This One Got Fat

28 02 2015

In the creepy half century old cycling training slash horror film, we learn that any small mistake whilst riding your bike will be rewarded with maiming or death. Fifty years later, the perception that only one in eight monkey children will return unscathed from a spontaneous ride to the park is more pervasive than ever, and the younger generation is being robbed of the freedom and independence that bikes afforded their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods in the name of averting statistically insignificant risks. Much of North American society continues to try to box in cycling as a recreational activity that requires special equipment and a designated place to ride, rather than an activity which can be both utilitarian and fun that can occur in any public (or private) space. This has resulted in the continued preoccupation with road and mountain bikes, racing gear, gram counting, spandex, Strava, etc. For someone who’s more interested in getting from point A to B cheaply and efficiently while fully participating in her urban community, it means I am really not interested in a significant segment of cycling culture.
Enter the fat bike.
It wasn’t that long ago that winter cycling was the exclusive domain of hard core cranks, eccentrics and idealists, or down & out folks who didn’t have any other transportation options. Within a few short years, fat biking has transformed riding in the winter into a legitimized form of recreation. “Normal” people are paying big bucks to slowly trudge through the snow and cold on oversized tires because it’s plain old giddy fun. I’ve been an all weather cyclist for a decade and a half, and as much as I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been chiefly for transportation. A change in occupation no longer saw me commuting 20km a day, and this past summer, when I embarked on long rides that I used to do with ease, I had to admit I’d lost much fitness and conditioning. There’s a twisted irony in riding less because I was spending so much time getting other people on bikes, and winter brings no incentives for long joy rides…
So, I got a fat bike.

image

The day after it was delivered it snowed heavily, and I had to ride across town. Like many winter bike commuters, I have enviously scoped out the fat bike jockeys effortlessly riding through heavy snowfalls and sketchy street clearing, outpacing car and bicycle alike. To my astoundment, I got to my destination early that day, clocking a summer time in the middle of a winter storm.
The fat bike is a game changer for commuting on heavy snow days, but even in the northern outpost of E-Ville, those days number only a handful. As much as we like to complain about snow clearing, everybody is usually moving normally within 24 hours of a storm because it’s winter and we’re used to it. Most of my winter commuting is done on either packed snow or streets where the friction of car tires has sublimated the snow to the bare asphalt. When that packed snow gets icy, the fat tires that float so well over the loose stuff easily lose traction, while a narrower studded tire provides far more stability. On the bare pavement they drag as if you were riding on water balloons. When riding on the streets, I find myself seeking out the bumpy, cookie dough conditions I used to always avoid on the residential roads, alleys, between the tire ruts, on the shoulders and filling the painted bike lanes.
I didn’t buy this bike to commute on, though. I bought it to have fun on, to explore the great trails of this city’s valley and ravines, to get off the well trodden path, to rekindle the joy of cycling.

image

And I’m not the only one. I was floored to find that the city is even giving consideration to winter trail riders.

image

Winter specific trail markers

In summer, this ski trail is the bike path, with bikes not allowed on the walking trail on the right. There is also no way these paths would be used for commuting/transportation, as they only connect two river valley parks in a roundabout way. This is purely for enjoyment and exercise.

image

Having never owned a mountain bike, if I felt the desire to go off the beaten path, I’d usually make do on a hybrid, or take a hike. The last few years, however, between a chronic back problem that can make it difficult to walk and a growing interest in road and city bikes, I was losing touch with the wild places that nourished my soul.

image

This bike has opened up the extensive river valley and ravine trails and taken me places I’ve never considered riding before, especially in the winter.

image

The day I took a ride down Mill Creek, on Mill Creek.

