May-vember showers bring June flurries?

31 05 2010

Katie and I completed our first duathlon on Sunday. We entered as a team; she did the running leg and I rode the bike. We won.

Of course, we were the only team entered. And it wasn’t an official event. But still…

Last Thursday, Katie announced she’d signed up for a 10 km run on Sunday, in North Vancouver. It would be her first race in more than two years. And it started at 7:30 am.

No worries, I said, at least as far as the race is concerned. But that 7:30 start time, that’s another challenge all together!

So early Sunday morning I packed the road bike onto the roof rack and we headed off to her run. She did great! No pains, a good pace considering she hadn’t really trained.

While she ran, I fueled up with a danish and orange juice in the Whole Foods market near the finish line.

When she finished, I headed out on the bike to Horseshoe Bay and then home, a ride that’s just shy of 85 kms.

What's wrong with this picture? I'm wearing a full jacket, knee warmers, full-finger gloves, and it's practically freakin' June!

The route along Marine Drive, through West Vancouver, Ambleside, Dundarave, and on to Horseshoe Bay is popular with Sunday morning cyclists. It’s twisting and undulating with some short, sharp climbs and quick descents. And there’s plenty to see, from spectacular views across English Bay or out across the Georgia Strait, to the multi-million dollar homes that cling to the cliffs over the water, to bald eagles in the treetops.

Horseshoe Bay is a popular turnaround spot for Sunday morning cyclists.

Even with the relative lack of riding this spring due to our ongoing May-vember weather and the almost two weeks lost to our New York vacation and a cold (which is still dogging me somewhat), I was able to maintain a pretty good pace, almost 26 kmh through the first 65 kms.

I faded a bit in the home stretch, but that’s probably because it was my longest ride of the season, and my legs weren’t used to working hard beyond 70 km. That will come. As long as the weather gets better.

What goes up…

27 05 2010

…must come down.

Of course, the whole purpose of suffering the up is to enjoy the down.

There’s nothing like ripping a downhill, your eyes stinging from the wind, your knees and elbows loose to absorb any shocks, your chin lowered towards the handlebar to minimize aerodynamic drag.

And it’s even better when you’ve earned it.

That’s why I sneer under my breath at all those shuttlers along the side of the road up Burnaby Mountain, loading their heavy downhill mountain bikes into the back of a pickup to be ferried to the top so they can coast and bounce their way down. Where’s the joy in that? What’s the reward for a hill well-climbed? And those heavy single-purpose downhill bikes wreak havoc on the cross-country trails of that modest mountain.

I’ve had some memorable downhills, made all the more so because I earned them all by slogging my way up to get to them: jamming my brakes ’till my fingers cramped to stay in control down the steep switchbacks of the Pyrenées in France; blasting down the long hill on the highway outside Boisetown, New Brunswick, where my friend Grant is from, as we made a pitstop in his hometown during an East Coast road trip; cracking 80 kmh at the head of a peloton of cops on bikes as we careened down Burnaby Mountain during a training ride for their annual Cops For Cancer fundraising ride.

Tonight I did a trail ride with my buddy, Shanksman. It was my first chance to oggle his new ride, a Kona Caldera.

Shanksman suffering the Up on his shiny new ride.

We did a 20 km loop through UBC and down to Jericho Beach, our regular evening ride which we call the DownUp because we first blast down hill to the beach, then have to slog back up hill to return to where we started.

The ride isn’t epic by any means; the trails are wide and mostly graveled. It’s mostly convenient, and safe to ride with lights or in dwindling twilight.

But the downhill is a lot of fun, one of my favourites. It’s fast, with a handful of step jumps that let you catch some air, and a couple of blind bends to keep things interesting. We call it the Whoopdedoos, because you just can’t help whoop when you fly over those jumps.

Sometimes it’s so much fun, we just turn around at the bottom, ride back up and do it all over again, thereby turning the ride into a Double DownUp.

Clearing the third Whoopdeedo

Going up

26 05 2010

New West has a lot of hills. In fact, it’s pretty much built on a hill. And we happen to be at the bottom of it.

