Ride Like a Girl

5 03 2016

Cycling in the winter – as a practitioner and an advocate, it’s a topic I’m always interested to read other people’s takes on. The media represents winter cycling in predictable ways such as during a snow storm, “look at the tough/poor cyclist in the storm” pics, or vaguely supportive pieces including tips for winter riding, or first hand accounts of reporters doing it for the first time. The comments sections are even more rote, so I came up with this to spice up the experience:

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It’s winter cycling comments BINGO!

Meanwhile, I’ve been living with the side effects of making over my fatbike with a very eyepopping and gendered colour.

Pink in the pines. (Actually they're spruce, but pines sounds better).

Pink in the pines. (Actually they’re spruce, but pines sounds better).

I chose bright pink over equally bright green or orange – but really it could have gone any way. I’ve already got another bike with fluorescent green tires, and the only reason I didn’t go orange was because with my blue rims, it would emulate the colours of the local last place professional hockey team. This would’ve resulted in a barrage of drunken pickup truck passengers shouting “Goilers!” on any game night or in the rare event that they actually win. I don’t like getting anything shouted at me from pickup trucks, thank you very much.

Riding on water.

Riding on water.

Colours carry so much symbolism, and no colour in western culture is as heavily weighted as pink. I honestly didn’t expect the colour to completely take over. Nobody notices anymore that the rims are shiny blue and the frame is white.

So now I’m the woman with the pink fatbike. So much for being inconspicuous. Part of the appeal of getting a fatbike was being able to access areas that are hard to access, and the ability to not stand out can be helpful in that regard. Every time I ride it, people stop me to compliment my bike, or ask questions, or do U-turns mid block on 4 lane streets to say “cool bike!” (or just try to make themselves feel smart with passive aggressive statements-as-questions that they clearly don’t want a response to).

Look, I'm not entering!

Look, I’m not entering!

The main objective, though, is to bring joy, and I don’t say that lightly. With the fun, the exercise (especially in winter), the fresh air, the nourishing escapes from life’s stresses, this bike has been one of the best investments in my mental health I’ve ever made. Just looking at it makes me smile.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

So, may as well go fabulous all the way. After all we’re talking here about an entire season in which the landscape is regularly covered in glitter!

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura on a perfect winter day.

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura pogies on a perfect winter day.

My plain black pogies were warm, but their look ultimately utilitarian.

Check out the frosted tips!

The black pogies reduce the visual lightness (if you can say that about a fatbike) of the bike.

I decided that custom pogies would be a nice touch, and had a little time over Xmas holidays to make it happen. The fabric I decided upon was perfect, except a certain cat became completely obsessed with it and kept running off with pieces as I was trying to sew.

Meet my sewing assistant.

Meet my sewing assistant.

The end product was a pair of bright pink, faux fur pogies, so glam that they distract from the huge pink tires. (Those same huge tires that a certain tubby cat tried to climb up to try to chew on the fur.)

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Now the pogies were getting all the attention and comments. My partner, out cycling with me one day, asked “is this what it’s like to be famous?” after being stopped for the umpteenth time to be complemented on my “mitts.”

One night, headed to the sketchy corner convenience store on an errand (the one-stop-shop for munchies, crack pipes, and knives in the neighbourhood), I was stopped by the local constabulary who happen to patrol the area by fatbike.

“That is the girliest fatbike I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one of the cops.

“Uh, haha, thanks?” They stopped me all authoritarian like to comment on my bike? As I turned toward them, they recognized me from my job at a local not-for-profit, changed their tone a little, offered to come by work with some donations, and then turned their attention to creeping the patrons of the neighbouring head shop. Awkward (which I guess is the best one can ask for in a police interaction). This creates additional complications to exploring and testing limits, so to speak, and will ensure I’m on my best behavior riding this bike, at least until I unpink it. If my fattie ever gets stolen, those dudes had better be on it.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the original impetus to get a second set of tires was to add studs to grip ice. I was surprised how long this winter I didn’t need them, but when January rains ended the perfect winter riding conditions, I knew it was time to add metal.

First you drill the tires, then you put the screws in...

Does this still look “girly?” Does it roll like Furiosa?

