A winter’s tale

22 02 2018

 

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The Norco gets its first snow ride.

 

A ride in the cold is just that.

A ride in the cold and snow is sublime.

It’s almost March and whaddaya know, we’ve got snow. So, we might as well go for a ride.

This was the Norco’s first adventure on snowy, frozen trails, and it was a good time. It was only a couple of inches, but the blanket of white silenced the surrounding city and softened the runs over frozen mud puddles and slippery tree roots.

 

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My riding buddy, Dan. He’s still stuck in his mountain bike delusions.

 

Slick, iced roads kept us on the trails, amongst the trees where the air felt warmer than the frosty chill of open spaces. Up and down hills, we wheeled through a wintry wonderland with only the occasional tread  track indicating other riders were of the same mind.

 

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Dashing through the snow.

 

An hour and 20 minutes in and the Garmin was well past dead, our toes were frozen, our cheeks chilled. It was time for beer and Olympic hockey.





The price of sloth

1 01 2018

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Suddenly August seems so very far away. And yet frighteningly imminent.
Last year was not a good one for me on the bike. My 2,337 total kilometres was my lowest mileage since I started keeping track in 2003. It was also less than half of what I’d managed in 2016.
Even worse; until New Year’s Eve day I’d only been on two rides since September, neither of them particularly substantial. A November during which it rained practically every day didn’t help.

 

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Finally, the motivation to ride. Even if it means bundling up for the cold.

So it was with heavy legs and an even heavier belly I joined a handful of fellow FRFers on Sunday for what was supposed to be a quick, flat roll to Iona Beach and back, about 60 kms. But it became pretty apparent pretty quickly that without sufficient kms in my legs, I just couldn’t keep up.
Even as the crew kept sending someone back to keep me company in the bright, cold sunshine, it was pretty dispiriting to realize how far my fitness had slipped. Lactic acid burning my thighs and the frosty air burning my cheeks, the return leg turned into an arduous slog that seemed without end.

 

 

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Alas, my view for most of the route.

It was not the best bonding experience with my new N+1.
Earlier in the fall, as my motivation to ride floundered, I decided a new approach might be just the shot it needed: gravel riding.
In its never-ending quest to extract money from the bank accounts of cyclists, the bike industry has conjured a new niche of riding gravel and dirt trails on specialized road bikes with clearance for wider tires, a more relaxed geometry, and disk brakes.
I always enjoyed the short stretches of gravel or dirt paths we sometimes encountered on our group road rides even though an errant rock sometimes meant a pit stop to repair a puncture. And, as I’m no longer inclined to thrash technical mountain bike trails, it seemed getting a bike that would allow me to do the former without making a mess of the Franco would be a good way to keep me riding through the off-season.
So I made a list of features I wanted, set a budget that would allow me to attain those, and started researching online and in the local bike shops.
The Norco Search I ended up with exceeded my feature requirements and budget, but it was such a good deal on a closeout sale, I couldn’t not buy it.

 

 

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The new Norco takes a break on its first trail ride.

On its maiden trail ride and two subsequent road rides, the Norco has been a lot of fun, despite my faltering fitness. It’s quicker and more responsive on the dirt than the heavier mountain bike, and its 35mm tires roll assuredly on the slick, frozen winter pavement. Riding without worrying about mucking up the Franco has been liberating.

 

 

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Rides nice on the slick winter roads as well.

Now, I’ve just got to do more of it.
You see, Princess of Pavement threw down the training challenge at Christmas when she signed me up for Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria next Aug. 19. And she didn’t hold back; she registered me for the full 162 km (that’s 100 miles!) option.
So I’ve got some work ahead of me. Eight months can roll by just like that…

 





A new era

24 09 2017
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Kana on the Port Mann.

It took all of 12 pedal strokes to reignite my love for the bike.

Franco is on the road.

When Lapierre broke earlier this summer, so did my heart. Every time I lifted a leg over her gently curved top tube my spirits soared. Replacing her wasn’t easy.

I scoured the websites of bike companies and shops near and far searching for a brand, a bike, that spoke to me. I visited bike shops to eyeball possible suitors.

There were false hopes; bikes that caught my eye but aren’t easily obtainable in Canada.

