Storming the road

29 06 2011

Normally the quick, pan-flat ride out to Steveston is just a cheap play for easy kilometers, a nice way to loosen the legs.

It's a pan-flat ride out to Steveston, not much of a challenge usually.

Not tonight.

It wasn’t going to be a ride night. At mid-afternoon it was cold and dark and windy, hardly the kind of weather we should be experiencing two days from July. But by the time I headed home from work, the clouds had drifted away, the temperatures had been warmed by the sun and the wind had become a stiff breeze.

Tree branches were bending in the stiff westerly breeze.

I needed to ride.

When I hit the road, the breeze had started to pick up again, and clouds were sliding in from the horizon. I figured riding into the headwind was as good as a long climb up Burnaby Mountain, so I decided to stay on the flats out to Steveston.

The effect on my pace was immediately apparent; I was a good six kmh slower heading into the westerly wind. Where was an echelon when I needed one?

And, of course, a headwind on the way out is a tailwind on the way home.

Sure enough, after the turnaround my pace quickened by almost 10 kmh, although part of that may have been accomplished by my motivation to keep up with a club racer who had passed me; I was careful not to wheel suck but I was determined to stay about 10 meters back for as long as I could. I lasted for about 3 kms.

Keeping pace with a passing club racer is good motivation

One of my favorite features of the Garmin is the calorie calculator. Not that I’m on a diet or ever really count calories, but it’s nice to know I can indulge in a post-ride treat or decadent desert after a delicious guilt-free meal like barbecued pizza and beer.

Mmmmm, guilt-free pizza and Belgian beer.

Weather or not

24 06 2011

In every life, a little rain must fall.

Except, not on Fridays!

Friday is Ride Day. And this week I had big plans.

On Ride Day, I try to be on the road by 10:30 a.m. Much earlier, I’m dealing with rush hour traffic heading to work. Later than that, and I’ll be riding through rush hour traffic on the way home from work, which is never fun, especially on a Friday

So if I’m turning the pedals at 10:30 (10:00 is even better) then I’ve got a solid four-hour window in which traffic is pretty manageable.

This Friday, though, I’d booked a service for my car first thing in the morning; the plan was to load my bike on the roof rack, drop the car then start my ride from the garage. An earlier start than usual, but the benefits were I would leapfrog past the arduous climb out of New West and I’d be able to ride longer and further than usual. And with two good evening rides earlier in the week, it was shaping up to be a good mileage week.

At least that was the plan until the weatherman intervened.

Oh, his forecast for scattered showers was bang on accurate alright.  And all those showers decided to scatter themselves right onto my riding route!

Even as I took transit back home after dropping the car, sans bike on the roof, I kept an eye on the sky, hoping for a break in the rain that would signal my ride back on again. For a few moments, it did let up. My spirits lifted; it wasn’t yet 10:00 so I had a chance. But by the time I got home, it was raining again. Desperately, I checked various webcams all around Vancouver to see how isolated these showers might be; but most were showing soggy dampness.

When the clock swept past 10:30, I resigned myself to ridus interuptus. I was sad, defeated.

But I didn’t want to squander the day completely. So I decided to tackle a project that’s been taunting me for months; sorting out the bike room closet!

The bike room closet before (actually, during) cleaing

The previous owners of our condo seemed to have been active people as well, as they installed an organizing system perfect for athletic gear in the downstairs bedroom that has become our bike room/office. Its shelves and shoe racks have been perfect for our cycling and running stuff.

But as is wont to happen with closets, it’s been getting increasingly disorganized. And it’s been starting to bug me.

So with the rain falling outside, my Lapierre feeling neglected inside, I set about sorting out that closet, taking out my weather frustration with organization.

And after! A place for everything and everything in its place.

For every season…

21 06 2011

It’s the first official day of summer! And the longest day of the year!

Which means I could spend it dancing around an aluminum pole shrouded with leaves and vines, like they do in Scandinavia…

Summer festivus for the rest of us.

Or I could take advantage of the warm temperatures and lingering sunshine to go for a ride…

It's a late night for the Lapierre, but at 9:15 p.m., the sun is still out!

Eleven days until the start of the Tour de France!

Roadie redux

20 06 2011

I’m on the road again.