There’s something confidence inspiring about having 7 dozen steel spikes protruding from each pink balloon tire, and I’m not just talking about ice. But still, bring on the ice, because ice is awesome!

Aka rollin' on a river.

Heading up the creek without a paddle.

Depending on conditions, you don’t necessarily need studded tires to ride over frozen bodies of water, but what a game changer. It feels like my tires are velcroed to the ice.

Aka still rollin on a river.

Winter makes pathways out of rivers. And rivers are pretty flat, so woohoo!

Riding on the river has been my favourite thing this year. Splashing over the gravel beds and beaches through the summer, and navigating around ice flows and over outfalls in the winter. The river is the reason for and life blood of this city, but once you are actually on it, the city fades away.

Following a lone coyote track in the dying light through tonnes of giant chunks of ice stacked by the river’s force, I passed the point of no return. In an alien landscape I would have balked at had I been able to properly see what I was getting into, I found riding skills and confidence I never knew I had. Getting safely home came down to the river, me, and my bike – pink didn’t matter. This is what riding like a girl is about.





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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!





Meet the Olmo

26 07 2014

When you haven’t updated your blog for 6 months where do you start? My last post was about setting up the new BikeWorks South. Since then, the shop has been mostly finished, has opened, and has been extremely busy. More on that in a future post. I don’t want to talk about work as I’ve been working nonstop, but have had a little time to squeeze in a bike build and a ride here & there.
So, meet the Olmo.

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This Italian beauty started off with a set of tubular wheels, which I haven’t exactly had luck with in the past. My lucky streak continued when one of them exploded after the test ride.

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Around this time, a large, generous donation of high end road and triathlon parts came into BikeWorks, presenting me with an opportunity to upgrade this lovely old steel frame with some ridiculous modern components. This is actually my first bike with drop bars, so I felt a set of interuptor levers were in order.

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Yep, that’s carbon.
I also added some swanky low spoke count wheels as well as a small purse to act as a handlebar bag.

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It’s taken me zipping to the ends of the bike paths.

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Meanwhile in suburbia…

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Note the sky. That ain't clouds, it's smoke.

Here we have a public art installation in the extreme outer suburbs in a neighborhood that hasn’t even been built yet. In typical Edmonton fashion, instead of commissioning original art by a local artist, the developer got a Seattle artist to recreate pieces that he’d already produced for Portland. Still, I really dig the weird irreverence of it all. I live in a central neighborhood. Cycling out to see these fibreglass monoliths was nearly a 50km round trip. That’s how ridiculous this city is.
Of course I had to go back to see them at night, cuz they light up.

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Not sure why, but I always feel compelled to take my road bikes off-roading. Not the best idea at 130psi.

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This area has been cleared for E-Ville’s next footbridge, and you can see the corresponding clearing across the river. It won’t be long before you can ride down here on a road bike without feeling like your eyeballs are going to vibrate out.

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I think I like this bike a lot. I’m working on improving the stamina of my back, arms & hands as the riding position is way more agressive than any of my other bikes. I also have a few more plans for it. The old Campy shifters and derailleurs are lovely but can’t handle a modern gear range, so I expect to be making more changes yet, and to be riding centuries on it soon.





Biking Through Blizzards in the Coldest Place on Earth

13 01 2014

As hard as winter has come on this year, this past week has really taken the cake (except I started writing this post last month and got sidetracked). The work week began with blizzard warnings and ended with windchill warnings as the coldest temperatures in the world were registered in this province. In E-Ville, though, life doesn’t stop for the weather, and bicycle is still the best way to get around.

With the snow coming down and drifting on Monday night, I had to ride cross town. As I’ve always said, riding through fresh snow isn’t a problem, it’s when the cars start packing it down and churning it into oatmeal that things start getting dicey. Still better than waiting in the cold for a delayed bus.
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A little trail maintenance is a nice touch, though.
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And while the approaches to the High Level Bridge were drifted over and close to impossible to navigate, the upwind side of the bridge deck stayed clear.
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With days of warnings of the storm, the streets were empty, the desolation more striking than the bitter wind.

