Winter’s Last Gasps?

22 03 2011

Over the past week, the temperature has finally started to warm up and some of the snow has even started to melt. I can’t help but be jealous of many of the other bike bloggers in the northern hemisphere who are already enjoying clear roads and spring weather, as it’s going to take a long time for all this snow to melt here.

Sunset over an eight foot high pile of snow.

At the EBC Bike Art Auction two weeks ago, I took home a door prize (thanks Karly & MEC!), a Portland Design Works cup holder to put on my handlebars. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it, but I really appreciated having easy access to a hot drink during a cold ride. It warmed me up better than chemical hand warmers! My cup wasn’t 100% watertight though, and would occasionally send out splashes of liquids that would freeze into little balls of tea-cicle on my bars and coat. Come summer, this could also be a solution for transporting my favorite summer beverage, squishees!

The last week of minus 20 temperatures was mitigated by having hot tea handy. Note the string on the tea bag has frozen in anti-gravity position while I was in motion.

The temperature finally began to rise just in time for the Frozen Weenie Ride, organized by raving bike fiend. We met up in Mill Creek Ravine by bike and by foot, gorged on fruit & sausage (roasted on bicycle spokes, and you better believe there was vegan sausage) & hot chocolate, frolicked in the snow and gathered round fires.

Meagan lounging on one of the lawn chairs that Keith brought in on his long bike.

There's still enough snow around to make kickstands redundant. In the foreground, Keith's long bike.

In a fit of late winter cabin fever and slow-day-at-the-bike-shop-itis, I created a toboggan out of 10 old bicycle inner tubes and a corrugated plastic sign that I had eagerly been waiting to test out. I wove inflated tubes together to create a padded but grippy surface to sit on, then used cut up ones for handles and to secure the inflated tubes to the plastic base. I brought it to the picnic thinking that if I couldn’t find a place to slide, at least I’d have a comfortable place to sit.

Behold the Tube-oggan, strapped to the back of my bike.

There was a couple of chutes near the picnic site that I had a screaming good time riding that puppy down, and even though there were crashes, the 3 feet of soft snow everywhere kept the damage to a minimum. The tube-oggan performed beyond expectations on it maiden voyage, fast, light weight, predictable, well padded, and best of all, none of the tubes leaked or exploded.

In the background, the steep path that became our luge chute, in the foreground, the game is step off the path and sink into snow up to your crotch.

After sliding to the point of near injury, we warmed up around the fire as night fell.

Keith, Tracy & Brett gather round the fire.

Bah, spring! Who needs it when winter is this awesome? The bike paths were packed with clean, white snow that was a breeze to ride through, but as the freeze-thaw cycles of spring progress, that lovely white snow will turn into black ice, and even though it’s almost over, the worst riding conditions of the winter still await.

Bike Art Galore

8 03 2011

Edmonton isn’t exactly known as a cycling culture mecca, but it is home to one of the longest running bicycle co-op and community workshops in North America. This year, Edmonton Bicycle Commuters celebrates it’s 30th anniversary, and to begin what will undoubtedly be a banner year, EBC hosted a bicycle art auction and party.

There were dozens of bikes outside, lined up in the snowbanks in single file all the way down the block, for lack of other places to park with the ridiculous amount of snow we've had this winter.

With an amazing turnout and standing room only, EBC oldtimers mixed with the new generation of folks who’re stepping in to take the reigns of an organization that’s older than many of them. Hipsters and polo players rubbed shoulders with vehicular cyclists and utilitarian commuters. Artists, musicians and dancers mingled with politicians and advocates. Everybody, young & old, chowed down on cupcakes and gourmet food and grooved to bands playing over a PA powered by 10 bicycles.

The place was packed with friendly faces.

Bikes hooked up to generators were positioned on stage to power the music for the evening. I love how the riders are moving but the bikes aren't in this longish exposure.

Current EBC president, Chris Chan's illustrious light bike on a generator.