Back on familiar pavement.

After Sunday’s reacquaintance with the mud and roots and rocks of trail riding on Burnaby Mountain, I was much more comfortable on the pavement out to UBC on Monday evening even as the weather deteriorated yet again.

I’m a roadie.

While the trails are a nice change of pace, especially when riding with buddies, I prefer the speed and long distances of the road. Through much of the 1990s us roadies were a vanishing breed; even I strayed for a time as my beloved steel Crammerotti accumulated more dust than kilometers while I mashed my Kona mountain bike in the mud. Mountain biking was hot, especially in these parts where many of the sport’s pioneers were pushing the envelope of trail building and riding over on the North Shore on the flanks of mountains like Fromme.

But, as with most trends, road riding is back. Wearing tight lycra is cool again. In fact, never being one to shy away from writing in the paper about my own interests, here’s a story I did to promote bike month about the resurgence of roadies:

When Neil Davies brought in an $8,000 racing bike to his Jubilee Bicycles shop, it was sold even before he had a chance to put it on display.

While some people may flinch at the idea of spending as much on a bicycle as a used car, it’s happening more and more says Davies.

Neil Davies with one of the high-end BMC bicycles he now sells at his shop.

Many of those bike big spenders are “MAMILs,” an acronym coined by a British publication to describe Middle Aged Men In Lyrca. Instead of spending their disposable income on a Porsche, they’re buying high end road bikes. Instead of strolling away an afternoon on a golf course, they’re training to ride in 120 kilometre Gran Fondos and charity cycling events like the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

“Their kids are older and they have more time for themselves instead of chasing around to soccer fields all weekend,” says Davies, who’s been selling bikes at the family store for more than 20 years. “Many of them can’t run or ski anymore because their knees are shot, and there’s no cost of admission to ride a bike.”

While mountain bikes ruled the last decade, the sleek, skinny-tired road bikes are making a resurgence, says Davies. Part of that is due to the “Fondo effect,” as cyclists and would-be cyclists sign up to challenge themselves in long mass-participation events that have all the trappings of a big-time European bike race like electronic timing, mechanical support and feeding stations along the route; last year there was one such Gran Fondo in British Columbia, this year there are four.

Another allure is the vast improvements in bike technology. A new carbon fiber road bike is feather-light, more comfortable and easier to ride than old steel Schwinn’s and Paramounts of yore.

“It’s two pedal strokes down the road and it’s like ‘wow, I can’t believe it,’” says Davies, who this year added bikes from Swiss manufacturer BMC to his store’s stable to meet the demand of discerning roadies.

“Twenty years ago we were the oddballs,” says Davies, a successful amateur road racer in his younger days. “Now it’s come full circle.”

Into the clouds

19 06 2011

Marine cloud.

For the non-meteoroligically inclined, that’s when a layer of cool moist air moves inland from the ocean, bringing cloud and drizzle on what’s supposed to be a nice day.

In the middle of a summer heat wave, marine cloud brings cool relief.

But when it’s not even summer yet, let alone hot, it just means a change of plans from a road ride.

Alas, not riding at all was not an option, as I skipped my usual Friday ride to await delivery of our new dining set. So by Sunday my legs were twitching to turn the pedals.

I lost my usual Friday ride to await delivery of our new dining set

Fortunately my trail buddies Dan and Shanksman were heading up to tackle the undulating cross country single and double track on Burnaby Mountain so I pulled out the Kona and latched on.

Those trails used to be our regular haunt, but it’s been a couple of years since we’d been up there; the fear of crashing seems to become more pronounced as you get older, and we’ve all managed to have some significant crashes up there.

Dan heading up Burnaby Mountain for the first time in a couple of years

Of course, being true cross country riders who appreciate the up as much as the coast back down the mountain, no shuttling for us.

For the most part the climb is just a steady slog, find a rhythm and gut it out. That is, until the trail forks: to the right, the easy way up; to the left, 90 meters of vertical torture called Cardiac.

After the requisite pause to catch our breath, and for Shanksman to muster his courage. we went left.

Shanksman musters his courage to tackle the steep climb of Cardiac

Momentum and technique are the keys to a successful ascent of Cardiac; maintain the former and keep just enough weight over the front of the bike to ensure the front wheel stays in contact with the ground while still transferring to the back wheel.

