Relax….Enjoy the Ride

30 01 2010

Sometimes the biggest obstacles to riding are in the brain, and the biggest difference between a pleasant and unpleasant experience is all in the interpretation.

WInter cycling evokes a special brand of awesome

Last week, with a touch of freezing rain, I was riding home, taking the lane on a busy 4 lane street during rush hour. Traffic slowed ahead of me. I lightly braked and went sideways, just like that, flat ass on 82 St. I was using due caution, proper equipment, the best technique, yet I found myself in the nightmare situation of going down in the middle of a slippery street in moving traffic with vehicles rapidly approaching from the rear. Luckily, the woman driving behind me was attentive and courteous, and there wasn’t a real danger of her hitting me. If I hadn’t been asserting myself and taking the whole lane though, it could have been much uglier.

I wasn’t physically injured (OK, a little sore for a couple of days), but it shook me up, even scared me, as I’ve had more “incidents” in 2 weeks than I did all of last winter. This week my riding started out as tense, stiff, tentative, white knuckled leaning on brakes too much and too hard (which reads like a list of “how not to ride in winter”). It took a few days to find my comfort zone again and trust my bike, to break the self perpetuating tension that comes from fear of injury.

Rolling over the small but ubiquitous snow bumps on the High Level Bridge this morning, I relaxed my grip on the handlebars as the gentle vibration massaged the last bit of apprehension out of my body, ready to enjoy the ride again. Yesterday these bumps stressed me out. Today, hardly anything is more comforting.

Not exactly pretty, but a cheap & functional tip.

25 01 2010

I recently came across a tip to use a piece of old inner-tube to create  a barrier against dirt, water and salt for the bottom part of the headset, so I thought I’d try it out while replacing a fork on one of the bikes in the bike library.

A section of tube is pulled over the bottom of the headset.

With the fork and bearings removed from the head tube, simply pull a section of inner-tube on, leaving some hanging below,  then carefully trim it so it doesn’t touch the fork. Then fold the bottom of the rubber up (carefully – you don’t want to move the whole piece) and out of the way while you work. It can be folded down again after everything’s back together and the adjustments are all made.

I think I’ll do this to Ol’ Nelli next time I overhaul her headset, which, due to its poor quality (it’s pretty shot) and unusual size (difficult to replace), will probably be soon (again, sigh). I hope a little rubber can be enough to change my twice yearly headset overhauls into an annual event.

Skate and Ride

19 01 2010

In three winters of riding my bike to get me to where I’d like to skate I’ve never run into anyone else doing the same, which I’ve always found rather strange.  Perhaps it has to do with my choice of venue – I was the only person skating on the rink at the leg grounds (note to out-of-towners: it’s pronounced “ledge”) for most of the time I was there, and I find that it happens more often than not that I have the rink and it’s cheesy music to myself.

Thankfully, nobody has bothered to come up with a "no bikes in the skate shack" rule yet.

I feel like I'm part of some idyllic winter scene. I often end up in tourists' photos when I'm skating at the leg, but this was the first time I was doing the shooting.

Not bad for $10 Value Village skates, eh?

It's pretty much impossible for me to be completely still on skates.

I almost hate to share a secret as sweet as this. I can skate backwards all I want and twirl til I’m dizzy without having to worry about running into anyone else or being distracted by the incredible views in all directions. How much are the chumps a few hundred meters down the hill paying for this privilege at the Royal Glenora? And this is easily accessible by bike, right near the high level bridge, and completely free.

Adieu, until our next skate date.

Pizza Time!

11 01 2010

Here’s a vegan pizza that’s well worth a quick bike ride. The weather was warm enough that the pizza was still hot when I got it home.

Falling Down (in a dress)

9 01 2010

One of the reasons I began this blog is that I want to share how fun, healthy, hip, and safe a bicycle lifestyle can be. Even in Edmonton. Even in the winter. This is kind of like my rebuke to the “WTF, you crazy bitch?” I get when people find out I cycle 20km a day in all weather, and like it, and haven’t been killed yet. It’ll be a way to share the little adventures and moments that often make my daily commute the best part of my day.

