Pimp my rides

30 07 2012

I’m a mileage whore.

Especially in July, when I’m all about the digits.

July is all about the digits, and that means some rides are done solely to achieve the desired digits.

That’s because, for the past several years, my goal for the month has been 1000 kms. The days are long, so evening road rides are possible. The weather is (mostly) good. There’s plenty of motivation from watching the Tour de France every morning. And a week or two off dedicated to cycling certainly helps as well.

My best July was ’08, when I pedalled 1,600 kms, the second of four consecutive 1000 km months. I rode on 17 of 31 days, 11 rides of which were longer than 100 kms

The following year, though, I fell short. I can’t remember why.

This year, I may hit 16 rides by the time July ends on Tuesday, and my mileage may just crack 1,200. Only three rides have been greater than 100 kms.

It seems it’s just getting harder to spend vast stretches of time on the bike.

Life takes up more time. And the ever-increasing volumes of traffic shrink the window I’m willing to be on the bike in traffic; during the weekday rides, I try to leave after the morning rush and be home before the afternoon rush begins.

Some cyclists say it’s the quality of miles and hours on the bike that matter more than distance. July’s 45+ hours on the bike included more than 10,600 meters of climbing.

Soul rider

26 07 2012

Bikes have souls.

Treat them with respect, and they will reward you. Neglect them and they will react with disdain, plaguing your life with creaks, snaps, flats and frustration.

The Lapierre is very French; she exudes style and panache even while in repose.

After the usual series of kids’ bikes while growing up, including the souped-up three-speed with a “sissy bar” and “chopper” handlebars, and the department store five-speed constructed of heavy “hi-tensile steel!” and reflectors affixed to every imaginable surface to stave off various potential lawsuits, my first “real” bike was a grey Peugeot. I bought it at the end of my high school days, and, as Peugeot was still a respected name in those days, ridden by pros in the Tour de France, it felt very grown up. It even had toe clips.

But it was still heavy, and didn’t age very gracefully.

Towards the end of my university days, I happened to wander into a bike shop while running errands one Saturday when a lithe Italian beauty, Rossi, caught my eye. Its Columbus tubes gleamed. its chromed forks and stays twinkled. It beckoned and I answered. One test ride and I was in love. It’s cost put a serious divot in my student’s bank account, but I didn’t care. The bike had spoken.

It became my most prized possession.

When Look started selling clipless pedals, I ponied up $300 for a set of heavy red ones and sleek Lake cycling shoes. Suddenly the local hills didn’t seem quite so daunting anymore.

We enjoyed many years and thousands of kilometres together.

And even as the Rossi was usurped by subsequent bikes, my affinity for her never waned. For years she held a place of pride in my apartment, a kind of kinetic sculpture to be admired and dusted weekly. She served a stint as my trainer bike.

But I could tell she wasn’t happy being cooped up. Her downtube shifters and Campagnolo gears fell slightly out of adjustment. Her tires flattened.

When it came time to move, to begin my life with Princess of Pavement, I knew I would have to let the Rossi go. But the waste bin was too cruel, my attachment to her too strong. I knew she still had some life, even some 20 years after I first acquired her.

And so she entered the life of RDM, an impulse throw-in to another transaction. But one that, as he so eloquently writes, changed his life too.

Rewarding rides

25 07 2012

I love the calorie counter function on my Garmin.

While the other readings like distance, speed, time and elevation tell you what you have done, the calorie counter tells you what you CAN do. Which, as every cyclist knows, usually involves a reward of some sort of indulgent food or beverage.

Mmmm, chocolate/raspberry and grapefruit sorbetto…

Presumably the little computer that is perched on the stem of my Lapierre uses some kind of algorithm based upon the weight and height data I input when I first set it up to calculate an approximation of the energy I’ve expended based upon the ride data.

Mid-ride rewards, aka lunch, are allowed.

I’ve no idea how accurate it is.

But when the Garmin tells me I’ve used 4100 calories on a 130 km ride, that’s good enough for me to raid the refrigerator. Guilt free!

After a long hot day on the bike, nothing’s better.

The ultimate in post-ride satisfaction?