There were false starts; bikes that showed promise on their websites but ultimately couldn’t get me to unleash my credit card.

But as the weeks turned to months, my mouse kept leading me back to Franco, a small,  boutique bike company out of California.

It was started by a former motorcycle racer who migrated to getting around on two wheels under his own power. They’ve been around for 10 years and their stable is comprised of four frames; a high-end racer of Italian heritage, a mid-range speedster and distance bikes, and a very funky steel cross bike. They’re named after renowned cycling routes in their ‘hood. That’s a story I can get behind.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the Kanan, the distance bike. She’s a looker, indeed.

She has a similar silhouette to the Lapierre; a gently curved top tube and a taller head tube. But her stays are slightly shorter, her downtube is more boxy, angled.

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Franco arrives home!

She’s like an angry, aggressive Lapierre.

So, of course, she must be black, and anthracite. With fiery red accents.

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Bike build day is like brining home baby.

After collecting her at the border on Saturday, Guy at Velofix built her up on Tuesday with the components stripped off Lapierre. A minor glitch with the derailleur hanger was rectified on Friday, and my Franco was ready to ride.

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Franco is built up by Guy at Velofix. Even he had to take a photo of the bike when he was done.

So I did.

Just a short shakedown spin of about 25 flat kilometres.

The leap from Lapierre to Franco was more subtle than when I transitioned from my aluminum Orbea to Lapierre’s carbon suppleness. But even on a flat route into a headwind, I could sense Franco’s friskiness. I set six PB’s on a course I’ve ridden dozens of times. She wants to go quick.

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A second look.

I’ll only be too happy to oblige.





The view from here. Way back here.

28 08 2017

For most of my cycling “career” I’ve been a middle-of-the-pack guy.

On group rides, I can take my share of pulls, then settle in comfortably in the midst of the peloton.

Even my best Strava achievements end up placing me somewhere in the middle of all the riders who have tested that particular segment.

I’m cool with that.

But this year, I have become back-of-the-pack guy. And too often I’ve been The Guy The Rest of The Peloton Has to Wait For.

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Too often this season, this has been my view of the peloton.

On Sunday’s annual FRF Fondon’t, I was firmly ensconced as the latter. No matter how hard I tried to hang onto the group as we pedaled the flats through Pitt Meadows, and the rollers of east Maple Ridge to the Stave Lake dam, there would come a moment when I would lose contact and the group just drifted away. I couldn’t hold a wheel if my life depended on it.

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The FRF rolls out early in the morning on one of the hottest days of the year.

On one of the hottest days of the summer, I felt bad every time the group paused at the side of the road to give me a chance to catch up.

Occasionally, our patron, or one of the other riders, would drop back to keep me company or give me their wheel; but, inevitably, we’d drift apart again, our peloton disappearing as an ever-shrinking dot on the paved horizon.

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Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of the hot day and hard effort.

It was very dispiriting.

This hasn’t been a good season.

A new job with a bit longer commute and a different schedule, increasing demands for family time and miserable weather until almost July conspired against the miles.

So did the loss of Lapierre.

Because as much as cycling isn’t supposed to be about the bike, when you’ve got one you love to ride, that repays your efforts up hills with speedy, precise descents, that giddy ups when you want to go, you want to ride it. As much as possible.

Lapierre was that bike for me.

And while the borrowed Cannondale allows me to get out onto the road, it’s not my bike. Its quirks aren’t my quirks. Its rewards are few and far between.

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Well, at least this has been one reward worth riding for!

Lapierre’s replacement is on order. But a two-week window has stretched to a four-week wait, and the season, like the peloton, is drifting away.

As with Lapierre, I’m buying this bike pretty much sight unseen and unridden, but with a great deal of research into her pedigree. I’m confident it’s a good choice for me. I’m hopeful it will be my ticket to ride back to the middle of the pack. Where I belong.





The challenge of Cypress

14 08 2017

Hills are the great humbler.

The spirit may be keen to go up, but without the proper amount of training, the legs will fail you.

In this, the summer of Lapierre’s unfortunate demise, the training has been lacking.

Other factors have come into play as well: a new job that involves a longer commute and a less ride-friendly schedule; more responsibility around the condo; more family time.

