A chip off the old Big Ring

30 03 2016

One of the first things Little Ring saw on television after he was born was the Veulta a Espana.

Only days old, and already watching La Vuelta.

Only days old, and already watching La Vuelta.

His first Halloween costume was a little cyclist.

Before his first birthday, he cheered his mama on to her first Fondo ride. Later that year he got his first bike, a balance bike, and we perched him on it and pushed him around the hallway so he could get used to it.

Helping Princess of Pavement train for her first Fondo. Note the pillow.

Helping Princess of Pavement train for her first Fondo. Note the pillow.

One of his early favourite movies was Triplettes de Belleville. Or as he likes to call it, Tour de France.

He is his father’s son. Whether he likes it or not.

Little Ring's cycling dreams started very early.

Little Ring’s cycling dreams started very early.

Fortunately he does.

He loves zooming up and down the boardwalk to our nearby market on his balance bike. Although the ice cream treat that is usually his mid-ride reward may have something to do with that.

Little Ring and his riding buddy know ice cream is only a button push away.

Little Ring and his riding buddy know ice cream is only a button push away.

And last fall, when I pumped the tires on my mountain bike so we could do that ride together, the smile on his face outshone the sun.

“C’mon, let’s race daddy!” he said over and over on our little excursion. And off he’d zoom ahead of me, then stop and look back with a great big grin.

Little Ring checks out the local cyclocross scene last fall.

Little Ring checks out the local cyclocross scene last fall.

Recently we kicked it up a notch and started hitting the dirt trails out a UBC. They’re easy enough, wide, hard-packed and well-groomed with a couple of modest climbs that Little Ring likes to call “big hills.”

Our first ride there didn’t last long; he was more interested in playing in the park near the car. The next time out our ride doubled and he complained. Saturday, he didn’t want to leave.

“Let’s go again daddy,” he said when we pulled up to the car.

It’s moments like these that will make great copy for the opening pages of Little Ring’s biography after he wins the Tour de France. Clean, of course.

Ah, a Big Ring can dream…

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Doing double duty

23 03 2016

Sometimes one ride a day just isn’t enough.

March has been a pretty crappy month. Lots of rainy days. Yet somehow I’ve managed to turn the pedals more than 430 kms so far. Almost half those kilometres came on a couple of back-to-back nice days last week, and included my second 100+ km ride of the year.

Otherwise it’s been a series of 45-50 km efforts between cloudbursts. Sometimes they leave your legs wanting more.

Tuesday’s ambitions were truncated by threatening dark clouds that moved over our intended destination, threatening to storm at any moment and dropping the temperature by at least five degrees. So instead we veered south where blue skies and less ominous puffy white clouds beckoned on the horizon.

There was no sun to be found on this particular route.

There was no sun to be found on this particular route.

But that meant less mileage and less climbing.

So in the evening I filled the exercise gap with a brisk bolt though the woods on the mountain bike.

The “double” is a rare achievement. Mostly because of time; there’s not a lot of days when you can turn your back on obligations or duties to hit the road bike AND the mountain bike.

Sometimes one ride a day just isn't enough.

Sometimes one ride a day just isn’t enough.

But if there’s one thing I have plenty of in my post-employment, it’s time.

The evening seemed balmier than the day; the threatening clouds that had rolled in through the morning were now like a protective blanket, trapping the city’s warmth. The full moon glowed faintly through the thinner patches.

The trails were soft, sometimes muddy, but still fast. The trees and bushes passing our shoulders smelled fresh with new growth.

Then, part way through our ride, just before the descent down to the beach, we stopped dead. All around us the air was filled with a loud steady drone.

We steered down a side trail, headed straight into the sound storm. We knew the source, and when we arrived we let it wash over us, like natures’ own Dolby surround tone.

Spring had arrived at the swamp flanking the trail; it had been transformed into a boggy singles bar for frogs and it was half-price shooters night.





Following the road less paved

20 03 2016

The pro peloton has rediscovered what the FRF’s Flying Oakes has known all along; gravel is fun.

Flying Oakes leads the way on his favourite riding surface, gravel.

