Getting Strava-fied

31 07 2013

I’ve never raced my bike, but I love to win trophies.

Virtual ones.

I’ve been Strava-fied.

I first started logging my cycling mileage online in 2003. That’s when I found a little website called activebody.org. It’s pretty rudimentary, but I was able to transfer the data from my old school cycle computer to give me cumulative totals of my mileage and time on the bike by the week, the month and the year.

There was also seasonal “challenges” that allowed me to see how I stood against the other riders, those from my country and those in my age bracket.

Then I got a Garmin.

The Garmin changed my life!

The Garmin changed my life!

Suddenly I had more data than I knew what to do with. My ascents were no longer guesstimates. I could see my route on a map. I didn’t have to do math to figure out my average speed.

But each ride existed unto itself. So I still logged everything into activebody.org for the cumulative and comparative numbers. Besides, I kinda enjoyed watching my name rise up the ranks in the seasonal challenges.

Then last year, someone sent me an invite to join Strava.

I’d heard about Strava, even read articles about it. I really didn’t have a burning desire to join as Garmin’s site already gave me reams of info about my rides.

I let the invite slide deeper and deeper into the bowels of my email In box.

Then, one day curiosity got the better of me.

It didn’t take long for me to get hooked – as in the first time I noticed the little trophy icon at the top of my ride stats.

Now when I return from rides and download my Garmin, my eyes immediately dart to the little trophy icon to see how my effort compared to previous runs along the same segments. I want those trophy icons. If I come up dry, I’m disappointed; I obviously didn’t go hard enough.

When I download to Strava, the first thing I look for is the trophy.

When I download to Strava, the first thing I look for is the trophy.

Of course I harbor no illusions that I’ll ever be top of the heap in a sprint, or King of the Mountain on a climb; but the incentive to improve on my own performances can keep my legs churning when my spirit is flagging.

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Tour hangover

26 07 2013

I’ve got a hangover.

A Tour de France hangover.

The end of the Tour is always a tough time. Three weeks – two of which are vacation time – is long enough to fall into a familiar routine that begins in the early morning with the live broadcast of the Tour and ends after watching the evening replay. In between there’s family activities and, of course, rides.

The Tour de France starts early in the Pacific time zone; often before sunrise.

The Tour de France starts early in the Pacific time zone; often before sunrise.

The Tour is a great motivator to ride. After all, it’s hard not to be inspired to click over a few kilometres of your own after starting your day with four or five hours of bike racing on TV. Plus there’s all those mileage competitions out there, Strava, Map My Ride, ActiveBody. Each challenges riders to complete some percentage of the actual Tour. Some offer actual prizes, some just virtual badges of honour. All are a good incentive to get the rides in and log them as soon as I get home.

But now the Tour is done. So are most of the challenges. Thursday’s quick 36 km ride was my first since the Tour’s finale on Sunday; my legs felt heavy, my spirit diminished.

Of course the shadows lengthening ever earlier and the increased urgency to get out and back as quickly as possible as portents that we’re on the road to fall might also have had something to do with it.

It's 8 p.m. and already the evening shadows are lengthening.

It’s 8 p.m. and already the evening shadows are lengthening.





What goes up, must come down. Thank god!

18 07 2013

Most cyclists have a love-hate relationship with mountains.

They love reaching the top. They hate getting there.

Of course that can change meter by meter, depending on the nature of the climb, how the legs are feeling, the weather.

I don’t consider myself a climber. I don’t relish ascents, but I don’t go out of my way to avoid them. Mostly. After all, a long, hard climb is my admission ticket to an exhilarating descent.

When I was younger, I was all about the up. Now, I’m more about the down. But the latter can’t happen without first accomplishing the former.

The Lapierre is a wonderfully stable bike, which gives me the confidence to really push it going down, leaning into swooping curves, tucking down the straights.

Sunday, with the Tour de France on the eve of a tough week of mountainous stages, our FRFuggitivi group elected to climb our own Géant du Nord-Ouest, Mt. Seymour.

At almost 13 kilometres long with an average gradient of about seven per cent, with the occasional pitch to nine, it might rank as a Category 1 climb on the Tour, if it came at the end of a long, hard stage. Locally, it’s as big and as gruelling as it gets.

We knew our little peloton would split apart pretty quickly, so arrangements were made to rendezvous at a coffee shop afterwards before riding home.

The split happens early, but I'm able to hang with Curtis until the final sprint.

The split happens early, but I’m able to hang with Curtis until the final sprint.

Early on, the mountain goats of the group stretched their sinewy legs and were off the front on the first steep incline.

I settled into a comfortable rhythm, keeping abreast with fellow FRFer and neighbour, Curtis.