My mileage is down. There was no 1000 km July, because I’ve no holiday time to expend. There have been fewer opportunities for 100 km rides. An extended stretch of hot weather sapped the will to climb.

But when the opportunity to sign up for the Cypress Challenge for a third consecutive year came around, I didn’t hesitate.

It’s a simple enough ride; gather at the base of Cypress Mountain, ride 12 km to the top, and all proceeds go to help researchers find a cause and better treatment for pancreatic cancer, the disease that claimed my father 13 years ago.

This year, the FRF sent a contingent of six riders, departing from New West at 6:15 a.m. to make the 9 a.m. start. Round trip, it’s about a 105 km day, with about 1400 metres of climbing.

Here’s how it went down on a cool, damp morning, as told through a series of live tweets from the road:

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We interrupt this bike ride… for a boat ride

1 08 2017

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There’s something sublime about interrupting a bike ride with a boat ride. It’s like you’re still moving forward, advancing towards your destination, but you’re resting at the same time.

Back in the day you could get that experience puttering out into the Fraser Valley by riding out to Maple Ridge, then hopping the Albion Ferry to cross the Fraser River and then a short jaunt on to Fort Langley.

But the little, free ferry ride ended when the expansive Golden Ears Bridge was built, and the opening of the new Port Mann Bridge provided plenty of safe bike route connections out to the valley.

Today a new ferry service started, and it’s practically in our front yard.

The Q2Q ferry is a pilot project by the City of New Westminster to connect our waterfront neighbourhood with the community of Queensborough, just across the north arm of the Fraser River.

That connection was supposed to be a pedestrian/cycling bridge, but a feasibility study determined such a structure would be too expensive to construct and too obtrusive once it met all the requirements to accommodate the movement of tugs, pleasure craft and barges the regularly move up and down the river.

When I moved out here in 1991, Queensborough was a sort of rural and industrial backwater. Downtrodden boatyards and lumber mills lined the shore, farms comprised the inland of the western end of Lulu Island, the area’s geographical name.

Almost all the lumber mills and boatyards are now gone, and the farms have given way to gleaming new residential developments laced with walking paths and punctuated with parks.

It’s a nice area, but with an old highway bridge the only link between Queensborough and mainland New Westminster, it might as well be on another planet. We can wave to people frolicking on the little beach across the channel, but to get there involves a bit of a drive or ride that can quickly go sideways if there’s an accident on or even near the bridge. Forget about transit.

So a few years ago the city floated the idea of building a pedestrian bridge to link the island to the mainland. We could cross to enjoy the waterfront trails and burgeoning neighbourhood, and they could come over to sample the food at the River Market, shop downtown, go to a restaurant without fighting traffic.

When that didn’t work out, it proposed a ferry service.

A dock is already in place on the island side, as a developer installed it years ago in anticipation of operating its own ferry service to the mainland. Of course, it never happened. And there are docking facilities along the Quay.

 

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This way to the boat.

 

With a boat finally arranged, the ferry service started this weekend. (For more background about the ferry, fellow FRFer and city councillor Patrick Johnstone has an excellent post on his blog)

As it was a soft launch, the service was free; although it will cost a couple of bucks a trip henceforth. And the sunny, warm weather brought out curious crowds, many of whom were left standing on the docks for the next sailing as the boat quickly filled.

Bikes are allowed.

So as the FRF pedaled back from its Sunday ride, I opted to peel out to try the new service out, and perhaps relive the idyllic pleasure of ferry-interrupted bike rides from days of yore. Diesel fumes aside, it was a pleasant enough journey. It’s always interesting to see familiar landmarks from the water’s perspective. Selfie opportunities abounded. Everybody on board was excited.

 

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Leaving the FRF team to take one for the team. A selfie that is.

 

Whether that excitement lasts when the weather turns cold and dreary will be the litmus test of the prospective service.





Four stages of bicycle grief

25 06 2017

 

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She’s a little small, not as light nor as pretty as Lapierre. But I’m on the road again thanks to my friend, RDM, who has loaned me his old Cannondale basement bike to ease my despair.

 

Even on a borrowed ride, the road felt good.

Too bad the prognosis is not quite so positive for Lapierre.