It’s all enough to make a girl stud a green tire for her fixte.
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For the record, I haven’t used my front brake since I installed the studded tire up front, though I have had a couple of hilarious slow motion falls into snowbanks while getting my riding boots caught in the pedal straps.
My long awaited bottom bracket and large track cog came in time to witness more than double the average snowfall through the the first months of winter. Unfortunately, it appears that Shimano doesn’t test their grease in E-Ville conditions as the bottom bracket starts getting extremely stiff below -15C. I’ve compensated by bringing the bike indoors whenever possible. We got long runner mats for the living and dining rooms to deal with all the slop melting off the bikes. 

Blizzards, too, must pass, usually not without some subsequent arctic air.
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I celebrated the cold snap with vegan Froyo for me and my sweetie. When it’s this cold, it’s very easy to transport without it spilling or melting.
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Life is sweet. Cold and sweet.





November Rain

17 11 2013

In E-Ville, rain in November is never a good thing. For one, somebody always posts that stupid G’n’R song on Facebook and then I get it stuck in my head until the weather changes. It was sweet riding for a couple of days, though. The rain ate away the snow on the ground and with a good jacket, high boots and waterproof gloves I was quite comfortable and enjoying riding at high speed downtown.

A gorgeous moment between precipitations

Since the first snow this season, I’ve been riding the fixte because I haven’t had time to put winter tires on my other bikes, but mostly because it’s fun. Skiddly-skiddly. Those who’ve known me for a while have pointed to the influence of a certain ridiculously speedy courier, but I’ve recently realized that the influence has gone both ways.

Fixies with fenders and baskets and green wheels, oh my!

Check out the full fenders and front baskets on these bikes.
Of course, November rain turns to slush and freezes, creating the dreaded bumpy ice. It didn’t take long for me to have my first wipeout, and despite momentarily forgetting I was strapped into the pedals, I didn’t suffer so much as a bruise.
Eventually the rain in this late season turns to snow and we got eight inches of the wheel sucking white stuff over the weekend.

There’s even enough snow for the ol’ Canadian kickstand.

Looks like I can put off installing a kickstand for a while.

I still need to make some more changes to the fixte. Installing that pretty white crank increased the gear ratio a little too much and put my chain line a little too off and I’ve had a larger cog and shorter bottom bracket on order for what seems like forever. Ironically, it was only this past week before the snow flew that I was feeling like I was fully managing the gear ratio. In the mire of oatmeal snow that now encompasses most of the roadways however, I won’t be getting very far without that bigger cog. Hopefully the wait will end soon.





Autumn Critical Lass and Bridge Musings

14 10 2013

I’m sure I’ve said it before that fall is the best time of year in these parts, what better time for a ride?

While it’s true that there was snow on the ground by this date last year, this fall has been comparatively kind with many sunny days and minimal wind but still not too warm. On a late day Critical Lass ride we could bask in the golden glow of the last of the leaves and the setting sun.

Looking over the river valley, enjoying the last light.

Looking over the river valley, enjoying the last light.

Crossing the High Level Bridge was the highlight of this ride.

Crossing the High Level Bridge was the highlight of this ride.

The High Level Bridge is part of my regular stomping grounds, so I somewhat take for granted what a monumentally huge, vertigo inducing piece of century old engineering it is. On this ride, however, there was a young rider making her first trip over the bridge who reacted much the same as I did on my first time crossing the bridge outside of a car at approximately twice her age..

First bridge crossing.

First bridge crossing.

Which is to say, she got a little freaked out. Enough that riding down the hill to the LRT Bridge and up the killer switchbacks to the University was looking like a reasonable alternative for returning to the south side.

Another lass crosses the bridge.

Another lass crosses the bridge.

I remembered the time when I was a teenager that I was with a freind and we were walking downtown from Whyte Ave. When we got to the bridge, she expressed her fear, and me and the other folks we were with convinced her that she could cross. She ended up having a panic attack after we’d barely started over the span, and it took three of us to get her back up the hill and onto a northbound bus.

I was really glad our young companion wasn’t as freaked out as that. She and her mom ended up taking the train back across the river while the rest of us cycled back across the bridge in the crisp fall evening air.

For more on Critical Lass, check out Loop Frame Love.