Dogging in, not digging it

22 08 2012

These are the dog days.

With no fall fondo to prepare for, and the July mileage goal safely in the bank, motivation has been sorely lacking the past few weeks. Throw in a heat wave and a healthy dose of life and it’s been easier to find excuses to stay off the bike than spend three or four or five hours on it.

The sun sets earlier every day, making evening rides of any length a bit of a challenge.

I’m not happy about it.





A place to race

17 08 2012

There have been bike races in North America ever since there were bikes, but it’s still pretty much a niche sport.

Most of the continent seems to think the season begins and ends with the Tour de France. Even as Canadian Ryder Hesjedal rode to the Pink Jersey in this spring’s Giro d’Italia, mainstream sportscasters had to remind viewers that race was like Italy’s version of the Tour.

Following the ProTour can be a challenge, overcome only with patience and persistent to root out those online streams from Eurosport, not always with english commentary. Before the Internet, we’d have to wait for stories and agate to appear in the latest edition of VeloNews or import a Euro cycling magazine.

Try initiating a conversation around the watercooler or beer keg about Phillipe Gilbert’s chances in the cobbled classics or Andy Schleck’s comeback from injury and the reply is usually blank stares.

In fact, outside of July, the only time cycling gets much attention in the ball-obsessed sports media is when the latest doping scandal hits the fan.

It can be frustrating.

Ironically, even as we exist in this vacuum, there is local racing all around. Dedicated amateurs train on their own equipment, at their own expense to place in weekly criteriums put on by cycling clubs. The glory is minimal, respect from their peers, maybe enough points to move up a category. Prizes might be a box of energy bars, a new pair of gloves.

Occasionally there are races with more regional interest, attracting a hardy band of North American neo-pros with sponsorship backing and a modest weekly stipend, in addition to the few dollars of prize money they might earn.

There’s not a lot of glory in winning local events like the Seymour Challenge.

 

I don’t imagine it’s an easy life. At the very least, it’s a far cry from the pampered existence of mainstream sports stars who earn millions catching a ball or swatting a  hockey puck.

And very very rarely, one of those neo-pros will have the chops to race with the big boys in Europe. When they come back for local events like BC SuperWeek, it’s incredible to see how far ahead of the North American scene a little time in Europe puts them, how undeveloped and relatively small-time racing really is over here. Which makes the international successes of Canadian riders like Hesjedal, Svein Tuft, Christian Meier, Michael Barry, and a generation before them, Alex Steida and Steve Bauer all the more remarkable.

Christian Mieir, of ProTour team Orica-GreenEdge, at the Gastown Grand Prix.

 

Svein Tuft powers off the front at the Giro di Burnaby.

Hopefully the attention given to Hesjedal’s victory in Italy, and his subsequent effort at the Tour and the Olympics, even though they didn’t go so well, will spark a new generation of cyclists to develop their skills in local races, motivate coaches and sponsors to take them under their wing, promoters to up the ante, organizers to construct challenging and rewarding events.

Then, as they go on to international success, maybe we’ll actually be able to watch the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro di Lombardia live on the 50-inch plasma. In high-def. With english commentary.

Ah, to dream…





Troubled bridges over water

7 08 2012

The Lower Mainland is bisected by the Fraser River, which branches off into two arms as it approaches the Pacific Ocean.

The City of Vancouver is actually a peninsula, bordered by water on three sides.

That means bridges are inevitable.

By my count, Metro Vancouver has 13 bridges accessible to cars, pedestrians and cyclists that traverse water. Pittsburgh, Penn. has 76. London, England has about 25.  Amsterdam has 1,281.

The paucity of bridges can make it challenging to find new routes to ride away from the city. Especially south of the city.

The massive Alex Fraser highway bridge, with a cycling lane/sidewalk on one flank, is the only option to access the communities between Richmond and the US border. But it’s about 15 kms east of the city. Fine if you’re riding from the suburbs, but a considerable detour when heading due south from the city. It also means any ride to the southern hinterlands must also loop back through the same bottleneck.

While most of the bridges claim to be bike friendly, the veracity of those claims is in the eye of the beholder.

The narrow, bumpy concrete sidewalks and thundering din of the Second Narrows make it a terrifying traverse. Passing a pedestrian, slower or oncoming rider is almost impossible.

The convoluted and poorly-marked approaches of the Pitt River and Alex Fraser make them an adventure.

But the most egregious has to be the Pattullo Bridge.

What fresh hell awaits????

It’s old and ugly. It was built when cars and trucks were slower and not as plentiful. It has a nasty kink at each end that has caused many accidents, some of which I’d photographed for the paper. People have died on this bridge.