The Carbon Guy expressed doubt when I sent him photos of the offending crack. When the chain stay on Lapierre was pierced last fall, he didn’t hesitate to declare his ability to make Lapierre whole again.

And so begin the four stages of bike grief.

When the Velofix tech first showed me the crack, I was numb, disbelieving. My beloved bike was wounded, but she’d been wounded before and recovered. Surely history could repeat itself.

I spent a few days steeling my resolve to contact Carbon Guy. I was hopeful, yet fearful; perhaps it wasn’t so bad, but what if it is?

I sent the email and photos late on a Friday evening, knowing I likely wouldn’t get a response until Monday. Perhaps I was buying time to come to terms with a verdict, no matter its outcome.

Since Carbon Guy’s less-than-enthusiastic reply thudded into my In box, I’ve toggled between acceptance and despair.

Surely I could find a new ride to steal my ardour?

But when a few hardcore evenings of Google searching yielded little that made my heart skip a beat, I became frustrated, morose; what if I can’t find a bike? What if the best part of the cycling season passes me by? What if I become fat and slovenly because I can’t deny my love for ice cream yet have no 100km rides to burn off the calories?

Lapierre was as close to a dream bike I’d come without the resources to spend $10,000. In a world of Treks and Specializeds and Giants and Cervelos, she was an uncommon beauty. Her ability to carve through a speedy descent without a concern was sublime. Her weight was so feathery she lifted my heart every time I hoisted her from her perch to prepare for a ride. She turned heads, the belle of the peloton.

To match those qualities will be difficult. To surpass them will be beyond my budget.





Breaking up is hard to do

18 06 2017

 

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In happier times, Lapierre (left) enjoys a respite, and the view, just before the steep climb out of Indian River Road.

 

My heart is cracked.

So is Lapierre.

For the second time in less than a year, the future of our beloved union is in doubt and emails have been dispatched in hopes a little carbon fibre therapy will keep us together. On the road.

 

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Finally, the weather is conducive to riding, but Lapierre may be left behind.

 

Last Sunday, I hit a divot in the pavement, a sort of smoothed pothole. I heard a loud snap and thought it was just the handlebar twisting in the stem clamp from the jarring impact; it’s happened before. But a few days later, as Lapierre was being tended by Velofix for a late spring tune-up, the wrench noticed a jagged crack at the back of the headset, about the length of a loonie.

 

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Could this be the crack that comes between me and Lapierre?

 

My heart sank. Cracks in carbon are usually fatal, as repair is difficult and technicians with the skill and knowledge to make those repairs are few and far between. Fortunately, we have one, Robert Mulder, nearby.

He weaved his carbon magic on Lapierre last September when her chain stay was punctured by a flailing spoke. The repair is virtually seamless and I haven’t given it a second thought, even when screaming down descents.

But a repair to the headset might be more problematic, as that part of the bike absorbs so much impact from the road. I’ve sent photos to Mulder, and I await his assessment.

In the meantime, I’ve steeled myself for bad news.

Cyclists form a special bond with their bikes. After all, we’re attached at a pretty intimate part of our anatomy. Over the miles of road and gravel and dirt we spend together, we get to know every nuance of how the bike rolls, reacts and sounds. We learn its limits and when it can give just a little more. As we tend to its mechanical needs, we become familiar with every curve and junction, nook and cranny, every scratch, every nick.

So when that bond is in peril, the prospect of breaking up can be hard.

Sure, some will say, but there’s plenty of bikes in the shops; this is your chance to have some fun, play the field, maybe find your true bike.

But, as I’ve discovered in these past days of researching new rides that could steal my ardour, Lapierre is still in my head, and my heart. Every frameset is measured against her lithe lines, every paint job compared to her French mélange of flash and panache, every dimension doubted for its ability to match her fit and form.

Of course, the easiest thing would be to just find a new Lapierre, still sleek and sexy but with newer technology and engineering. But it seems Lapierre has abandoned the North American market.

So I’m left wanting. And hoping.

 

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I can only hope this isn’t Lapierre’s last ride, on the roof of my car on a rainy afternoon following the discovery of the crack.

 





The spring of our discontent

14 05 2017

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Now is the spring of our discontent

Made ever more miserable by this lack of sun

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our rides

In the deep chasm of the puddles swamped

Now are our brows bowed with discouraged furrows;

Our soggy bibs hung up for monuments;

Our muddy cleats pedal to gloomy forecasts.

