30 08 2010

In every day there must be a little up.

On Gran Fondo day, there will be a whole lot of up; 2400 meters worth, to be exact.

Not that I’m scared of climbing. In fact, I kind of enjoy it, mostly for the down reward that comes along with a good ascent.

To prepare for the climbs on the route to Whistler, I’ve been ascending Burnaby Mountain with regularity. Last weekend I climbed to Grouse.

But some idle googling has now filled me with self-doubt.

It seems there’s some riders out there taking the up very seriously. They’re training by riding the route to Whistler. Or tackling Cypress or Seymour multiple times on the same day!

Have I done enough to prepare?

What if I’ve underestimated the ride and overestimated by conditioning?

This weekend I rode almost 170 kms over two consecutive days, including 1300 m of climbing and my legs still felt fresh. Well, mostly. “Killer Hill” almost lived up to its name.

Katie’s parents were hosting a family dinner on Sunday, so I decided I would ride out, the same route I took on our wedding day, 50 weeks ago. They live in Bradner, at the top of “Killer Hill.”

Cows stand (and lie) guard at the base of the ridge that is known as "Killer Hill"

Killer Hill is a three kilometer ascent of Lefeuvre Rd. to Graham Cr., an 18.1% gradient up from the Fraser River flood plain to the top of the ridge at Bradner. The first two kilometers are thigh-burningly steep, like a wall. So steep, in fact, that I was afraid to look down at my Garmin out of fear it would tell me I was actually standing still. Even weaving back and forth across the lane to create little switchbacks didn’t do much to soften the vertical torture.

"Killer Hill" ascends into the trees. If you look hard, you'll see two mountain bikers walking their bikes up the road.

But at least I had enough wind to good-naturely chide a woman on the other side of the road who was walking her bike down Killer Hill…

Gone with the wind

28 08 2010

With less than two weeks until the Whistler Gran Fondo, I’m sure I’m not the only rider who’s starting to pay closer attention to the long term weather forecast.

Not that they’re of much value along coastal BC, as the combination of mountains and ocean create micro-climates that can turn on a dime.

Friday was a perfect example.

The morning forecast called for a mix of clouds and sun, with a 40 percent chance of showers. And while that’s exactly what we got, predicting where those showers would fall proved a bit of a crapshoot. Around here, the showers were also more like squalls of driving rain.

We were in the midst of just such a squall when my prime time to leave for a ride came and went; if I leave much later than 10:30 a.m., I get stuck riding home in heavy rush hour traffic, which isn’t much fun.

So, no ride for me.

Instead, I headed out to run some errands. Sure enough, as I was ensconced in my car, the sun broke through the clouds; 15 minutes later though,  another squall rolled through.

Still, the guilt at not riding weighed pretty heavily.

Rain on Gran Fondo day would seriously suck. That’s a long way to go when it’s wet and nasty.

Wind would be another grind. I’m not such a fan of riding into the wind; riding with the wind is a blast, but headwinds, not so much.

Riding 120 kms into a headwind would be a grind.

Fortunately, Sept. 11 is usually a nice day. I know this because I often cover a small memorial service the New Westminster Fire Department has to remember the fallen firefighters and other victims in the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and the weather always seems to be just like that morning when our world went awry, big blue sky, warm golden sun.

I doubt we’ll be able to dodge the wind, though. That’s because Squamish is a world-renowned destination for windsurfers and kiteboarders as the winds funnel down from the mountain through Howe Sound.

It should be interesting to see how 4000 cyclists form an echelon in one lane of highway!

Soul asylum

24 08 2010

If the reading on this blog seems a little light in the past week, that’s because I’ve been slacking off.

I seem to have hit some sort of mental wall on the bike.

Friday was a perfect day to ride, cool, a little overcast. Secretly, though, I hoped it would rain.

Friday is a ride day. But last Friday I just wasn’t feeling it. The thought of pulling on my kit and climbing the hills out of New West just wearied me, even though my legs felt good and rested from a fairly light week of riding. With more than 2200 kms logged this summer, on Friday it felt like cycling had become a chore.

Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to that inner voice.

So I headed downtown for a little retail therapy instead.

Shopping may be good for the soul, but it’s bad for the wallet.

As Friday is usually the best day to get things done, run some errands, take care of business, those things usually get put off when I’m on the bike for four or five hours. But take a Friday off, and they’re all unleashed in an orgy of spending that left my debit card slightly melted.

Retail therapy may be good for the soul, but it's bad for the wallet.

With fall imminent and another Euro trip booked for October, my most pressing need was some new clothes. Hello Banana Republic. There was also a scouting trip for new eyeglasses and the long walk to the fancy bike shop for blue handlebar tape.

Yes, I walked everywhere; at least I got some exercise to assuage my guilt.

