Midnight Ride to Bike Town

19 07 2012

To put this story into perspective, we’ll start with a simple vegan chocolate cupcake.

About to enjoy a vegan cupcake with Marjory.

There’s another story I’m not going to bother with here that ends with me becoming so sensitive to caffeine that even the modest amount in a chocolate cupcake (with non-chocolate icing) is enough to keep me up all night. But I really wanted a cupcake, and at Flirt only the chocolate cake is vegan, so I decided to hop down the rabbit hole. I tell you this story not only as an excuse to post food porn but also to help explain why I decided to do what I did next.

I’ve been researching neighbouring communities, looking for destinations for cycling day trips, and discovered that the nearby town of Devon had declared itself “Bike Town Alberta,” where, according to their website, “cycling is the new golf.” I was intrigued at the thought of this little oil town turning around and embracing the bike, but something wasn’t right. The website talks more about branding than it does about bicycles, and the whole thing reeks of not quite getting it.

Case in point – this promotional video. Warning: you will not get the next two minutes of your life back if you watch this video, but if you still choose to, make it fun by being on the lookout for models wearing helmets backwards, under inflated tires, and dudes riding bikes that look like they would’ve fit them when they were 12.

So, on a hot summer night with a bee under my saddle and a little too much energy, I decided I needed to check out Bike Town firsthand.

As I was gathering supplies at the grocery store, I got a call from Geneva.

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Riding to Devon.”

“Can I join you.”


Truth be told, there was a little more discussion than that, but the plan was hatched before I made it to the checkout. We’d hop on our bikes and head south, knowing full well that we’d be highway riding with only the midnight twilight of midsummer in E-Ville.

The sun hung low as we made our way towards city limits. Our first challenge came as we crossed the Henday, where Geneva got a flat.

Geneva fixes a flat in the blink of an eye.

But we were undeterred. She fixed the flat and we were back on our way.

Sunset and Devon’s still a ways to go. Note that, of all my bikes, I took Marjory for this ride.

This is the part of the ride that it started getting tough. Off the paved side roads and onto the highway, I kept pushing forward with the hope that I would be rewarded with a photo next to a sign that said “Bike Town.”

Almost there!

With the promising light of civilization on the horizon, we got our photo op.

In retrospect, I should have framed the photo to say “DEVO.” That would’ve been way cooler.

As we began to explore the sleepy streets, we found lots of evidence of the town’s history related to the oil industry, but no evidence that it was “Bike Town.” The paved path that roughly followed the top of the valley was nothing special, and we weren’t about to explore the mountain bike paths this place is known for on road bikes, in the dark.

Our first stop was to refuel.

Even the convenience store was oil industry themed.

As we had a break took turns going in to refill our bottles and get snacks, a woman approached us.

“Were you the ones I saw out cycling on the highway just now?”


“Why did you do that? It’s so unsafe. How will anyone see you? All the drivers out there are drunk.” She was genuinely concerned.

We just sort of shrugged. I wanted to say “well you saw us, right?’ but was polite and told her not to worry.

A couple of minutes later I went into the store, and as I was about to go to the cashier, a man stumbled in and screamed incoherently, and then stumbled around some more. Disconcerted, I quickly cashed out and went back to meet Geneva.

“I can’t believe how drunk that guy is.” She said. It was at that moment I noticed a minivan that hadn’t been there before.

“Wait a minute, did he drive here?”

We exchanged “oh shit”  looks and decided to get out of there before the drunk dude got out of the store.

A little bit shaken by the timing of that meeting, we roamed the town, trying to decide whether to head back immediately or wait until dawn. On a whim, I said let’s look in some dumpsters (small town dumpsters have a reputation). There were no snacks, but I did pull out a perfectly good orange reflective vest. I already had my reflective hoodie on so I asked Geneva if she wanted it.

So that is how we ended up riding til the crack of dawn when we returned home, with Geneva wearing a vest we’d just pulled out of a dumpster. The roads were mostly quiet and we didn’t have any scary moments. The only regret I have is that I didn’t bring a lock, so that we could have checked out the only lively place this late at night – the hotel/bar where there was some country karaoke going down.

As for “Bike Town,” I wasn’t expecting much but was still underwhelmed. I’ll go back in the day sometime to check out the river valley and to see if there’s bicycle friendly camping. It seems their idea of cycling is recreation, not transportation, and the goal they’re working towards is to get more people to drive their bikes in from the city. It’s really too bad, because there is such a dearth of facilities for transportation cyclists and cycle tourists around E-Ville, and it’s close enough to be a relatively easy day trip. I hear they’re trying to trademark “Bike Town,” so I hope they get a clue about people who actually lead a cycling lifestyle before they monopolize that moniker.



5 responses

20 07 2012

Yeah, calling themselves “Bike Town” is a bit much, but I don’t find it any worse than Sparta, Wisconsin, “Bicycling Capital Of America”.
Sparta claims that because they are on the Elroy-Sparta Trail, the first rail-to-trail conversion in the US. When I passed through there years ago, there wasn’t anything else “bikey” about the town other than the trails. (Another trail, the La Crosse River, begins there as well.) Nevertheless, Sparta had more going for a touring cyclist than Devon because of the trails.

I think this is going to happen anytime a small town wants to appeal to bicyclists for tourism sake- they are only going to think about competitive and recreational things, not urban/utility cycling or touring. I don’t think they understand who “people who actually lead a cycling lifestyle” are. Touring is such a weird beast not understood by people unless they come into contact with it. The small towns that I’ve seen that actually appeal to bike tourists are the ones on popular enough bike routes.

Also, it sounds like Devon is really trying to create a tourist draw in cycling. Unfortunately we cycletourists don’t bring as much money to their economy as say a mountain bike race. (Especially if you are, ahem, “looking for places to camp” in the river valley.) 😉

Still, it would be cool if there were more places for all you Edmontonians to ride to outside of the city limits. At least you and Geneva had fun!

25 07 2012

If I could get a nice campsite away from RV’s I’d be happy to pay the going rate – it’s worth it to have a campfire that you don’t have to stress about keeping undetectable. Coincidentally, Devon already has a gorgeous campground, but it caters to RV’s. It would be so easy to set up a small cycle/hiker camping area tucked away somewhere on site (believe me, there’s room) and it would be low maintenance, you could fit more campers in the area than with RV’s, and bam, you have greater E-VIlle’s first cycle camping destination that’s a perfect distance for Edmontonians looking for S24O’s or who are just starting out touring.

25 07 2012

I wonder if there’s some way to convince them to offer some sort of bike camping. Advocacy agency? Meet with the Chamber of Commerce/”town fathers”/what-have-you? It seems in these situations “money talks”, so they’ll listen to this idea if there was some way to make money off of it. Sell it the right way to them.

As for Edmonton S24O options, what do you have? Elk Island is feasible (once you get beyond all the bison), and I remember there was some Provincial Park on Wabamun Lake west of town. These destinations might be a little too far for a traditional S24O, though.

21 07 2012

Well, they at least seem serious about the sporting aspect of cycling, particularly the off road stuff. It’d be nice if that would spill over into a larger bike culture but how likely is it? After all, the drivers are all drunk apparently.

25 07 2012

But it’s all those drunk drivers that prove how much they need to embrace transportation cycling. Get them out of their cars and onto bikes and the only people they can hurt are themselves!
But yeah, I’m planning a daytime trip on a less roady bike to check out the valley, still hoping for big things.

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