Taking a ride down the creek, on the (frozen) creek? Yes please! It was one of my highlights of the season.

image

The eight weeks since I got this bike have flown by, and have marked a pronounced change in my attitude towards winter. Between getting excited for fresh snow and secretly wishing for a late spring, the fat bike is a game changer for this winter cyclist.
It’s too bad that most of the fat bikes currently being sold will just be loaded up into pickup trucks to be driven to an “appropriate” trail because they present an opportunity to make your own trail and reinterpret your surroundings from a completely different perspective.
image

Advertisements




In Defence of Bike Lanes

25 10 2014

There’s been a lot of folks in this town hating on bike lanes lately, with a small, vocal minority calling for the removal of lanes already put in. This week, councilor Mike Nickel put the southside bike lanes on 76th Ave and 97th Street in the cross hairs, even offering support for the planned 83rd Ave and 102nd Ave bike boulevards in exchange for support on removing the lanes in question. Amazingly, many members of the E-ville cycling community seemed willing to participate in such a trade, sighting poor design, poor placement, and the inefficacy of paint on the road.
For real? How bad could they be? This required an exploratory mission to the south side via 97th Street.
Perhaps tellingly, I don’t remember taking this route before. If I was going a shorter distance south in the area, I’d take 96th Street, and if I was going deep south, I’d take Mill Creek then 91st Street. I had to look at a map to confirm that, indeed, there was a bike route that ran all the way south from Whyte Ave. Perhaps this route actually was reduntant?
The first thing I noticed as I turned onto 97th was that there wasn’t anything demarking it as a bike route. Upon closer inspection, things started to become clearer.

image

The game is spot the sharrow!

The relatively new markings had been paved over as part of road resurfacing. Suddenly, the threat of bike lane removal by a fiscally conservative politician became more real – you can’t call him on being a hypocrite for wanting to spend money removing infrastructure when it was already gone. The timing of this made perfect sense.
Running down a quiet residential street, I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with this route, and I was enjoying riding it far more than I did 96th.
Then, I saw it:

image

Roundabout!

A newly constructed roundabout! The ultimate in traffic calming and bike accommodating infrastructure! And I bet someone’s pretty pissed about it.
Further down the road was the bike boulevard piece de resistance, the street had been blocked off to cars but a multiuse trail allowed bikes to continue to pass through. I’ve only rode infrastructure like this in Montreal and Vancouver and was thrilled to see it in my home town. Who knew E-ville was so progressive?
The residential section, however, is not the section that has been generating criticism from cycling allies and enemies alike. As it crosses 63rd Ave southbound, 97th Street enters an industrial area, and the sharrows give way to painted bike lanes.

image

That's a bike lane. That's what all the fuss is about.

As I rode, I went over all the criticisms levelled at this route in my head and wondered if the naysayers were talking about the same road. Busy? Nope, not even at rush hour. Going to get squished by a semi? Nope, the car lane is wide and where the bike lane turns to sharrow it becomes 2 full lanes – lots of room. Loss of parking for businesses? Nope, all of the businesses had parking lots in front and there wasn’t street parking to start with. Unused? Nope, I saw several other cyclists. Disconnected, start and stop infrastructure? Ok, maybe a little, but nothing unmanageable, especially by this city’s standards.
The best part was crossing the Whitemud Freeway. The road just went right over – no negotiating the multiple lights and offramps of the 91st Street and 99th Street alternatives.

image

There's a freeway beneath my wheels.

I barely noticed I was crossing the busiest freeway in the city. How awesome is that?
The bike route ended at 34th Ave, which is where the 91st Street bike path also terminates and gives you the option of riding a busy arterial or going way outta your way on twisty suburban roads. Since I’d come this far, I decided to venture a little bit further to get some noms at Loma House before heading back. The last leg of the ride was definitely the worst, zigzagging through the industrial area where bikes weren’t even an afterthought, to get my reward. Too bad the lanes don’t go all the way to 23rd Ave.
So, to all the haters out there, I say this bike route is great! It’s useful, safe, direct and well thought out. We need more of this, not less, and we can’t let opponents to progress exploit our duversity of opinions to convince us that we need to be undoing the first steps towards a citywide cycling network. A lot of people also like hating on sharrows, wondering what’s the point of having a road marking that signifies something that’s perfectly safe, legal and normal anyway (namely cycling on the road)? The beauty of sharrows is that jerks in gasburners look especially stupid when they yell “get off the road!” so it happens a whole lot less. And less ignorant screaming makes everybody’s lives better.
Vivent les bike lanes!





Bicycles Are For Lovers

3 06 2013

I can’t remember who recently said “cycling is romantic.” It really resonated with me as what cycle advocacy is missing, and in my last post, I echoed this sentiment. But do I really need to pontificate?

