Eat, drink, ride slow

31 07 2010

Friday’s ride was all about the slow. Literally and metaphorically.

Katie was doing a story previewing the annual Slow Food bike tour around the Fraser Valley. It’s a self-guided ride that takes urban cyclists to farms, wineries, bakeries and craft shops around rural Chiliwack to show them where the food in grocery stores and markets comes from. To get a sense of the event, she wanted to ride the  route, drop in to a few of the stops and talk to the proprietors. And since it was a work day, she’d be getting paid to ride her bike!

If a day on the bike is a good day, then a day on which you’re getting paid to be  on the bike is awesome!

Over the course of our journalism careers, we’ve each managed to pull this feat off a few times.

Katie and I did the Slow Food preview ride last year as well. I’ve arranged ride-alongs with the bike patrol units of various police departments, as well as a Salvation Army outreach worker who toured the back alleys dark crooks of the city to connect with the homeless. But the absolute coup was an 85 km training ride with the Cops For Cancer, complete with a full motorcycle escort that cleared and closed intersections for our peloton. It was just like being in the Tour de France.

Getting a taste of the Tour de France in the Fraser Valley!

No such privileges yesterday. Just the two of us battling the wind as we passed fields of towering cornstalks, rusty old tractors turned into playground equipment, grain silos, dairy cow barns complete with cow-washers, beehives, a soap shop and a preserve for blue herons.

Of course, this was a work ride, and I was enlisted to shoot a little video to accompany the web version of Katie’s story. That meant packing a handy-cam into my jersey pocket and making frequent stops along the way to shoot footage. Hence, the way we managed to put the slow into Slow Food.

Fashion forward

28 07 2010

I’m not sure whether the neighbor was in shock or awe when he said, “wow, everything matches,” as I was departing the condo for my ride this evening.

I do match.

When I got my Orbea in Euskaltel team colors circa 2003, I set out to source a proper Euskaltel jersey. It wasn’t an easy find back then, but I’ve now got three, in various shades of sun-bleached orange.

Not everyone can get away with wearing bright orange. Seems I can.

It's important to look good on a ride. To make sure, make friends with large expanses of glass along your route.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a very practical color for a roadie; no driver has any excuse they couldn’t see me even on the brightest day.

Let’s face it, looking good is part of the fun of being a roadie. All those kilometers tend to sculpt our legs, so we shave ’em to better show them off.

Our tight shorts tend to show off other, er, attributes. Although shorts of the wrong color, like white or yellow, can show off too many attributes. Ugh.

We favor bright, tight kits to stand out on the road. We complete the look with a sleek helmet and styling sports sunglasses.

Who amongst us hasn’t glanced over to check our “form” when passing a large picture window? I thought as much.

In the pro peloton, I’d have to give the stylin’ award to Team Sky. Their black, white and blue kits are simple but stand out immediately from the rest of the pack. And putting the riders names on the sides is a stroke of genius I hope other teams will quickly adopt.

Team Sky is the class of the pro peloton.

The worst is one of this year’s wild card teams invited to the Tour de France, Footon-Servetto. The uninspired color scheme makes these unfortunate guys look like rolling turds in the peloton. And their fashion faux-pas is compounded by opting for light-colored shorts.

What were they thinking??????

It should be against the law for anyone to wear cycling shorts of a lighter hue. It’s at least against the laws of decency.

A honey of a ride

26 07 2010

Eating breakfast in a restaurant is the last bastion for culinary laziness. Or people on vacation.

Why pay someone to put a couple of slices of bread into a toaster and pour you a tiny glass of orange juice when it’s so quick and easy to do at home? And you don’t even have to wear pants!

Needless to say, I’m not a fan.

In fact, one of the reasons Katie and I like to rent vacation apartments when we’re traveling is so we can enjoy breakfast at home, at our own pace.

But apparently, eating breakfast out is pretty popular. Especially on weekends. Witness the crowded tables and lineups at the door of places like the High Level Diner in Edmonton, or Sophie’s Cosmic Café in Vancouver. Or Honey’s in Deep Cove.

That was the turnaround point for Sunday’s ride, with newly-minted roadie, Rich. And while my belly was already sated with a healthy starter of fruit smoothie, banana and a bagel, he suggested since we were there, we might as well indulge in one of the great Deep Cove institutions, a giant, spongy, sweet, chocolate-covered Honey’s donut.

I don’t eat donuts. I don’t drink coffee either. So places like Tim Horton’s, Krispy Kreme, or Country’s Donuts are foreign to me.

But seeing as this was more of a cultural experience rather than a junk food junket, and the calories consumed would be quickly burned by our 50 km return ride, I thought what the heck.

That's a mighty big donut!

The mid-ride snack is one of the pleasant rewards of 100 kms in the saddle. It can be a pizza lunch or a cherry pie Larabar. It can be a beer or a fruity tartlette. It can even be a chewy donut. But mostly, it’s guilt-free because you’ve pedaled hard to get there, and you’ll pedal hard to get home. It’s a reward.