So, yeah, that in mind, I crashed today. First time this winter.

I knew better than how I was riding. First mistake: I hopped onto the sidewalk where I spotted ice on a slanted part  (south side of downtown police HQ, for those who know E-town). I know that the proper way to successfully ride up an icy incline is straight on because if you try to ride it at an angle, gravity will have it’s way with you and your bike can go sideways underneath you.

Second mistake: I tried to ride up it at an angle anyways. Predictably, my bike went sideways, out from underneath me. My thigh met the handlebars in a most ungracious manner, and other body parts hit the ground.

I have a huge bruise on my thigh that is so swollen I can see it through two layers of thick tights, as well as some soreness and jarred feelings, but am otherwise OK. I doubt there will be any long term effects except perhaps skipping out on tomorrow’s tobogganing party. The handlebars on my bike were twisted out of alignment, but luckily I had an allan wrench in my purse (doesn’t everyone?) and I quickly fixed them before riding off triumphantly.

My lap is temporarily off limits to the kitties.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t ride their bikes in the winter is fear of falling. Like in other winter sports (skating, tobogganing, skiing), falling is part of the experience of winter cycling, it’ll happen sooner or later. The good news is that it’s not so bad. Snow covered surfaces, unlike summer surfaces, absorb much more of the impact of the fall, like a thin layer of padding on everything. (If I’m crazy then the whole world is my padded room!)  Icy surfaces aren’t likely to give you road rash and transfer some of the bone crushing energy of the impact into sliding action. And you’re probably going to be cycling more slowly, and covered in five layers of clothes from head to toe, which also makes a big difference.

Don’t get me wrong, falling still sucks no matter when it happens. I just don’t think it’s so much of a risk for an otherwise healthy adult that it justifies not riding, and that instead of just being afraid and writing off the potential of winter cycling, people can learn skills that can make it much safer. Walking in the winter can be dangerous too.

Falling is a skill. If you have ever taken a martial arts class that involves throws (such as judo, akido, jujitsu, etc), you may have learned “break falls,” skills that teach you to absorb a fall over a large area of the body rather than concentrating all the force on one body part and injuring it. They also teach you to protect your head, no matter what, at all costs, never let it touch the ground. If you practice falling often enough (start on mats with someone who knows what they’re doing), your body’s instinct to tense up and freeze (which can maximize injury where falling is concerned) will be replaced by a new instinct to do a injury-minimizing break fall. This is extremely useful for any cyclist, and I personally feel it’s saved my ass a few times.

An even more useful skill to have is knowing how to avoid falls in the first place. I always say that the most important piece of safety equipment you have is your brain, because if you are smart and alert, you will behave in a way that avoids and prevents falls and accidents (and if I had better utilized mine today, I wouldn’t be looking at rainbow bruise).

Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to fear monger or play the I’m more macho than you game. The point is that I’m going to get back on my bike tomorrow, ’cause one fall need not be a big deal, and I’m going to learn from this and be a better cyclist for it.

Bridge Over Frozen Waters

8 01 2010
winter biking in the city

Ol' Nelli, my winter bike, doin' it's thing.

Waiting for the Chinook

8 01 2010

For the first time in a month, I could feel it today – a little less burn on the cheeks, no weather induced squishee headache. The cold snap is about to break. It’s like the last breath of a tyrant before he finally relaxes the iron fist. I could breathe deeper & relax a little in this morning’s air. Tonight, as the sun set, I saw the chinook arch, a sight every long-term albertan welcomes. It’s going to warm up.

As much as I’m looking forward to warmer rides, I’m not looking forward to slush, brown sugar and my bike turning the same color as the salt/sand mixture that covers the streets. At least when it’s brutally cold, everything is frozen solid, so me and my bike stay relatively clean. Ahh, it’s so easy to complain about prairie weather, no matter what it is. I get best results when I just ride.