That means every ride must start with at least a two kilometer climb before the gradient levels out, then another short burst upward depending on the route. That’s like an instant warm up.

Now, like most cyclists who aren’t Spanish or Columbian, I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with climbing. When the legs are feeling good, there’s nothing finer than grinding up a climb, tapping out a steady rhythm, feeling the thighs burn. But when the will is depleted and the spirit is weak, the thought of that two kilometer slog up hill just to get to the flat road can be enough to send me back to the freezer for another bowl of Haagen Dasz.

All roads from home go in the same direction - up!

Usually I tough it out though, and it’s always worth it.

For one thing, starting my ride with a short sharp climb like that IS a good warm up, smoothing subsequent climbs like the five km ascent of Burnaby Mountain, or the rollers along Marine Drive in West Vancouver.

Growing up in Ontario, I never really liked climbing. Or rather, with mostly flat riding there, I never developed an appreciation for it.

Even after moving West, I still avoided hills.

Then I signed on for a cycling tour of the 2003 Tour de France in which we’d get the chance to ride some of the stages before the pro took over the road in the afternoon. Our leg started in the Pyrénées and would include some storied climbs like Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Luz Ardiden and, of course, the Tourmalet (I passed on the latter, due to heat exhaustion). If I wanted to do those climbs, I had no choice; I’d have to learn to love the up.

Of course, even a slog up the road to the Seymour ski area pales in comparison to the steep, twisting switchbacks of some of Europe’s great mountains. The eight per cent slope up Burnaby Mountain is practically downhill compared to some of the 20+ per cent hairpins up Luz Ardiden or Tourmalet.

That summer, and the preparation leading up to that summer, gave me a new respect for the physical and mental challenge of the up.

That being said, one of the greatest benefits of living at the bottom of a hill is that the ride home is all about the down!

Riding for $100, Alex…

24 05 2010

A bonus ride is one you never expected to make, but a sudden change in circumstance afforded you the opportunity.

When I got up this morning, I fully expected it would be a rideless week; the weather forecast was bleak at best, a continuation of our March-for-May rain and cold. Plus I had to work, a busy, full day. And I’m still feeling the phlegmy affects of the miserable cold that waylaid Katie and I just before we left for New York.

Victoria Day is the beginning of festival season around here; for the next six or seven weeks there will be some sort of community festival or celebration almost every weekend, and I’ll have to cover them all.

Today started with the Hyack Anvil Battery. It’s a quirky, historical variation on a 21-gun salute, unique to New Westminster. Back in the 1860s, the city’s Regiment was banned from using their guns for frivolous occasions, which included honoring the Queen on her birthday. So the enterprising soldiers poured a bit of gunpowder between two heavy anvils and lit it with the glowing end of a long rod that had been heated in a forge.

The Hyack Anvil Battery is a quirky event that is so unique I actually enjoy covering it every year. Plus they do it 21 times, so I get plenty of chances to get it right.

The loud reports were thought so worthy for the monarch, the ceremony endures to this day, and it’s become the centerpiece to a week of special events and parades in the city. all of which I’ve covered upteen times.

Then it was on to Burnaby Village Museum, a recreation of the city as it might have been in the early 20th century, where Queen Victoria herself would attend a levée in the town square. The woman who portrays the Queen plays her role to the hilt, and the whole event is quite delightful. Too bad I had to leave before the free cake.

"Queen Victoria" is serenaded by her subject, who apparently need a little help with the words of God Save the Queen.

While covering those events, the clouds started to part, the temperature warmed. And with Katie planning a 24-athon for the evening, I decided over dinner that I would take advantage by getting a ride in.

Of course, by the time I got out onto the road, the cloud deck had rolled back in, hastening the onset of dusk and cooling the air so I had to wear knee AND arm warmers (c’mon, it’s practically July for cryin’ out loud!). And my congested lungs rebelled at the physical exertion. So while I cut the ride a little short from what I can usually achieve after dinner at this time of year, 48 km is still 48 km, especially when I wasn’t expecting to do any at all.