To reach Sunday’s reward, we had to cross another one of the Lower Mainland’s major bridges, the Ironworker’s Memorial Bridge. It used to be called the Second Narrows Bridge because it traversed the second narrows of Burrard Inlet, but it was rechristened a few years ago to memorialize the workers who were killed and injured when the bridge collapsed while it was being built in 1958.

Getting ready to cross the Second Narrows Bridge.

For cyclists, the former name is apt. While the sidewalk is designated as a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists, hopefully the two never meet because it’s barely wide enough for the handlebars, let alone passing. Traffic on the Trans-Canada highway, though separated by a barrier, buzzes mercilessly over your shoulder. And don’t dare glance away to take in the views up Burrard Inlet or down through the harbor to the downtown skyline because one wobble could pitch you right into that barrier. It’s noisy. It’s grimy. It’s very stressful.

No room to pass!

Or to enjoy the views of Vancouver harbor and the skyline.

Smoothie operator

25 07 2010

Cycling season is also smoothie season.

There’s no better way to start a riding day, or any day for that matter, than with a thick, sweet fruit smoothie. And I make a pretty mean smoothie, if I do say so myself.

While winter smoothies are mostly comprised of frozen fruit, as the summer progresses, the smoothies are all about freshness. Mid-July to mid-August is the nadir, when pretty much every fruit in my smoothie is fresh.

I always start with a banana and orange juice, but from there, it’s a symphony of whatever is in season and available at the produce market. In this smoothie, there are: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, peach, pear, mango, pineapple, watermelon. Yum!

A blender full of freshness!

If only I could bring some of it along on rides. Because as much as I love to imbibe in a tall glass of fruit smoothiness in the mornings, I’m not so diligent about staying hydrated during rides. I always fill my water bottles; I just don’t empty them. Something about drinking tepid water, I think.

Yes, I’ve tried various thermal bottles, but with mixed results.

I’ve tried ice cubes, but that lasts only a few moments on a warm day.

I freeze my filled bottles overnight, and that’s great for maybe the first half hour of a ride on a summer’s day.

Sometimes, I admit, I just get so engrossed in my ride, I simply forget to drink.

A rare photo indeed.

Friday, my inattention caught up with me. On the return leg of my 107 km loop to The Stan, I was afflicted with a terrible stitch in my right side. I tried to ride through it. I stopped for lunch, but it returned as soon as I hit the road again. I chug-a-lugged from my warm bottle. Nothing seemed to relieve it.

Finally, I called Katie. As a runner, she’s probably dealt with side stitches; she’d know what to do, I thought.

Raise my arms over my head and take deep breaths, she advised. And sure enough, it worked!

Know when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em

23 07 2010

For the past week, I’ve been living a lie.

I’m not riding in the big ring.

In fact, I’m spending an ungodly amount of time in the little chainring. That’s because my big ring has attained that state of wear when the chain jumps everytime I try to pedal under pressure, like from a standing start or chugging up a climb.

So, I’ve got to soft pedal it at stop lights. Or humble myself by dropping down to the little ring. It makes for a very busy ride, all that shifting of gears.

After a 103 km ride on Wednesday, yesterday was a bit of a respite. Although not totally devoid of a ride.

A buddy hit town for a visit, and while his wife tended to errands, he wanted to get in a bit of ride.

Kinch is an editorial and commercial photographer who left Vancouver for New York City more than ten years ago because his clients were having a harder and harder time seeing the value in quality photography; in this era of digital photography, they thought, someone’s bound to come up with a usable image they can use for free, so why pay.

His partner, Marlaina, is a journalist who covered the business beat, was a consumer advocate, then dabbled in communications for a political party, Eventually, she too went to NYC.

Two years ago, they undertook a MAJOR career shift, the kind of change of gears that had everyone who knew them scraping their jaws off the floor and poking their ears as if waxy build up had distorted what they were hearing.

They became long-haul truckers!

They loved to travel, they craved adventure, and they could earn a steady paycheque, was their reasoning.

Of course, as true West Coasters, they would put their own spin on their new vocation; determined not to succumb to the downsides of a very sedentary line of work fraught with long hours and irregular breaks, they eschew truck stops and their greasy, fattening menus for quality groceries of organic salads, craft cheeses, fine meats and breads. And they pack their Brompton foldies to get around towns, and get some exercise, after they’ve parked the truck.

Kinch unfold his Brompton for a ride around UBC.

The Brompton is like the Bentley of folding bikes. Collapsed and bundled up, it looks like a training unicycle. Unfolded and locked-in, it’s a worthy little get-around ride.

Visiting the rose garden and its magnificent view of the North Shore mountains.

Ever since Katie embarked upon her own cycling adventure with a shiny blue Dahon foldy, I’ve noticed more and more of them on the roads and bike lanes. They’re incredibly clever and well-engineered. The best ones find that perfect balance between portability and performance. When I was on a bike tour in France in ’03, a member of our group bombed around the country on a Bike Friday road racer; those little wheels looked odd, but he was more than able to keep pace! And Katie even tackled the rolling undulations of Marine Drive to Horseshoe Bay on her foldy, although not always with a smile on her face.

A fool thinks himself wise…

21 07 2010

I don’t suffer fools gladly.