The l’autobus was somewhere behind us.

The company and conversation helped the kilometres tick by almost unnoticed. When climbing solo, there’s nothing else to think about than the road ahead and the slow pace those roadside mileage markers are passing by.

It took me 64 minutes to reach the summit, just behind Curtis’ sprint to the line, eight minutes behind the goats.

Riding across the finish line at the summit. Guy needs to clean the lens on his cellphone camera.

Riding across the finish line at the summit. Guy needs to clean the lens on his cellphone camera.

The blackflies and mosquitoes at the top were voracious, so we pointed our wheels downhill and headed for the coffee shop.

It's Bastille Day, so a few of us celebrate by impersonating French cycling heroes.

It’s Bastille Day, so a few of us celebrate by impersonating French cycling heroes.

Time to punch my ticket.





Lost in America

14 07 2013

Well it took almost 50 years, but it finally happened; I got lost on the bike.

When you’re a kid, your bike is freedom, your ticket to adventure. And what could be a better adventure than getting lost?

It never happened of course. After all, dinner beckoned, and a day on the bike made a kid hungry.

But when your driver’s license is still years off, pedalling to the park 15 kms away is a grand day out.

Saturday, Princess of Pavement and I took advantage of a generous offer by her sister-in-law to look after Little Ring so we could ride together. We decided to make it an adventure by pedalling unknown roads. In America.

It was our second straight Saturday of making a run for the border. Emboldened and confident after our first foray on the flat, quiet backroads of Whatcom County, we set off for a route that would challenge us a little more and take us to the foothills of Mount Baker, le géant du nord-ouest.

The night before I studied routes on Map My Ride, consulted official DOT maps to get an idea of traffic busyness, scrounged through forums to glean intel of what we might encounter, hit up Yelp and Urban Spoon for lunch stops. My research resulted in two routes, a long out and back, and a shorter, more circuitous route with a bailout option if we were running short on time. I wrote out the directions for each  route on notepaper.

We crossed the border at Sumas, a depressed little burg whose main industry is postal drop boxes catering to Canadians who like to take advantage of free shipping from amazon.com. After a long slog up Reese Hill Rd. which became a state highway with narrow shoulders and speeding traffic, we quickly decided our slightly shorter bail-out route would be our ride.

Quiet rural roads trump buzzing traffic on state routes.

Quiet rural roads trump buzzing traffic on state routes.

How the heck do you play basketball on a busy road?

How the heck do you play basketball on a busy road?

Lunch was at a funky little café – well, the only one in Maple Falls – with live jazz music in the front garden. Our bellies full and our legs fuelled, we took a left turn onto a quiet country road that would take us past Silver Lake, skirt the border again and eventually reconnect us with our route home.

Lunch at Café 542, the only café in tiny Maple Falls.

Lunch at Café 542, the only café in tiny Maple Falls.

But hey, there's live jazz music in the front garden!

But hey, there’s live jazz music in the front garden!

That’s when I screwed up.

Somehow in transferring the map route on the computer to directions I could keep in my jersey pocket, I noted a left turn that should have been a right turn. When we reached that turn in real life, it didn’t make sense, so we carried on our way.

Twenty minutes along the hilly rural road, doubt started scratching at my brain; we should have crossed onto our road back to Sumas by now. Princess of Pavement was stressing that she’d be very late for Little Ring’s late afternoon feeding.

We were lost, but we found a new branch of the family!

We were lost, but we found a new branch of the family!

Stubbornly, I refused to accept I might have screwed up and clung to my faith that any moment we’d round a bend and discover we were right all along.

Never happened.

At a crossroads far from anything familiar, we flagged down a motorist and admitted our predicament. We were lost.

Well, it turns out we weren’t THAT lost.

A couple of quick turns and a flat ride through the countryside quickly got us back to Sumas. Little Ring’s feeding was only 40 minutes behind schedule. And we’d chocked up a nifty 80km adventure.





Vive le tour!

9 07 2013

The Tour de France is such a great sporting spectacle, it gets to celebrate its 100th anniversary twice.

Ten years ago the Tour marked its centenary, 100 years since the first race in 1903.

This year the Tour celebrates its centenary again, 100 Tours; 10 of the events were lost to World Wars. It’s kind of tough to ride bikes amidst trenches and tanks.

I was lucky enough to be at the centenary Tour. It was one of those “bucket list” trips that first implanted itself in my brain after Lance’s famous “look back” at his rival Jan Ullrich on the slopes of Alp d’Huez in 2001. It was an enthralling, audacious thing to do, especially as Lance had seemed on the ropes prior to that. I vowed that someday I wanted to witness some of that drama first hand.