Start spreading the news…

22 05 2010

Back from a week away in New York City.

And while we were doing Broadway, soaking up the energy of Times Square, shivering at Letterman, gorging on Junior’s cheesecake and paying our respects at Ground Zero, the call of the bike was never far away.

Getting ready to enter the Ed Sullivan Theater for a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman.

With its crazy traffic congestion, pollution, careening yellow cabs, and jay-walking pedestrians, it’s hard to imagine a more bike-unfriendly city than Manhattan. But the city has a thriving cycling culture; manic couriers in the financial district, hipsters on fixies in the Lower East Side, four or five run bikes leaning outside a daycare in the Upper East Side, poseurs riding morning crits around Central Park.

On Tuesday, a buddy and I took shelter from the miserably cold, rainy and windy weather at the Museum of Art and Design, where one of the featured exhibits was a collection of handbuilt bicycles. Certainly the meticulous paint jobs on Dario Pegoretti’s frames, the detailed lug-work of Vanilla bikes, the old-school elegance of Richard Sachs‘ frames, the swooping beefy curves of Jeff Jones mountain bikes and the vintage charm of Peter Weigle‘s classic rides are worthy of being called rolling art. Beautiful bikes.

Thursday, As Katie enjoyed an 8km run through the park, I cooled my heels on a bench along the western leg of Park Drive, marveling at the equipment rolling by, Colnagos, Pinarellos, Marionis, Cannondales, Williers, Cervelos, De Rosas aplenty. Clearly in this most expensive city, there’s still plenty of disposable income to spend on high end rides. Whether doing laps around Central Park is a worthy destiny for such bikes is a question best answered by their accountants or investment managers I suppose, but it was kind of funny watching some of them huff and puff up the gentle inclines in the park as if they were conquering the steep switchbacks of the Alpe d’Huez.

A turtle basks in the sun at Central Park.

That afternoon, we had a great time in Brooklyn, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, took in the views of the Manhattan sky line from the Promenade, shook our heads sadly at the line of tourists eager to lunch at Grimaldi’s Pizza, enjoyed a great meal of our own at The Heights Café, then desert at the very first Haagen Dazs just down the street.

With our seven-day Metro cards burning holes in our pockets, I convinced Katie we should venture further up Flatbush towards Park Slope to visit the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Cycle Store,” R&A Cycles. Every roadie has likely spent time and expended considerable drool looking at their website; they sell pretty much every high-end brand of bike out there, plus exotic wheels and top accessories.

Looking at their site, I always imagined a glistening expansive shop with a polished concrete floor and rows of glossy carbon frames hung along exposed brick walls, mechanics in crisp, clean overalls speaking in hushed tones as they build up the latest order for a De Rosa or Kuota or Look, a kind of Ferrari dealership for bikes. In reality, it’s a warren of three little crowded old storefronts beside R&A True Value Hardware in a gentrifying neighborhood where women’s boutiques and baby shops are starting to crowd out the green grocer and OTB shops. Pinarello, Willier and Scott frames hang in haphazard rows from the low ceiling just inside the narrow entrance, built-up bikes are jammed into a corner of the second annex fighting for space with a nice selection of clothing from Capoforme, while the third annex is dedicated to kids’, commuter and hybrid bikes.

Eyes wide, I drooled over a De Rosa Merak and a Look 566 built up with Ultegra components for a nice price while Katie swooned for a pretty Felt ZW6 and a couple of Bianchis.

Ahhh, our own American dream…

Confessions of a CO2 junkie

16 05 2010

It’s been a frustrating week.

The weather has been great, sunny and warm, perfect for riding. But last week’s windy ride in the country put both Katie and I under the weather by Wednesday.

Now there’s one school of thought out there that says exercise is good while battling a cold; ride on regardless. But with our trip to New York City imminent, I couldn’t afford to do anything that might stretch this cold out. There’s no way we want to be the hacking, sick people on the plane that everyone else hates

So I bailed on a trail ride on Wednesday, and opted not to ride on a beautiful Friday, which absolutely killed me, as that’s usually my “big ride” day.