The “bike lane” is actually the narrow decaying sidewalk, raised high from the roadway with no barrier between it and huge trucks and speeding cars only inches away.

I rarely use the Pattullo when I’m driving the car. On Sunday I crossed it for the first time on my bike.

It wasn’t a lot of fun. With visions of the slightest wobble tipping me into the windshield of an onrushing car or truck, I kept a death grip on the handlebars, pedaling slowly, deliberately.

Fortunately, nobody came at us from the opposite direction. Otherwise all bets were off.

The exit to the adjoining bike route necessitated a hurried crossing of the bridge’s on ramp, just beyond a blind curve.

The antiquated bridge is due for replacement. The government wants to build a six-lane super bridge. But the city of New Westminster, where one end of the bridge empties into residential streets, wants a more modest crossing, perhaps three lanes with an alternating centre corridor. Either way, easily accessed, wide, safe cycling lanes, separated from passing traffic would be a huge improvement, and add another viable option for getting cyclists out of town.





Lost in suburbia

6 08 2012

When I was a kid growing up in suburbia, I set out on my summer cycling adventures with one goal: to get lost. In middle age, I finally succeeded.

After successive weeks of challenging climbing rides, our Sunday FR Fuggitivi opted for a flatter, quicker route to the farmlands of South Delta.

The approach to the Alex Fraser Bridge is made more pungent by the sewage treatment plant next door.

After traversing the (new to me) Alex Fraser Bridge and running the gauntlet of industrial warehouses, sewage plants and saw mills in its considerable shadow, we rolled past sprawling blueberry and fragrant lilac farms. We pondered the powerful protein that might come from a herd of cattle grazing beside an immense hydro switching station. We dodged flocks of careening starlings.

Having survived the industrial parks, we turn into idyllic country roads.

Our turnaround point, Boundary Bay was pretty enough as a park, but lacked refreshment on the steaming morning.

There’s not much to do at our turnaround point.

It was while looking for the route back onto the Alex Fraser Bridge that we got messed up.

While building cycling lanes into bridges is admirable and progressive, making the entrances and exits to those lanes from neighbouring streets readily apparent and easy to navigate is often the key to their success.

In that regard, the new Golden Ears and Richmond SkyTrain bridges are wildly successful. The Pitt River Bridge is a disaster. And the Alex Fraser isn’t much better.

Signage is almost non-existent. Construction on the feeder roads doesn’t help.

We rolled through neighboring subdivisions, our eyes peeled for bike route signs that would hopefully direct us back toward the bridge. It was a frustrating half-hour riding in circles in some sort of Desperate Housewives suburban hell of cookie-cutter houses on cookie-cutter cul-de-sacs.

Finally, a sign seemed to indicate we were on the right track, only to lead us right to a dirt trail that branched right and left, with no further signs telling us which way to go.

Intrepid adventurers that we are, we went cyclocross until the Lapierre pinch-flatted. As I swapped out the tube, Blackberries were consulted, wives phoned for Google guidance.

Back on the road again, their mapping advice spit us onto the proper highway, and a big red circle with a diagonal slash bisecting the figure of a silhouetted cyclist. No mas.

We conceded to the true dread of the day, a traverse of the notorious Pattullo Bridge…





Sometimes…

4 08 2012

…you just need a city day. It’s good for the soul.

A glorious day.





Oh deer!

3 08 2012

It must be a good year for the deer population. They seem to be everywhere, munching on grass and leaves alongside the road. In the country. In the ‘burbs. And, during last night’s ride, in the city.

They don’t seem too phased by all the cars and hubbub rushing by.

Deer don’t seem so dangerous when grinding uphill.

Luckily, I encountered this guy while grinding uphill. I shudder to think what might have happened had I been blasting at 75 km/h in the opposite direction.

 





By the light of the silvery moon

1 08 2012

And so begins the long, gradual descent to fall.

Oh sure, there will still be warm days in August, even September. But the evenings are getting shorter, the shadows longer. A 60 km ride after dinner must now be a 55 km ride, unless you want to risk finishing in darkness.

Fall is nigh; the evening shadows are getting longer.

Which is exactly what I needed to do on Tuesday to achieve 1,200 kms for July.

Knowing it would be a tight squeeze, I set out on a speedy, pan-flat route out to the airport, a shameless play for the digits. But a simple out and back wouldn’t be enough. Even an added loop to the terminal would leave me short, as I did some quick calculations on the road.

So as dusk transformed to darkness, I put my faith in the bright fluorescent green jersey from Belgium I was wearing and the full moon glowing ever brighter in the sky aboveto keep me visible and safe to add another quick 2 km extension beyond home. I hoped it would be enough.

The ultimate night light.

It was, by one km.

And bonus, the ride also put me over 3,000 kms for the year so far.