A ride out to the airport awakens desires to get on a plane for France.

A ride out to the airport awakens desires to get on a plane for France.

The next summer, as I watched the Tour on TV early in the morning, I searched for tours to the Tour on my computer. I set my sights on an Australian company that offered opportunities to ride parts of stages as well as a multitude of roadside viewing opportunities.

Going to the Tour in its centenary year was a bonus. The organizers heaped on all sorts of special features, including a route that would visit the five French cities that were the main waypoints of the first Tour. There was also a special citizens’ ride through the streets of Paris just hours before the Tour’s final stage. And after the race was done, the trophies and jerseys presented, there was a gala parade up and down the Champs Elysée.

Of course 2003 was the height of the Lance era. He was going for his fifth straight Tour victory, placing him among cycling’s greats, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Being at the Tour is much different that watching it unfold on TV.

Bird-dogging it for days on end is a completely immersive experience, with its own unique rhythm. We talked about the Tour at breakfast, we fuelled up to be able to ride to the Tour, we spent hours along the roadside awaiting its passage, clueless as to what was transpiring on the road before the first sounds of helicopters in the air indicated its imminent arrival. We dashed into the grass for trinkets and treats tossed by the promotional caravan. And in a heartbeat the officials’ vehicles, the peloton and the broom wagon were passed. At dinner and on into the evening, we dissected the days events, speculated on what would happen the next stage.

Riding ahead of the race, we were able to feel the pain of the steep pitches up mountain climbs, hear the clamour of roadside fans excited for any sort of distraction, experience the thrill of a finish line sprint after dodging the gendarmes at St. Maxient d’Ecole, marvel at the view up the long road of cobbles to the Arc de Triomphe.

There was no shortage of drama at the ’03 Tour, from the crazy pileups of the opening stages, to Joceba Beloki’s dramatic crash on the melting decent to Gap that smashed his femur and sent Lance on a cross-country excursion to avoid a similar fate, to Lance’s own tumble on the way up Luz Ardiden and then his inspired ascent to victory, to Tyler Hamilton’s heroic stage victory despite a separated shoulder, to the final time trial into Nantes in a driving rainstorm that sent Ullrich to the tarmac as he went around a slippery roundabout.

It’s a shame subsequent events have tarnished the integrity of much of that drama.

Passing on the love for cycling and le Tour to the next generation of Ring.

Passing on the love for cycling and le Tour to the next generation of Ring.

Ten years later, the memories of the sights, sounds and thrills of that trip still wash over me as I watch this centenary Tour play out on TV. Especially as the race courses along familiar roads, as it did on Saturday on the climb to Ax-3-Domaines, where 10 years ago I hunted for shade in a hairpin turn, my water bottle empty after the ride from Lourdes on a stifling hot day. As it was on Tuesday, when the day’s stage started on the outskirts of Nantes where I got soaked on the finish line, squeezed between broadcast trailers to be able to see on their monitors what was happening out on the course and then Lance cross in front of us his fist cocked in triumph.

Vive le tour!





The gods must be crazy

2 07 2013

Sometimes it seems the ride gods just like to mess with you.

Last Tuesday evening I headed out for a quick 60km flat ride. About a quarter of the way in, I heard an explosion beneath me. I thought my wheel had collapsed, the coup de gras from a minor collision I had on one of our Sunday group rides a couple of weeks ago that left a small wobble in my rear wheel.

I looked down expecting to see mangled spokes, a crushed rim.

But all I had was a simple pinch flat. Albeit an explosive one.

Waylayed by a pinch flat.

Waylayed by a pinch flat.

Changed the tube and was on my way in about 10 minutes.

But the impetus to complete that 60km was gone. I took the first turn-around that got me home after 36km.

Fast forward to Friday, and Princess of Pavement and I have meticulously planned another of our “tag-team Fridays” where I load the Lapierre onto the roof rack and Little Ring into his car seat, we head out to UBC where P of P can do her run as LR and I frolic on the beach After meeting at our favourite bakery for lunch, I then ride home while P of P and LR drive home. It’s a good day out.

Tag, you're it!

Tag, you’re it!

But alas, the ride gods were not of the same mind. Because a quick check of my rear tire as I unloaded Little Ring at the beach revealed it was again flat. This time, there was a big gash in the sidewall of my Continental GP4000s. Ugh, and a little suspicious.

Hmmm, a suspicious gash in the sidewall of my rear tire.

Hmmm, a suspicious gash in the sidewall of my rear tire.

So, after lunch, we all drove home and I headed to the bike shop to get new tires (after all, they have to match).

So by my count that’s three ride-messing interventions by the ride gods.

That’s enough for this season. Thanks.