And he's off!

According to my Garmin, the early, steepest part of the climb is about 34%, with one brief blip up to 41%, then it levels out somewhat to average almost 24%.

Ouch, a chest burster for sure.

The riding pace up Cardiac is barely faster than walking.

Frankly, I was more nervous about the descent.

It’s been awhile since any of us had ridden any kind of technical trails; UBC is pretty easy when it comes to mountain biking. And while Burnaby Mountain is a far cry from the North Shore Mountains, the damp roots, occasional bridges, drops and rock gardens can be worrisome when your confidence and technique are lacking.

I wavered on a line going over a bridge and went down early, but it was Shanksman who had the biggest blowout when he hit the front brake a little too hard coming off a bridge and catapulted into the ground hard. I didn’t see it, but I heard his moaning and wheezing as he tried to regain his breath.

Our first worry was he’d cracked a rib or dislocated his shoulder. But after lying motionless for a few moments, he gathered himself up off the ground; he’d just been winded, a nasty gash on his ankle the only memento of his misadventure.

Shankman's SFU souvenir.

The trails are a nice change of pace (literally), but give me a long afternoon on the smooth road anytime.

Emotional rescue

14 06 2011

Stop the roller coaster!

The Vancouver Canucks have been putting us through an emotional wringer this spring. After 40 years of futility that included two previous appearances in the Stanley Cup final in which they came away empty, they came into this year’s playoffs as the champions of the regular season and favorites to emerge as champions of the post season.

They seemed to have all the tools in place, a dynamic, speedy offense, a mobile defense, a goalie with an Olympic gold medal in his back pocket.

And while they’re poised to play in the seventh and decisive game of the final on Wednesday evening, they haven’t made their journey easy. Their offense mostly disappeared. The defense has been depleted by injuries. Luongo, their Olympian goaltender has proved to be as skittish and fragile as a porcelain doll.

Along the way they’ve managed to alienate almost the entire country with incessant whining about bad officiating and mean-spirited play by their opponents while taking their own nasty chops with sticks, gloves and even teeth. On Tuesday, the Toronto Star declared even if the Canucks do prevail, they’ll be the most unworthy champions ever.

But none of that has diminished the ardor and devotion of their fans.

Tens of thousands flock downtown on game nights to watch en masse on giant screens. We tried that one night, and while the vibe was mostly positive, we could barely see the screen, so we turned around and came home.

The giant tv monitor showing the Canucks' game is barely a speck, a block away.

Cars and trucks are decorated with flags. It seems everyone now owns a Canucks’ jersey. Windows are painted with their logo. So are people’s faces.

And in one West Side bicycle shop, there’s even displayed a special custom-painted Canucks’ Pinarello.

A custom Canucks' Pinarello

Go Canucks!

On the run

12 06 2011

I’ve said it before; I’m not a runner. Never will be.

When Katie recites her ever-lengthening list of aches, ailments and injuries she’s endured and overcome since taking up the sport, adds up the hundreds of dollars she’s spent on physiotherapy, massage and Advil to deal with those maladies, and rummages through the closet of toe shoes, flats, resistance bands and bandages to prevent further injuries, I can only smile. As a cyclist, the worst I have to deal with is a sore butt early in the season before the callouses have built up, maybe some sunburn on the nose. Oh yeah, and death in the event I get run over by a dump truck.

But living through Katie’s months of training and sacrifice to get ready for a marathon or half-marathon has given me new respect for runners and their obsession. Attending her events to cheer her on and provide support has exposed me to the breadth and depth of passion runners have for their sport.

Runners come in all shapes and sizes. They’re tall and lanky, short and stout. Some are tricked out in the latest technical gear and expensive shoes, others just show up in sweats and a t-shirt. They stride like gazelles and waddle like geese, they’re fast, they’re slow, they pound the pavement like a jackhammer or glide over it in a whisper. They’re old, they’re young. They’re serious, they’re smiling. Some check their watches as they cross the finish line, fixated on their time, some double over, some beeline for the fuel stop to replenish after their effort.

Saturday, Katie was entered in a 10km, the final leg of her month-long Triple Crown in which she achieved a half-marathon, marathon and 10km. But wait, there’s more!