So when a motorist decided to take it upon himself to lecture me about “courtesy,” I let him know how much I didn’t appreciate his judgement. He probably has an even worse opinion about cyclists now, and I’m sorry about that; but when the adrenaline is flowing as I’m pedaling in traffic at 35 kmh while some guy is barking at me from his vehicle, it’s hard not to get wound up.

In my defense, I was already extremely frustrated by my bike computer’s sudden decision to act up, plus I have to soft-pedal from every stop light/sign as I await a new chain and front chainring.

The reason for this motorist’s ire was my refusal to allow cars behind me to make a right turn around me as we were stopped at a traffic light. I was at the head of the line when someone a couple of vehicles back tooted their horn to get the cars ahead to make their turn; he probably didn’t see me up  front.

This inspired some guy driving a minivan in the middle lane to pull up beside me as we got underway on the green and start chastising me for not being “courteous” to sit on the curb and allow all those cars to go around me.

I always “take my lane” at traffic lights and stop signs, whether I’m first in line, or a number of vehicles back from the intersection. I never “curb squeeze” or jump ahead in the line unless a vehicle passed me 20 or 30 meters before the intersection; then I have no problem reclaiming my rightful spot in the line usually with an unappreciative glower/glance back at the motorist who didn’t respect me.

At intersections, I always take my lane, about a meter to 1.5 meters out from the curb.

This gives me ample room to clip back into my pedals and build momentum when the light turns green, and reduces the chances of getting “right-hooked” by a turning car that doesn’t see me or doesn’t care that I’m there.

But what most cyclists would see as safe and lawful riding was deemed by Minivan Dude as discourteous. And he was persistent on letting me know that.

I told him I had every right to take my lane, and as I was rightfully at the head of the line of cars, they would have to wait to make their turn, just as if I was a car in that spot with no intention of turning right.

This didn’t satisfy him, and again he pulled alongside to berate my “discourteousness.”

I reminded him if I was a car, those behind me would have had to wait; being on a bike is no different. Plus, hugging the curb is just plain unsafe; once I let one car turn around me, they’ll all start to turn around me and you can bet no motorist will extend me the courtesy of allowing me to get on my way when the light turns green. Not to mention the hazards of potholes and storm sewer grates.

I may have dropped a few f-bombs in there, as well as an emphatic instruction to mind his own business.

But in a question of safety versus courtesy, my own safety will always win.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

19 07 2010

I am nothing if not a creature of habit. Especially on the bike.

I like to start my rides at about the same time of day. I stick to a few basic routes that I know very well and trust the traffic flow.

But seeing as I’m on vacation this week, and in the interests of blog fodder, I decided today to bust out from regular 65 km ride to and from UBC.

Oh, I rode out to UBC as usual; but on the way back, I veered south with the intent of traversing the new SkyTrain bridge into Richmond for the very first time, and then explore the Other Side of the Fraser River.

I rarely venture to the Other Side of the Fraser River by my own free will. Other than the airport, there’s no real reason to go there; it’s just bland, flat suburbia, with a mix of light industry and a big-ass casino.

But with my bike’s drivetrain worn to the point of lurching whenever I apply heavy pressure to the pedals, and my bike shop awaiting replacement parts, bland and flat were just what I needed.

So at Cambie, I turned right and headed down the bike lane towards my rendezvous with another bridge.

Unlike the Pitt River and Golden Ears bridges, the approaches to this bike crossing are very clearly marked, no guessing needed, no balancing on a narrow sliver of pavement riding opposite to the direction of traffic.

The approach to the SkyTrain Bridge to Richmond is clearly marked.

The bridge itself is a wonder. Built to carry SkyTrain across the Fraser, it is flanked on one side, and just below the rail guideway, by a wide, partly-covered path for cyclists and pedestrians.

The views are of the industrial river hard at work, log booms being pulled and jostled by red or green tugboats, light industry on each shore, the busy Granville bridge full with cars just downriver. The jets zooming low overhead every couple of minutes as they approach the runway at YVR are a bonus. It’s literally planes, trains and automobiles.

Planes, trains and automobiles, all in one glance.

In fact, the only unfortunate part of this bridge crossing is its destination, a busy, dusty, noisy industrial park.

As I’m totally unfamiliar with the roads in Richmond, all I knew was to look for River Road and head east. Alas, River Road starts and stops in a few places, so I had to feel my way through a couple of detours to get back on track.

River Road runs beside the Fraser River, of course.

The route is busy with trucks, wide pickups and fast-moving BMWs, even as it leaves the industrial parks and hugs the Fraser past dilapidated boat yards and shanty houses on the other side of drainage ditches.

The Fraser has been a working river since the beginning of time.

Eventually River Road carries me back into a part of New Westminster that is an island in the Fraser. That means another bridge to get home.

If the SkyTrain Bridge is the Good, the Pitt River and Golden Ears bridges the Bad, then the Queensborough Bridge is the Ugly.

While the approaches are well marked, the bridge crossing itself is extremely narrow and noisy, with huge trucks and speeding cars buzzing your ears from just the other side of the protective barrier. Not a lot of fun.

Traffic buzzes uncomfortably close on the Queensborough Bridge.