Too cute :-)

Too cute 🙂





Elk Island Redux

21 09 2012

Three rides in three weeks down the same country roads, but even though the route was the same, the rides certainly weren’t.

Elk Island National Park is just east of Edmonton and is a fairly popular destination for touring cyclists, but I couldn’t remember the last time I was there, so I figured a beautiful Sunday would be a great day to check it out.

Rollin’ down the Parkway.

One of the biggest attractions at Elk Island are the herds of plains and wood bison that call this place home. Over the last century, the park has been crucial in the survival of both species, and many modern populations can trace their lineage back to the Elk Island herds.

Part of a herd of plains bison.

The presence of North America’s largest land animal creates a few extra challenges for cyclists. For example, 4 weeks after this ride, I still haven’t been able to get all the buffalo poop off le Mercier’s tires. And then there’s the threat of hitting one – this actually happened to an acquaintance of mine and ended in broken bones. The other surprise were the oversize texas gates everywhere.

Texas gates are usually used where a road crosses a fence to keep cattle inside the fence. These buffalo size gates are huge!

The first gate I encountered I just rode over, which shook me up literally and figuratively. Hoping I hadn’t aggravated my much abused wheels, I walked over the next gates. Luckily, most of them had some sort of bike gutter on them.

Taking a break in a shady grove.

There are many trails in Elk Island, but this is the only paved one. The unpaved ones just aren’t roadbike friendly.

Astonin Lake.

Cattails.

Lunch break by the lake.

Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, where still the mighty moose wanders at will. Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more…

As the sun was getting low, I turned back towards the park gate to head for home. As I crested a hill with the sun in my eyes, I came within a foot of hitting a lone male bison on the shoulder of the road that had somehow disappeared into the long shadows. I’d always wondered how someone could crash into such a large animal, but now it made perfect sense. The bison seemed unperturbed and I crossed the road to observe him from a safe distance.

You’d think it would be impossible to miss an animal this size when it’s directly ahead of you.

The following week, the ravingbikefiend had a plan: a fast ride out to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, which is just east of Elk Island, with a caveat that only steel framed bikes would be welcomed. I was stoked to push Mercier to the limit with a faster rider to keep up to, but the day had a number of false starts. As we were about to hit the freeway out of town, I could feel my bottom bracket loosening up. That wouldn’t make it 100km, so we headed back to EBC for some emergency repairs. Satisfied it would hold up, we hit the road again. By the time we got to Sherwood Park the group was already quite spread out, and A-bomb decided she was going to turn back as the pace was greater than either of us expected. I caught back up to a waiting Keith and David, and with a brisk tailwind we made it to the village in ridiculous time – my new bike computer recorded a top speed of 58km/h, though I still couldn’t keep up with the boys.

Keith on his Cooper and David on his Miele, in a rare moment when I wasn’t lagging far behind them.

Meta blogging at the village: taking pictures of taking pictures of taking pictures of bikes.

Fancy lug on the Campagnolo’d out Cooper.

The tailwind on the way there stuck around to become a brutal headwind on the way back, and with my upright riding position, I was at a greater disadvantage than my companions. I basically only saw them when they stopped to wait for me, or when Keith got a flat.

Unscheduled stop for roadside repairs.

Radial tire wire is Keith’s nemesis.

One of the nice things about traveling with awesome bike mechanics is that when somebody else gets a flat, I can just sit back and enjoy the beauty of a skillfully performed fix.

Between the wind and the much faster than expected companions, I had my ass handed to me that day. I like to think of myself as a fast, efficient rider, but I’ve still got a long way to go before I can keep up with the best.

The following weekend was the annual Tour de Perogy. Here is how it went from my perspective: I slept in, missed meeting up with everyone, but decided to head out anyway and caught up with the group at the halfway point. Not long after that, I got a flat (first one in thousands of km of epic rides this year!), which  meant an unscheduled break for everyone else, and lower tire pressure for me the rest of the day. At the Ukrainian Village, I gorged on wildberry sorbet after eating the tempeh in peanut sauce I’d brought for lunch.  On the way back, I offered to lead the way as I knew it well, and pulled the peleton most of the way. About halfway home, it started to rain. Le Mercier really hates rain. My white cotton travel shirt was permanently reverse skunk striped with road splashings. Overall it was still a good ride, but I didn’t take any pictures.