(Almost) twin peaks

22 08 2010

I’m sure the rider ahead of me didn’t intend his choice of jersey to be a challenge to other cyclists when he got dressed Sunday morning. But the words “Mont Ventoux: 1912m” bore into my brain nonetheless as I tagged on his wheel around English Bay.

Catching up to Mont Ventoux guy.

We chatted a bit as we headed for Stanley Park; he’d climbed the “giant of Provence” last summer, twice in the same day, once with friends up the easier route from Sault and then the famous 7.43% average gradient route from Bédoin. I told him of my conquests of Col d’Aspin and Luz Ardiden.

When we parted at the causeway I suddenly felt the need to climb.

Alas, there’s no Ventoux in the Lower Mainland.

So I headed over the Lions Gate Bridge and then up Capilano Road to Grouse Mountain.

The road doesn’t go to the summit; it ends at the gondola station at the base of the actual mountain.  It’s not overly long, nor particularly steep; but when we drive to the Grouse Grind, we always have to gear the car down to second in some sections, especially as we approach the parking lots, so there was a bit of a challenge to be answered.

The ride to Grouse Mountain is actually pretty easy, until there's a sting in the tail in the last km.

After a speedy descent back down Capilano Road, I decided to make my first ever traverse of the North Shore to the dreaded Second Narrows Bridge crossing.

North Vancouver is like a foreign land to me; we rarely go there, so I’m pretty unfamiliar with the roads and traffic patterns. It’s got an image as an affluent suburb, yet I rode past a number of dilapidated shacks and rundown walk-up apartment building.

The Lonsdale area, which is supposed to be its downtown, seemed mostly deserted as the clock approached noon. I saw maybe one other cyclist. It’s like some sort of weird suburban plague had taken all the people; or maybe they were just hiding inside, awaiting a Hitchcokian invasion of birds.

As always, crossing the Second Narrows was heart-stopping. I then headed for good ole’ Burnaby Mountain. And like Ventoux, it has an easy approach, and a more arduous one. The climb from the north is the former, about half as long as the 5 km climb up Gagliardi.

But as I hit the first gradient, I could suddenly feel every pebble on the road surface in my butt; my rear tire was practically flat! And, just my luck, I’d forgotten to pack a spare inner tube, although I had my tire levers and CO2 canisters.

I pipped the valve with a fresh canister; the tire hardened and stayed that way. I headed up, although my uncertainty about whether my tire could hold its air long enough for me to get home caused me to veer off down Gagliardi rather than head up to Simon Fraser University; another summit denied.

In fact, the tire held almost all the way home; I pipped it again with about 3 kms to go. By the time I carried the bike up to the condo, the tire went completely flat. Total climbing for the day, 1217 meters over 99.6 kms; not quite Ventoux, but not a bad day’s work.

Satellites of love

18 08 2010

The countdown to the GranFondo is on. Only three more Saturdays to go.

With almost 2100 kms in my legs since June 1, I’m pretty confident I’m good for the 120 km ride to Whistler. So my thoughts are already turning to my pre-ride routine for that week; how much will I ride in the days preceeding, when will I go pick up my GranFondo package, how will I get down to the start, what will I eat for dinner the night before?

As Katie has been training for her marathon, and I for the GranFondo, we’ve discovered a couple of pasta-oriented dinners that seem to really work for us if consumed the night before our athletic endeavors. A favorite is rosemary chicken on the bbq, with a side of pasta basted with olive oil, parmesan and garlic, and a Greek salad.

Carbo loading for rides.

It’s simple, quick to make, easy on our bellies, provides us with a good carb hit for the next day, and it reminds us of our holiday last year in Italy.

One thing I do know about the ride, is that I’ll be able to report the exact distance, total elevation gained and lost, the temperature at various points, my speed at any point, even the number of calories I expended. That’s all thanks to my new Garmin Edge 500 GPS bike computer.

My patience with the wireless Sigma, and its old school magnet pickup, finally wore thin. I was losing the signal from the wheel sensor for hundreds of meters at a time. The magnet was constantly clicking against the pickup, The stem mount was cracked.

So I indulged my digital data desires with the new Garmin.

Looking for the satellites of love.

For a numbers junkie like me, its wealth of ride information is like crack cocaine. And being able to download each ride into the computer to get a full breakdown of data is seriously addictive. Heck, I can even find out the temperature at various points of the day along the way!

Already I’ve become enamored with the little tone it makes when the auto pause engages as I stop at an intersection, and then restarts when I’m rolling again. And my worries that the satellite connection would drop as I rode under a canopy of trees, or even just a canopy, have so far proven unfounded. I’ll give that a more substantial test when I mount the Garmin to my mountain bike; oh yeah, the unit comes with two mounting kits, so its easy to swap between bikes!

Superman never made any money

16 08 2010

I survived my brief career as a cycling crash test dummy.