The run was also a showdown with her brother Matt, for bragging rights at The Greatest Running Robinson Ever!

Who will prevail as the Greatest Running Robinson Ever?

As I bided my time at the finish line, I was entertained by the endless stream of runners, whole families completing the event together, fathers holding the hands of their sons, a woman pushing a young man in a wheelchair with the bib number pinned to his chest, oldtimers in short shorts from the 1970s, a dude in tie-dye. little kids giving it all to sprint to the line, rookies shuffling along every step an effort.

As if there was any doubt!

It was great fun and put a smile on my face.

Then I got on my bike and rode 90 kms back home.

City (es)cape

6 06 2011

Vancouver is a city of contrasts.

For every lovely loop around Stanley Park or UBC, in the shade of towering cedars, breathtaking vistas over the ocean to the North Shore mountains, there’s a necessary traverse through a dowdy, dusty industrial park or rough residential area with overgrown lawns and dilapidated fences. For every neatly-manicured waterfront walk there’s expansive walls defaced by garish graffiti.

When you spend more time riding through the latter, it’s sometimes hard to understand why this city is so beloved. The architecture is uninspiring, mostly cookie-cutter glass and concrete condo towers. Public transit is underwhelming. It rains a lot. It’s expensive.

And then there are times like Sunday night when the glory of this place becomes apparent.

For Katie’s birthday we went for dinner to a French restaurant along the False Creek waterfront at the foot of Yaletown. When I came out here 20 years ago, this area was barren industrial land that had been cleared for Expo ’86. Since then it has come alive with condo towers, restaurants, shops, parks and a glorious promenade along the water where people stroll, cycle, skateboard, rollerblade walk their dogs, sit on a bench to chat, read, listen to the iPods.

We were able to enjoy all of that on a warm evening from our ringside seat on the outdoor patio, as we enjoyed a lovely meal and a couple of glasses of rosé. Perfect. If only we could afford to live down there.

Grilled halibut and spot prawns, on a waterfront patio; this is what's great about Vancouver living

Of course the evening wouldn’t be complete without a bit of Vancouver pretension. When we arrived at the restaurant we passed a table where a couple of dudes clad head-to-toe in pristine Assos cycling gear were trying to impress their female companions. One of the Assos guys complimented my oh-so-stylin’ Castelli checked cycling cap. Point to him for acknowledging a fellow cyclist.

But any spirit of brotherhood evaporated when they departed the patio for a smoke, then retreated to their BMW where they had their bikes stuffed into the back seat, likely without a single speck of road dust anywhere on them. Poseurs.

Fever pitch

3 06 2011

There’s a fever gripping the Lower Mainland. And it’s not dengue or even ebola.

But everywhere I went on my reprise ride of Le Tour de Cinque Ponts today, the signs of infection were hard to miss. The symptoms are a green and white pallor, an inexplicable compulsion to attach little flapping flags to car windows and hang full-size flags and towels in apartment and office windows. They can also include spontaneous loud whooping, random high-fiving and an annoyingly optimistic demeanor.

Vancouver’s got a bad case of Stanley Cup fever.

In their 40-year existence, the Canucks have never won a championship, although they’ve been to the finals twice before. Then they were unlikely participants; nobody expected them to win. This time they’re the favorites and, as of this posting, they actually are winning, leading the Boston Bruins 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.

The excitement in the city – the whole province – is palpable. It’s all anyone is talking about. Everyone has an extra spring in their step. The streets are alive with happy people. Media are everywhere, prowling for stories. It’s like the 2010 Winter Olympics all over again.

Even the statues in Stanley Park are getting into the spirit. After all, the park is named after the very same British Lord who donated the silver bowl that tops the coveted Stanley Cup trophy everyone is hoping the Canucks will be able to parade through the streets sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Lord Stanley, at the entrance of Stanley Park, is apparently a Canuck

So is the mermaid on the other side of the park.

The Lapierre is pretty keyed up as well. If the Canucks prevail, the Lapierre name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup as one of the players is Maxine Lapierre; you won’t find Trek, Willier, Cannondale, Specialized or even Merckx anywhere on that trophy.

A tale of two Lapierres.