Three weeks, three metric centuries plus. As the weather gets colder, the days get shorter, and I get busier (I’ve got an exciting new job!), it’s going to be harder to find time to go on more big rides. Here’s hoping I can squeeze a few more in before winter.





Riding for Isaak

1 09 2012

Yesterday, the largest group of cyclists I have ever seen in Edmonton gathered in memory of Isaak Kornelsen, the cyclist who was killed on Whyte Ave earlier this week.

A section of the crowd in Churchill Square. Participants were asked to wear yellow in honour of Isaak.

The procession makes its way down Whyte Ave.

The mass took several traffic light cycles to clear each intersection.

The mass grew as it wound through downtown and over the High Level Bridge, and by the time we were on the south side the police were blocking off intersections for us. We rode down Whyte Ave to the ghost bike, where cyclists filled the entire block – all four lanes, and stopped to pay tribute.

The ghost bike, now barely visible under all the flowers.

There wasn’t a plan or program for this event. Things just happened spontaneously. For example, one rider was giving out yellow ribbons to people who weren’t already wearing yellow. At the ghost bike, after one person tied their ribbon onto the growing memorial, many more followed as a way to pay respect.

Tying on a ribbon for Isaak.

For me, one of the most poignant moments came when the crowd went silent. No one asked for a moment of silence, but suddenly, even with so many people present, the avenue was completely quiet.

Powerful, moving, incredibly sad but also inspiring, this ride brought together Edmonton’s cycling community to both grieve and pay tribute to one of our own, and to come together to heal, grow and bring about change so that an accident like this never happens again. It’s a potent reminder that we can all do better, as cyclists and drivers, as city planners, stewards and citizens, our seemingly small actions make a difference, and together we can create a safer reality for all.

Isaak, I’m not sure that I ever met you, but like so many others who only learned your name this week, you have touched my life. Your light still burns in this community, and will be a beacon as we roll into a more bicycle friendly future.

More pictures, blogs and media reports:

Facebook Event

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/story/2012/08/31/edmonton-kornelsen-memorial-ride.html

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151011857751650.422465.543581649&type=3

http://glennkubish.blogspot.ca/2012/08/ride-for-isaak.html

http://www.flickr.com/photos/35723494@N04/sets/72157631353420570/with/7907400666/





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.”

“Sure.”

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?”

“Probably.”

“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.





Puddle Vision

21 03 2012

Day after day, the same commute, the same ride, the same potholes to dodge, the same creative maneuvers through badly planned infrastructure, the only things changing are the wind direction & temperature. The mild winter should have left me more opportunities to explore and play on my bike between home and work, but thanks to a perfect storm of illness, appetite killing medications (which I’m thankfully off now), and quitting my pop habit (which is a really good thing, but I’ve missed those extra 500 calories a day), my body has been left short on fuel and exhausted, and I’ve lost weight (and I did not need to lose weight). In fact, for the first time in my life, my BMI is in the “underweight” category (my doctor told me that I shouldn’t expect any sympathy for this problem). This has also meant that my commute has become extremely rote, always the same, shortest route, treading closer to feebleness than enjoyment.

Sunset, brighter in the puddle world, as the first fingers of ice crystals begin to envelope the water.

For a short time in spring, the puddles of melting snow offer a glimpse into a different world, similar to this one, but the sun is brighter, the sky is clearer, there’s magic in the air and the outlook is always up.

Only in a reflection can you see the magic in the air.

And so my commute came to life again, and staring into the puddles & watching the constantly re-framed reflections allowed me to see my familiar surroundings from a different perspective. Sometimes, a different point of view makes all the difference in getting out of rut.

I could look back at this past winter as a lost opportunity for all sorts of winter adventures. For Edmonton, it was a cyclist’s dream, the mildest winter in memory, warmer and for more days than this born & raised prairie girl would dare to hope for. Yet, I probably would have done the same cycling if it was constantly -20.

Let it be known, that for a few short days in March, there was just barely enough snow on the ground for a "Canadian kickstand."

But it isn’t just weather that makes the winter, and instead of looking back I’m focusing on the future with a reacquired sparkle in my eye, and full fat coconut milk on my cereal.