Conquering a mythical Col (sort of)

23 07 2012

It is shrouded by thick greenery and mountain mists.

It is a place of group ride legend and discussion forum lore.

Its secrets are known to only the bravest, hardiest and strongest of thigh.

Where others climb to glory and the reward of a homeward descent, it pays out its thrills in advance then extracts payment in full before cups and chilled mugs can be raised in accomplishment.

Some of the climbs are a thigh-bursting 24 per cent.

Its rough surface and narrow passage affirm its Pyrenéean inclinations, modest though they may be when compared to the real deal, the Tourmalet, the Peyrésourde, the Galibier. To merely be uttered in the same paragraph is an homage; for some it will as close as they will ever get to such mythical ascents.

Tight, twisting switchbacks evoke Pyrenéean cols.

Its inclines humble calves, its cracks and potholes rattle molars, its trio of tight hairpins burn knuckles.

And when the day is done, the digital digits are overshadowed by the smiles of achievement.

A flat tire seems a shoddy reward for conquering the Col.

Indian River Drive is a Col, in reverse.

Instead of climbing into the clouds, it first descends to the sea along speedy rollers and then a trio of steep, sharp switchbacks. And since it’s a dead end, those switchbacks become challenging, big ring busting ascents on the return trip. Some of the pitches court 24 per cent.

By the dawn’s early light

18 07 2012

I’m a morning person. Much to the dismay of the Princess of Pavement.

Even on my days off, I leave the alarm set for 6 a.m.

In July that even means I’m sleeping in. Because when the Tour de France is on, I watch it live. That means setting my alarm regularly for 5 a.m., and as early as 3:30 a.m. for those gruelling mountain stages.

It’s the least I can do to honour the riders’ suffering.

But as early as I awaken, I still like to ease into my day, by catching up on the Internet, listening to the radio, flipping through the newspaper (now that we actually subscribe to one for the first time in more than three years; it’s free, which is a pretty sad statement on our industry), watering the plants on the balcony, eating breakfast.

I’m not particularly keen to pursue robust activity that early.

On Tuesday, still basking in the post-Fondo glow, I pitched an idea to RDM and his riding buddies that we prepare for our long drive home later that day by heading out for a ride in the morning. Early morning. As in 6 a.m. early.

Lapierre in the pre-dawn gloom.

After all, my body clock is already on TdF time. We’d beat the heat of the day. And we’d get to wring a little more enjoyment from the beautiful surroundings of Penticton.

An early ride through the hills and vineyards.

And so we headed out for a robust two-hour spin up to the vineyards above Summerland, with their gorgeous vistas over Okanagan Lake. It was, we all agreed, our favourite part of the fondo route.

Saturday, we did it again. This time a 100 kilometre hammerfest to The Goat. After my companions shook away their overnight cobwebs, we all enjoyed a serene sunrise, the cool morning air, quiet roads not yet busy with traffic and a whole afternoon free and clear.

A pretty payoff for the early start.

The early morning ride, they all agreed, was a good idea. But not one they’re too enthused to repeat any time soon.
We’ll see.

The heat of the day

17 07 2012

Fondo-mania is gripping the nation.

Two years ago when I started this blog, the Whistler Gran Fondo was the first ride of its kind organized in Canada. This year there are five such fondos in this province alone, a handful more scattered across the country. And, inevitably, they almost always sell out of their starting positions.

Of course, we could ride 90 or 120 or 160 kms on our own, any time, for free.

But there’s something affirming and festive about assembling with thousands of like-minded middle-aged white men and women (because that seems to be the demographic that dominates these events) to ride together, celebrate our fitness and have snacks handed to us by cheery volunteers.

As the Valley First Gran Fondo Axel Merckx is scheduled fairly early in my cycling season, when my mileage is just starting to crack 100 km rides on a regular basis, I signed up for the 92 km Medio instead of the 160 km full meal deal. Despite that, it was probably the most fun of the three fondos I’ve done.

Enjoying the scenery, and the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo.

Perhaps it’s because I knew I could manage the distance despite the heat, which finally decided to kick in that very weekend.