Grim-visaged trainer rides hath smoothed our wrinkled front;

And now, instead of mounting carbon steeds

To fright the souls of fearful pelotons,

We caper sullenly in garages and basements

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

But I, that am not shaped as in previous seasons,

Nor made to be pleased by my reflections;

I, that am rudely lacking of sinew and muscle

To strut at the end of ambling pace lines;

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,

Cheated of physique by dissembling weather,

Deformed, unfit, sent before my time

Into this breathing world with scarcely half the mileage,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

My Garmin barks as it forgets about me;

Why, I, in this weak piping time of rain and cold,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to chase my shadow in the sun

And slim down on my own deformity;

And therefore, since I cannot ride whenever,

To pine for days of warm, pleasant weather,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle sloth of these cloudy, cold days.

Rides have I planned, long and languid,

By optimistic ambitions, routes and schemes,

To set my legs spinning and Lapierre

In delightful rhythm with each other:

And if the Weather Man be as true and just

As I am discouraged, cowering and cold,

This day of better weather should closely follow,

About a time, before spring becomes summer,

As cyclists wish for roads dry and bare of puddles,

Of days of shorts and cold beers.

Ride, thoughts, down to my soul; where

Is the sun?





When ambition exceeds preparation

10 04 2017

 

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As the pros in Europe race the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix, Lapierre and the other bikes of the FRF take shelter at the cobbles of Riley Park awaiting the start of the Pacific Populaire.

 

Every cyclist has been there, the painful place where ambition exceeds preparation. It can be a ride too far, a hill too steep, a pace too quick.

Sunday that place had a name: Pacific Populaire.

The Populaire is the annual season-opening ride for the BC Randonneurs, that slightly unhinged group of cyclists who think nothing of dedicating eight hours or more of a Saturday or Sunday to pedal 200, 300 or even 400 kilometres. But since this is April, this event is a more modest 100 kilometres, with lesser options for cyclists just looking to stretch their legs in the fresh air.

It’s an organized ride that’s open to anyone ready to pay the $20 registration fee. Support is limited: riders are given a map and list of directions; there’s one pit stop with water and a selection of modest snacks like banana bread, cookies, date squares and fruit.

The casual vibe and low cost of entry have made the Populaire a favoured ride for roadies testing their early-season fitness or measuring the toll exacted by winter’s sloth. For the past few years it’s been adopted by the FRF as the launch ride to our season.

Usually I miss it as I’m still playing road hockey. But a convergence of circumstances made it a possibility this spring. The only question: could my legs handle it?

The unrelenting wet, cold weather has made it difficult to put kilometres into the legs; the Populaire’s 100 km was 20 km further than my longest ride so far this year, and 20 per cent of all the riding I’ve been able to achieve. That’s a long way from the 1,600 km I’d done by this time last year., including a handful of metric centuries. But the route was flat and familiar, an amalgam of two of my regular rides, out to UBC and down through Richmond and Steveston.

So when the week’s rain dissipated to just cold gloom, I kitted up and joined about 1,000 other riders, 16 of them from the FRF.

Right from the get-go the pace was quick. Everyone was eager to stretch their legs after such a difficult winter and early spring. Pacelines powered along the wide shoulders around UBC and along River Road in Richmond; in the first hour I covered almost 30 km.

As we headed south along rural roads towards Steveston, brisk head and cross winds slowed the groups, made it imperative to seek shelter in the peloton to conserve energy.

An extra cookie at the midway snack break cost me my place in our group and a significant effort to get back on. At the Canada Line bridge back into Vancouver, the price of that cookie came due; 80 kms into the ride my legs called it a day on the span’s gentle zig-zag inclines. As my quads spasmed their protest, my group rode away. The day’s chill suddenly felt colder. A few raindrops fell from the clouds. And while stoplights and narrow city streets allowed the occasional regroupment, it quickly became apparent the day’s final 20 kms would be a lonely, grim pedal of death.

Next week the Randonneurs will be riding 200 km. No thanks, I’ll pass…

 

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The reward for the day’s pain: a medallion that will likely get lost in my desk.