well-kept Victorian homes and apartment blocks. People sat on their porches, chatted in manicured courtyards. Nearby 21st Avenue was alive with people enjoying dinner or a beer on tables in front the numerous restaurants, bistros and pubs. Two blocks away, on 23rd Avenue, couples and families strolled past shops and boutiques.

In the opposite direction, Powell’s Books and Portland’s downtown were only a 10-minute walk away.

But mention Nob Hill to an outsider, and they usually just shrugged; they never heard of it.

Nob Hill became my go-to district for subsequent visits to Potland, for the GI Joe’s Indy, for journalism conferences.

Then, the Carriage Inn closed.

When it reopened it had been funkified into an eclectic boutique hotel with chartreuse walls, lime green and orange furniture, tubs of colourful saltwater taffy in the lobby. It was renamed the Inn at Northrup Station, after the new tram line right out front.

It was time to share my love for Portland with Princess of Pavement.

She immediately took to the city’s friendly folk and their slightly off-kilter vibe.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog travel Portland

Portland’s Saturday market in Old Town is an eclectic mix of good and bad crafting.

We went there for part of our honeymoon. We went for her first marathon. We went just because we felt a need for a little dose of Portland.

Last week we went to celebrate the conclusion of another gruelling semester in the Princess’ transformation from journalist to science geek.

As always we had no set plan.

I was hoping to catch an exhibit by American photographer William Eggleston at the Portland Art Museum. The Princess wanted to visit her favourite boutiques on 23rd. We both wanted to explore some new neighbourhoods. And, of course, renew our allegiance to Salt and Straw ice cream.

The Eggleston exhibit was brilliant, the Art Museum quite fine with a bold collection of contemporary works.

We used Portland’s transit network of trams, streetcars and buses to get to the Hawthorne/Belmont area and up to Williams/Mississippi on the city’s north side where we popped into Hopworks’ Bike Bar. Sadly , other than some frames hanging from the ceiling and taps adorned with repurposed hubs and stems,the cycling vibe was somewhat lacking in this bike-themed bar. The Flandrian it is not.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer communicator writer blogger cycling

Hopworks’ Bike Bar in Portland’s north end. Other than frames hanging over the bar, and some other scattered bike paraphernalia, the cycling vibe is somewhat lacking though.

Mario Bartel blog cycling storyteller photographer communicator travel

Bike art on a wall in Portland’s Williams/Mississippi neighbourhood.

But our visit did connect us with one of the guys behind another recent addition to Portland’s craft beer taps, Labrewatory. One of its owners was visiting Bike Bar and recognized my Steel & Oak hoodie as he’d done some work to help them set up their brewing system. He invited us to stop by.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog travel Portland

Where beer meets science, great things happen at Labrewatory.

Labrewatory doesn’t just help other brewers get off the ground, they also serve up some pretty fantastic beers in their stylish tasting room; their Golly G Porter and Abuelita Stout are outstanding.

In our eternal quest for a great sandwich, we time-travelled back to the 1970s in a cluttered hole-in-the-wall counter called Bunk, where their excellent Cubano was served up by a guy rockin a ‘fro to ELO on the sound system. But Lardo’s pork meatball Banh Mi, so beloved on the foodie blogs, was a letdown; it just doesn’t compare to the light freshness of Freebird’s at our own River Market.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer communicator Portland travel blog foodie

Princess of Pavement enjoys her cubano at the 70s throwback sandwich bar, Bunk.

As for Salt and Straw; we visited every day during our time in Stumptown. Let’s just say their chocolate gooey brownie may be my most favourite ice cream, ever.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog travel Portland

The line never seems to diminish at Salt + Straw. But the wait is always worth it.

Mario Bartel storyteller photographer writer blog travel Portland

One last hit of Salt + Straw ice cream of the road!





Making it official

1 05 2016

Apparently 13 is the new small.

The Fraser River Fuggitivi is growing. Last year getting 13 people out to our Sunday group ride was a triumph. This year it’s what happens when a handful of members bail at the last minute to attend to other commitments.

That’s the price, or benefit, of becoming official.

As of Monday, the FRF is a properly registered association, a legal entity with bylaws, directors, dues, an annual general meeting with motions, votes and minutes. Everyone must sign a waiver to ride, limiting the group’s exposure to liability in case of an accident. In the next little while, we’ll even have kit. All we’re missing is a fleet of team cars. It’s an evolution necessitated by our growth and the initiative to get sponsors to foot some of the cost of our kit.

It’s a long way from the loose association of half a dozen or so like-minded cyclists, united by Twitter, gathering every Sunday for a morning out on the road.

The second wave of FRF traverses the Port Mann Bridge.

The second wave of FRF traverses the Port Mann Bridge.

Getting bigger and becoming official also raises the cycling stakes; more riders brings a wider range of fitness and speed, especially this early in the season. So keeping everyone together and feeling part of the group, even as it splinters on climbs or during pacelines along the flats, becomes a challenge. Finessing that can make or break a ride.

It's an early start for the growing FRF as 100+ km is on the day's itinerary.

It’s an early start for the growing FRF as 100+ km is on the day’s itinerary.

Fortunately today’s leader, Flying Oakes, designed a 100 km route with a couple of bail-out options for those unprepared or unable to go the distance. That also allowed us all to regroup at a coffee shop and, later, a brewery.

Group dynamics can be a tricky beast. Bring 13 men together and testosterone inevitably comes into play, egos can get bruised. Keeping those elements in check is key to ensuring casual rides for fun, fitness and camaraderie don’t become weekly throw-downs.

The first signs of a pace line begin to form on the prairie east of Fort Langley.

The first signs of a pace line begin to form on the prairie east of Fort Langley.

The FRF was formed to create group riding opportunities for suburban cyclists tired of travelling into the city to join one of the myriad groups based there. Our easygoing nature is captured by our Twitter hashtag, #moremilesmorebeer. The banter on the road is friendly; we chat about our families, work (or lack thereof), our bikes. Sprints are the exception rather than the rule; they usually happen when a few members get the urge to stretch their legs while the rest of us watch bemusedly.

Last year, our founder, Guy WR, added regular Tuesday night climbing rides to help improve everyone’s fitness in anticipation of the epic end-of-season ascent up Mt. Baker. And create another opportunity for the group to get together, kibbitz, maybe share a beer afterward.

Staying true to the hashtag, #moremilesmorebeer

Staying true to the hashtag, #moremilesmorebeer

In just a few short years, the FRF has become a community. So perhaps it was inevitable we’d also have to form a government and bureaucracy.








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