Sunday, my Uncle Pete, a longtime bike racer, was in town to help out with his club at the Sockeye Spin criterium in the village of Steveston; so I rode out to meet him, and watch a little racing.

After a loop out to UBC, I crossed the Fraser River on the Canada Line Skytrain Bridge, then followed the well-integrated network of bike lanes through Richmond to Steveston. These bike routes don’t relegate you to obscure sidestreets; they’re marked right into major thoroughfares. They’re also wide and well-signed. It was one of the most stress-free urban rides I’ve ever enjoyed.

When I got to Steveston, as I rode up to the barricaded course, I was corralled by a race volunteer; would I make a quick lap to see if the hay bales in the turns were properly placed?

It must have been my Euskaltel jersey that caught his eye, as there were other cyclists around he could have asked. I’m not a racer, I don’t even play one on tv, I explained. No worries he said, just give it a good run, check the corners and don’t get hurt!

The contentious corner I was enlisted to test

My run went without incident, I was on the rivet. I recommended they shift a couple of bales in one corner. I hope I made the right call.

The criterium was a first-time event for the village. The women’s and cat 1 and 2 men’s fields were relatively small, but the organizers seemed fairly on the ball, and the crowds were enthusiastic. Hopefully the business community was happy, and the race gains a foothold in the summer calendar.

Afterwards, Pete and I retreated to the shade of a waterfront patio to drink some cooling ales and talk bikes and racing while awaiting Katie’s arrival from her epic 29 km training run.

Uncle Pete cheering on his Kamloops racers

At 75, Pete is sort of the patriarch of the Bartel cycling heritage. He’s been racing Masters for years, took some time off for hip replacement surgery, and is back training, competing and cheering on his bike club. He knows bikes; he ran his own shop, Ten Speed Petes, in Kamloops in the late  1980s. But he closed the shop just before the big mountain biking boom. Too bad. He could have been the King of Cycling in the Interior.

When nature calls…

14 08 2010

When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

Just not right there, right now.

But that’s just what happened as I was eating my mid-ride lunch at the Flying Wedge in upscale Kerrisdale yesterday.

I was sitting at the single outdoor bistro table along the busy sidewalk, happily munching my Deluxe slice and enjoying the warm weather, when an Asian woman pushing a stroller with an infant passed by. A couple of steps behind her was a young girl, maybe three or four years old.

Suddenly the girl stopped short and looked up at her mom, in that universal, urgent way that says, “I’ve gotta go.”

The woman sternly instructed something to the girl in a language I didn’t understand. But from her tone and inflection of her voice, I could tell what was coming next.

The young girl squatted down right there in the middle of the busy sidewalk and peed!

Now every cyclist who rides for four or five hours knows the awkwardness when nature calls. But that doesn’t mean we answer that call on a busy street in front of people eating their lunch.

The UCI even has rules requiring racers use discretion when taking their “natural breaks.” cyclingnews.com used to list all the various fines and penalties levied against riders in the Tour, including those imposed for peeing in view of roadside spectators or getting caught pulling out their junk while on tv; they were usually pretty nominal, but they made a point.

While country rides afford plenty of places to pull off and find a discreet bush or isolated ditch for “natural breaks,” a solo urban ride presents challenges, like a lack of washrooms, or, even when there is a handy pitstop, what to do with the bike while inside?

Natural breaks in the city are a little less complicated when riding with someone; one person can watch the bike while the other takes care business.

Fortunately, I seem to have an iron bladder and can “hold it” when necessary. Although, I’ll admit, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of doing it “on the fly” should the occasion arise. Of course, I can’t even spit out water without making a mess of myself, so I should probably abstain from expelling any sort of liquid from my body while riding the bike…

In the heat of the night

12 08 2010

It finally happened.

The shortening days are gathering momentum. Last night we had to turn on the lights for the first time on the return leg of our trail ride.

It's 8:30 p.m. and the sun is almost set.

That’s always the tipping point of summer. A few weeks ago we could bomb through the woods with plenty of daylight even at 9 p.m. Now the gloom closes in around 8:30.

The first few rides under the lights are always a bit of an adventure, as we get used to the shadows and limited range of visibility. That’s one of the reasons we stick to UBC; the trails are fairly easy without too many roots, rocks or potholes that could catch you out at dusk.

The trails at UBC are pretty easy to ride under the lights, but there are still hazards.

That’s not to say there aren’t hazards.

Some of the trails are used by riders from the local equestrian club; I don’t know what those horses are eating all day, but they tend to leave many large hazards right on the trail. And even with lights, those particular hazards are hard to see, especially when you’re bombing down a hill and your eyes tend to travel a bit faster than your beam of light.

Manure is not easy to clean out of knobbies.

Slippery when wet

9 08 2010

Sunday was a day for cycling’s Hard Men.