Flying Oakes leads the way on his favourite riding surface, gravel.

Gravel roads were common in bike racing’s early days, simply because paved thoroughfares weren’t as prevalent, especially on high mountain passes where it was difficult and expensive to deploy proper paving equipment.

Save for some of the early-season Classics in Belgium and northern France that feature sections of pavé, or ancient cobblestones, that were once used to build roads, most races traverse smooth pavement.

Occasionally, the organizers of the three Grand Tours have tried to shake things up by including  a gravelly climb in their parcours.

In 2007, the first Strade Bianche was organized to celebrate the historic white gravel roads of Italy’s Tuscany region. The early-season race annually includes more than 50 km of gravel and dirt road. It quickly became a fan and racer favourite.

This year’s Paris-Nice one-week stage race included four short sections of gravel near the end of its first full day of racing. The challenge was made even more epic by the snowy and windy weather conditions that left the riders and their bikes a cold, muddy, dirty mess by the time they reached the finish.

In the FRF, gravel roads have come to be an expected feature of any ride route devised by Flying Oakes. He’s a gravel hound who can sniff out stones from miles away.

I used to be dubious of gravel’s allure; it rattled my fillings, jangled my nerves. I worried about the jarring toll on my bike.

The former could be dealt with by technique, the latter was just unfounded.

Modern, carbon fibre bikes are incredibly tough and forgiving on rough surfaces. Heck, they build Formula 1 race cars out of carbon fibre. Properly maintained wheels and tires should be able to absorb the gravel’s shock.

Shooting a section of gravel is exhilarating. It transports you back to cycling’s roots, when many roads weren’t paved and riders returned from their day on the bike covered in mud and dust.

Riding the rocks hones your technique. It requires supple knees, a light touch on the handlebars, flex in the elbows. It also demands concentration and a keen eye to avoid the larger rocks and sudden potholes that can cause a puncture or broken spoke. All will serve you better when you return to the smooth hardtop.

Gravel paths and roads take you deep into parks and rural routes you might not otherwise experience on the bike.

We used to chide Flying Oakes for his affection for gravel. Now we give him the gears if he doesn’t lead us to gravel.





Scents of the season

16 03 2016

For the first time in more than two weeks, it felt like spring.

It also smelled like spring.

Riding in the countryside is an olfactory bombardment. Your nose is a constant target for the scents and smells of the season that you might not otherwise appreciate in the sealed cocoon of a car, whizzing past the flooded fields and swampy ditches faster than the speed of odours.

The farm fields smell of rotting vegetation, mucky water and acrid manure.

The farm fields smell of rotting vegetation, mucky water and acrid manure.

The sweet stench of broken corn stocks rotting in the muck, decomposing to replenish the soil with nutrients. The acrid stink of liquid manure being spread as fertilizer. The pungent sting of a dead skunk, somewhere up the road.

There’s good smells too. The ornamental cherry and magnolia trees are blossoming. Early flowers like daffodils, tulips and crocuses have already burst from gardens and random roadside patches.

As we near the ocean into a stiff headwind, the breeze is briny. The open receiving door of a passing fish processor enhances the seaside illusion. Then it’s overwhelmed by the muskiness of fresh-cut wood from a lumber yard a few doors down. Across the street, a homeowner is cutting his lawn with a riding tractor, previewing the season to come with that ultimate suburban scent of fresh-cut grass.

We pass a small forklift, transferring between work sites; our noses are assaulted by the smell of burning oil and hot grease.

A road works project kicks up the smells of dry dirt and cut stone as a giant blade saws through the pavement. Just past that, we stop at a coffee shop to sit out front; the blankets folded in each wicker chair smell of the sun.

There’s still four days left in winter. But on the bike, our noses tell us the season has already changed.





Blame it on the rain…

12 03 2016

Forecasting the weather has always been a bit of an inexact science.

Unless the forecast never changes. Then it’s just monotony.

For 18 days in a row, the meteorologists have been doing their best impression of a broken record. Rain every day. Repeat.

Sometimes it rains in the morning. Sometimes in the afternoon, or not until evening.