And then there was the art, 70 pieces by over 30 different artists, all of it about or made of or for bicycles and cyclists.

Made by Jan P. (who has been doing the most AMAZING stuff for years) this thumb piano consists entirely of recycled parts, including spokes and other bicycle parts. In the background, handmade belts by Calvin.

Lovely photos of weathered bikes.

One of the auction tables. Check out the Viking costume by Jesse C in the foreground (the costume was a hit at Halloween Critical Mass).

Creepy specimen jars. (I find them creepy because they remind me of a disturbing incident with a certain former roommate - if you have to ask, do it in person, preferably bearing social lubricant).

A little something for everyone, bikey underwear and a photo of shiny sprockets.

Robot made of bike parts and reclaimed wire, by Bret.

Retroreflective magnets, by yours truly, that can be stuck to any steel frame or accessory for added visibility at night.

Multi media pieces depicting old-timey ladies on old-timey bikes by Stephanie M.

I made these up and donated them through my workplace (where, among other things, I design embroidery). I never imagined that they'd be the subject of such an intense bidding war.

Overall, the night was a phenomenal success. I never would’ve imagined that more than 200 people would come out to a bike centered party on a -20C winter night. Anna V. and the rest of the EBC crew put on a great event, and I think the overwhelming success bodes well for the future of EBC and the wider cycling scenes in Edmonton.

White Out

2 03 2011

With iced over windows obstructing my view of the outside world yesterday morning, I had to check a forecast to see what winter had in store for me next: Windchill -36, 2 inches of fresh snow plus drifts, and a headwind. Crap. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I threw some Boomtown Rats and Gnarls Barkley onto my ipod and began the process of layering all of my warmest clothes, while also wearing a favorite summer frock over my most form fitting merino sweater to try to remind me that I’ve almost made it through the winter.

I headed to the LRT station with Porta-Bike and found an overcrowded platform with the normally mute commuters all discussing how long they’d been waiting, how many trains had gone by the other way and speculating the cause of the delay. From the stories many of the commuters were telling, breakdowns have been pretty common this winter, and it turns out one of our city councilors also ended up in LRT limbo on this Monday. I decided to chance the wait, and after about 20 minutes a train arrived to a station full of cheering people.

Polar Porta Bike after the storm, in the white.

The other end of my commute was more daunting yet. Snow was falling and blowing horizontally, stinging my face, while the rapidly drifting snow obscured the plowed sidewalks and roads and the boundaries between them. It was all I could do just to keep my head up. Whenever I looked down I became disoriented by the featureless white expanse, and the whole time snow and ice were freezing onto my eyelashes, causing them to droop and stick to each other. This was becoming some sort of extreme cold weather exercise in sensory deprivation, and sensory deprivation and traffic don’t mix. As I became more and more removed from the blizzardy white reality, my brain started to fill the sensory void with speculative dreams of a distant icy past.

Humans have been living in climates such as these and worse long before the advent of cars and central heating and all the technologies we couldn’t imagine surviving here without. For a moment, the snow obliterates all the post industrial structure, and offers a glimpse of my ancestors who survived treks into the prairie winter with only heat generated by their muscles and shear determination not to stop. In comparison, I’ve got it easy, with my fleece and toe warmers and warm destination, and I am, after all riding the most efficient form of transportation humans have ever created. I wonder how many drivers thought me crazy as they passed, and wonder how many of them also had ancestors who survived brutal winters. As a whole, I think humanity is a lot tougher than we give ourselves credit for, and I wonder if the physical perseverance that allowed us to spread to nearly every corner of this planet over the millenia is still relevant in modern times.

A quick panda in the bitter post-storm sunshine, on a rare patch of cleared pavement.

By the time I rode home, the sun was peeking through, and I was rewarded for my morning toil with a strong tailwind all the way home.

Windchill + tailwind = WIN!

It’s going to be cold all week, with no end in sight (though warming up enough for me to safely say I’ve had my last train ride of the week)…spring so close, but yet so far…