I tried to soothe my guilt by heading to MEC to stock up on some bike supplies, chain cleaner, Tri-Flow, a couple of spare tubes and a box of CO2 cartridges.

The latter have become my crack cocaine of cycling.

When I first took the plunge into CO2, I vowed I’d only pack the little steel tubes for emergencies while out on the road; I’d tried a few different mini-pumps over the years and they were always an exercise in frustration. Or just an exercise. At home, I”ve got a trusty Silca floor pump that has served me well for years.

But one day I was in a hurry, so I thought I’d just top up my tires with a quick blast from one of my CO2 cartridges; my tires got rock hard in an instant and I went on to have a beautiful, quick ride. No way I could ever get my tires that hard with a pump.

I was hooked; I was a CO2 junkie!

My stash...

Of course, as any cyclist knows, the CO2 high doesn’t last long, something about the molecular composition of carbon dioxide allows it to bleed slowly through the rubber of the innertube; a tire blasted to 110 psi hardness with CO2 will be soft a few days later and need another top-up inflation. I try to do that with my floor pump, I really do. But try as I might, I just can’t get the same kind of psi rush I achieve with a short, sharp blast from an inflator.

Yes, I know it’s lazy. Yes, I know it’s expensive: $1.50 a cartridge vs free with a floor pump. Yes I know it’s wasteful. Yes I know carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. But I’m hooked dammit.

I need a 12-step program…

Off the bike for a few days, as we’re off to New York City, including tickets to Letterman on Wednesday!

The joy of socks

13 05 2010

Socks should be fun.

They’re probably one of the least considered items in your wardrobe, especially for guys. As long as they fit, don’t clash too badly with your pants du jour and aren’t more holes than fabric, we’re pretty much good to go in the footwear department.

Defeet is trying to change that.

Over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection of their colorful, fun socks. It all started when I bought a pair at Mountain Equipment Co-op. They were comfortable, cool in summer, and nice and light for wearing while cycling or hiking. I had a pair of blue ones with little sperms swimming all around, a pair of orange ones with sunbursts, funky green ones that look straight out of the 1960s, socks with cows on them, and flags and crazy indistinguishable patterns. My favorites are the Tour de France socks, yellow with polka dot, white and green flags representing each of the champions’ jersies in Le Tour; only a true fan would recognize the significance of the design.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the controversial pair Katie has dubbed my “penis socks.” That’s because the design on them seems to resemble an erect male organ. Well, given the urban legend about the correlation between the size of a man’s feet and his, er, member, I suppose it’s only  fitting.

"Are those socks on your feet, or are you just glad to see me?"

For the record, I have to buy all my socks Extra Large.

Go to the start

12 05 2010

I’ve never raced.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

I did enter a race once. It was a season-opening event on an Easter weekend. I’d managed to do some riding through the winter, I figured everyone else would be in a comparable state; how tough could it be?

The course was about 11 kms, three laps for the citizen class. There was one killer hill, which is just what it did to me.

With no idea about racing strategy, everyone went hell-bent-for-leather right from the gun. Eager to keep up, I was pretty much cooked by the base of the killer hill. By the time I reached the top I felt ready to hurl. And seeing the peloton way up ahead in the distance sapped what remained of my motivation.

I finished one lap and then pulled off. My racing career was over. I had been totally unprepared for what it took to race, even in the citizen class of a local club’s event.

The Tuesday night sprint races. Fun to watch, but you're not gonna catch me jostling in that pack.

Like any other top athlete, elite bike racers make it look so easy; get on a bike, pedal hard, and you’ll be rewarded with victories and adulation. To ride at a high pace for almost 200 kms and, in the case of a Grand Tour, do it day after day for three weeks, takes an incredible level of fitness, preparation and mental toughness. To jostle and bump your way through a tightly-wound pack for a sprint finish requires a huge “suitcase of courage.”