So getting out for a ride means finding that magic seam between oncoming weather fronts, when it hasn’t rained long enough to allow the roads to dry, and there’s enough time before the next cloud burst to squeeze in a worthwhile effort.

The hourly forecast on theweathernetwork.com is a good barometer. But it isn’t always accurate.

This afternoon I set out with a two-hour window of dryness. So my ambitions were modest, a quick, flat 40 km spin to at least give me a chance of reaching 100 km for the week.

The clouds were already ominous even as I departed for my ride Saturday.

The clouds were already ominous even as I departed for my ride Saturday.

The showers started halfway in, an hour sooner than they had been forecast. On the horizon, a wispy curtain of grey virga descended from thick black clouds; more was on its way.

I’m not opposed to riding in the rain. But I can think of a thousand things I’d rather do than acquire a streak of wet road muck up my backside.

The initial shower devolved to spits of moisture, then regained vigour as the breeze shifted.

By the time I was on the home stretch, it was dry again. Long enough to allow me to extend my route for a couple of cheap kilometres to bring the week’s total, over two (fairly dry) rides to 100.2.

Don’t even bother checking the forecast for the next couple of days…





Our rolling support group grows

9 03 2016

Being unemployed isn’t a lot of fun.

The salary stops populating the bank account every two weeks, but the bills keep coming, the fridge still needs groceries, the mortgage is due.

And while the severance will last a while yet, that horizon moves a little closer every week.

Today, the Unemployed Journalists Cycling Union, a division of the Fraser River Fuggitivi, welcomed a new member. We also rebranded. We’re now the Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union.

Our new recruit just lost his gig as the manager of a private beer and wine store.

The newest member of the rebranded Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union, checks his bike before a brisk and hilly ride.

The newest member of the rebranded Unemployed Journalists and Booze Merchants Cycling Union, checks his bike before a brisk and hilly ride.

Getting on the bike is a good way to work off the angst on unpaid idleness. Especially riding with others in the same situation. We’re able to chat about our challenges, offer strength and confidence. It’s like a rolling support group.

Best of all, it’s a great way to save money. Or at least not spend it.

Because when you’re on the bike for a few hours, you’re away from the need to head to the grocery store where inevitably your list of four items balloons into a basket full of stuff by the time you hit the checkout ( I refuse to use a cart; that’s like giving up in my world ). You’re also removed from the temptation of heading to the mall or the electronics store to kill time by window shopping for things you’d like, but really don’t need and shouldn’t buy.

At most, when you’re on the bike, you might stop for lunch or at a bakery for a mid-ride snack. But you can always pack your own if you want to stay thrifty. So by the time you return from your hours on the road, your finances haven’t suffered. But you’re richer for the camaraderie and fitness.





Waiting for a break (in the weather)

3 03 2016

After last week’s glorious sunshine, mild temperatures and 263 km of riding, this week we’re reminded that winter is not done with us yet.

It’s been raining. A lot.

So when there’s a break between storms, you have to drop everything and take advantage. If you don’t currently have a job, that’s not hard to do.

It’s amazing how quickly you become spoiled by a stretch of nice weather. Four days of sunny, warm rides and suddenly that’s your expectation. That’s what it’s going to take to get you out for a ride.

So when Monday was dry, but heavily overcast, a bit cool and breezy, motivation to get on the bike was a bit lacking. But hey, it was a bonus leap day, and a decent ride would click my mileage total for the first two months of the year past 1,000 km.

When in doubt, ride the flats.

But if time is short and the weather doubtful, the go-to route is up and over Burnaby Mountain.

This is pretty much as high as you can go in Burnaby. Unfortunately condo development has robbed most of the views.

This is pretty much as high as you can go in Burnaby. Unfortunately condo development has robbed most of the views.

The four km ascent isn’t tough, about six per cent with one very brief pitch at 11 per cent. But it’s enough to give the legs, and lungs, a good little workout in a short time frame. Especially early in the season.

The descent is fast and smooth.

An out and back route, door to door, takes less than two hours. But there’s plenty of options to extend the ride from there as time allows.

Perfect when you have no idea what the weather is about to do.