Perhaps it’s because this was the first fondo I’ve done with riding companions, as RDM and his Saturday cycling buddies also signed on, as well as my Uncle Pete.

It’s always better to ride with friends.

Perhaps it’s because of the brief thrill I experienced when the full fondo’s racing group caught me part way up the final climb but I was then able to latch onto the tail of their select peloton for about four km until they made the turn to hammer up the home stretch.

The Axel Merckx was well-organized and, with only 2,500 participants, a little more relaxed than Whistler or the Levi Leipheimer. Poorly-executed pacelines seemed few and far between; most riders seemed content to just enjoy the day and the beautiful scenery. The rest stops were perfectly positioned along the route and well stocked with fruit, energy food and water, all distributed by smiling volunteers. Mechanical assistance was readily available at the stops, although it did seem a little scarce along the route. And the post-ride party offered plenty of shade, treats and even a free beer!

Good thing there was lots of mechanical assistance available…

… as RDM took full advantage.


Enjoying the well-earned shade.

In fact, about the only quibble most riders shared was with the post-ride barbecued chicken burger; then again, it’s hard to match the standards of the tasty paella served up at the finish of the Levi Leipheimer.

Well done Axel and crew!

Aprés fondo, everyone heads to the wineries!

Ahh, this is the life…

… even if Princess of Pavement can’t indulge in the vineyards’ bounty.

A cycling family

13 07 2012

My love of cycling comes naturally. Chain lube courses through my veins.

My dad met my mom while on a cycling tour of Germany. His older brother Peter was a competitive cyclist for years, owned a renowned bike shop for a stretch and he’s still riding, coaching and organizing races at 76.

Sunday, my uncle Pete and I rode together at the Axel Merckx Gran Fondo in Penticton.

Pete’s character and heart are equally large. He’s full of stories, from sharing youthful adventures with my dad growing up in war-torn Berlin, to his own exploits in the cycling realm. And he seems to know everybody.

As he spun tails in the shade of the convention centre where we registered for the ride, he’d be interrupted every few moments by someone who recognized him, or to wave a greeting and share a quip with a familiar face. When a member of his cycling club showed up without proper riding shorts, we booked it to the trunk of his car to root around for a spare pair.

He and his wife, my aunt Sandy, were pillars of strength and support for my mom as she coped with the loss of my father to pancreatic cancer eight years ago, checking in by phone regularly, visiting when their travels took them to that part of the country.

And when Princess of Pavement and I were married, he gave a speech that had everyone in stitches.

Can you see the family resemblance?

As we found our place amidst the 2500 other cyclists awaiting the start of the fondo, we talked about my dad’s own cycling adventures, and how much we both missed him.

We didn’t actually ride together very long; he was doing the 50 km Cortofondo, while I was doing the slightly more ambitious 92 km Mediofondo.

Reliving the triumphs of a hot day on the bike.

But when I rolled into the finish area four hot and sweaty hours later, his beaming smile was there to congratulate me. And then he was off to say hello to another buddy.

The old man is snoring

2 07 2012

This is getting ridiculous.

It’s the last day of the Canada Day holiday weekend and it has rained every day. Plans for a group ride with plenty of climbing have been washed out. Again.

It feels like the summer is slipping away without ever getting started.

Even the Laughing Men sculptures are feeling put upon by all the rain.

Between work and other daily obligations, there are limited opportunities to ride. It’s a struggle all recreational cyclists face.

A good season is when we’re able to make the most of those opportunities.

And, as much as we don’t like to concede we’re fair-weather riders, the weather plays a big role in that.

Kitting up in multiple layers, topped by a rain jacket, pulling booties over shoes and squinting into the mist isn’t my idea of fun. Even heading out into persistently grey skies gets to be a bit wearisome week after week.

Being out in the sunshine for hours on end, revelling in the warmth and bright blue sky is one of the great pleasures of our sport.

Riding in rain and gloom feels more like work. Cleaning the bike for an hour after a rainy ride is definitely work. Frankly, when it’s my day off from work, the last thing I feel like doing is… work.

It’s July and the only tan I have on my legs is the little patch between the bottom of my knickers and the top of my socks. And that basically happened from one ride on a day when the sun actually made an appearance.