Nah, I’ll stick to watching the pros do it on tv, or the internet.

The worst bike racing related story ever, guaranteed to make even your worst day on the bike seem like a roll through the park.

Pimp my ride

11 05 2010

I happen to like white handlebar tape. Granted, it’s not the most practical or durable choice. But it looks classy, professional.

Alas, white bar tape doesn’t stay white for very long. And without the budget or a full-time mechanic of a pro team to swap my tape out after every ride, I’m resigned to enjoying my white handlebar bling for only a few rides before it starts looking grey.

Then it ‘s back to the shop to get a more practical choice, like blue, or lately, orange.

Back in the 80s, I used to enjoy those mottled color mash-ups, but they’ve fallen out of favor. And whatever became of those streamers you could have flying from the plugs in the bar ends? Oh yeah, those were on my CCM Mustang when I was 12. Wrapping the bi-colored spools requires too much precision. So it’s solid all the way.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten more proficient at wrapping the bars over the years, so swapping out the tape no longer intimidates me. And it’s a nice, inexpensive way to get that “new bike” feel without the hit to the bank account.

White bar tape: it's not very practical, but it looks fast, even standing still.

The weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, so I was able to kit up and head out right after dinner tonight. I may have been a little too ambitious for the length of daylight though, as it got pretty gloomy through the last few kilometers of my 58.77 km jaunt. No light on my Orbea, but my orange Euskaltel jersey is as bright as any headlight anyway.

On the way out, a car pulled alongside at a light; “I guess you don’t like hockey,” said the driver to me, apparently aghast that I’d chose a ride over sitting on the couch watching the hometown Vancouver Canucks squander their Stanley Cup delusions once again.

But that’s why God, and Gary Betteman, invented triple overtime (although the latter would like to think he and the former are interchangeable). Chances are the best part of the game wouldn’t be played until I got home.

Well, the lack of blaring car horns and whooping people during the course of my ride pretty much told me all I needed to know about the game; they got blown out again. I turned on the tv just in time to see half the arena empty out, while the other half turned away from the carnage on the ice to gawk at some sort of fracas in the stands. Guess I didn’t miss much after all.

The zen of chain cleaning

10 05 2010

I like riding a clean bike. Somehow, it makes me feel faster. Who knows, without the drag of grime on the wheels, frame and chain, maybe I actually am .0001 sec. faster over a 100km ride.

I’ve had my orange Orbea for seven riding seasons. But it still turns heads even though its sloped aluminum/carbon frame lacks the curves and swoops of newer, all carbon bikes.

“It looks like new,” say some.

Or maybe it’s just the blindingly bright color.

While I’d love to be able to afford a new ride like an Orca, a BMC, a Lapierre, a Willier or -be still my beating heart – a Pinarello, with a new mortgage and holiday plans, that’s not in the financial cards anytime soon. So I salve my bike lust by keeping my current steed looking as polished as possible.

With a stand, some latex gloves, rags and liberal doses of environmentally-friendly cleaner, a little regular cleaning goes a long way. The frame, the derailleurs, the rims all get a polish every few rides – more frequently if the weather is sloppy or the roads dusty.

But the chain continues to vex me. No matter how much I clean it, sometimes even scrubbing between the links with Q-tips, to get it gleaming silver, that sucker goes black and greasy right away. I’ve tried one of those fancy chain scrubbers; it broke on the first use. I’ve tried various lubes like ProLink, Pedro’s Road Rage, Purple Extreme and tried and true Tri-Flow, applied sparingly. There’s just no way I seem to be able to achieve and maintain that newly-bought clean.

Oh chain, my bike chain, why do you continue to vex me so in my quest to keep you shiny?

Maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me that the pro bikes all seem to have shiny clean chains, even after a 200 km stage of Giro or Tour? Or maybe I’m just being way too anal?

Anyhow, good thing I find cleaning the chain to be a somewhat relaxing escape, as my quest for the sparkling drivetrain continues.