Not that I’m worthy of such a designation; but with a steady drizzle soaking the sky and dampening the roads, it wasn’t exactly prime riding weather. Especially after five weeks of warm, dry weather.

Katie had a 19 km run with her training peeps this morning, and then a birthday party for her nephew. So I sent her off in my car, and I would ride out to meet her at the birthday party, and we’d drive back.

The weather forecast promised improvement. It never happened.

When I left the condo, the drizzle was barely perceptible. But the air was fresh and my legs full of pep.

Part of that may have been due to my new wheels; not so much that the Fulcrums are awesome wheels, but their stiffness and smooth rolling reinforced how worm my old Mavics had become.

The new hoops had no flex at all, the magnet for my computer didn’t rub the sensor on the front fork at every revolution. The Michelin Pro 3 rubber felt supple and smooth. For the first time in months, my ride was silent.

And oh so very damp.

As I ascended Burnaby Mountain, the clouds closed in. I had to take my riding glasses off so I could see.

As the clouds close in on Burnaby Mountain, there's not much to see.

The southern coast is renowned for its micro-climates; the weather can change every few kilometers. Over the course of 93 kms, I rode through dozens of them, from steady rain to light mist, to dry, to drenching drizzle even as the sky lightened and seemed to promise sunshine.

I was wet, and my bike looked more like it had done a trail ride on Burnaby Mountain, but halfway through my ride, all I could think about was underwear. While I’d packed a change of clothes in the car, I hadn’t counted on it being so relentlessly wet, so I hadn’t included dry underwear or socks in my bag. I pulled over and called Katie; could she pop by the WalMart after her run and buy me some underwear?

The Orbea looks more like a trail bike after Sunday's soggy ride.

After some drama at the Mission-Abbotsford Bridge, which again forces cyclists onto the sidewalk, but then closes the westbound sidewalk, forcing us to the eastbound side of the bridge but doesn’t properly mark the way to get there, I arrived at the party just in time for cake. A change of clothes, and thanks to Katie’s impromptu shopping excursion, dry underwear, awaited. A long ride turned epic because of adverse weather completed.

Turning Japanese

6 08 2010

One of the less-heralded benefits of cycling is that is saves you money.

Not just in gas for your car.

If I’m riding all day, there’s just not much opportunity to spend money, aside from lunch/snack at the midway point.

Not today, though.

Last week, en route to my country ride with Katie, I heard a very loud, very distinct squealing noise coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the rear wheels of my car whenever I got up to highway speed. The noise disappeared the instant I tapped on the brakes, or took a right turn.

It was so loud, so high-pitched, packs of dogs gathered along the shoulder as I passed.

I thought I might be losing a wheel bearing.

So I made an appointment at the garage, loaded my bike on the roof rack, and headed off to drop my car and go for a ride with my buddy, Rich.

Dropping the car at the garage, hoping for the best.

It’s rare I get riding company on a Friday, as most everyone I know is working. But Rich was just finishing up his vacation, and he wanted to try my UBC route.

A half hour into our ride, the cell phone rang. It’s not a wheel bearing. Whew! No, it’s the rear brake calipers, they’ve seized, and they’re not cheap to replace. Ugh.

It’s amazing how much the joy of a ride can be diminished by the cold, stark realization that you’ve got a $1200 car repair bill awaiting you when it’s over.

Ah well, the HED Bastogne wheels I’ve been coveting will have to wait.

As we were both on deadlines – me to retrieve my car, Rich to embark upon a newfound sideline career as a slumlord – we needed to execute our turnaround precisely two hours into our ride. Which happened to be right at the world famous Japadog hot dog stand in downtown Vancouver.

I would salve the pain of my car repair bill with my very first Japadog experience.

Japadog is just a fancy hotdog with a Japanese twist; condiments include teriyaki sauce, plum sauce, fried cabbage, grated radish and bonito flakes.

During the Winter Olympics, the line of tourists looking to try this uniquely Vancouver variation on the smokie stretched for a block. Celebrities love the Japadog.

Chomping into my fist Japadog.

I tried the Oroshi; a pork bratwurst topped with grated radish, green onion and soy sauce. It was alright, nothing spectacular. Give me a brat with sauerkraut and raw onions any day!

Apparently not satisfied with the draining effect on my bank account wrought by the repairs to my car, after picking it up, I headed straight for the bike shop to spin some new wheels.

My Mavics are eight years old and the rear has developed a wobble that can’t be corrected at the spokes or by tightening the hub. They’ve had a good life, but they’re done. Time to put them down.

The shop didn’t carry the Bastognes, the Ardennes were a little rich for my pummeled wallet; so I settled for a pair of Fulcrum Racing 5‘s. Not the same sexy cachet as the HEDs, but I saved a few bucks and rid myself of the troublesome wobble.

When it rains, it pours.