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.

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Spring Scenes

28 04 2011

Finally, FINALLY, this long E-Ville winter has let up. The robins have returned and most of the snow has finally melted. More cyclists are popping up, the bike paths are mostly clear, and the city’s finally making a little bit of progress (hey, every bit helps) in cleaning the streets and filling the potholes.

Street art is also starting to pop up again. Hooray!

This past week, I took two epic rides in honor of me getting older. The first was with a half dozen of my closest friends, followed by a lovely dinner. The idea was to meet up in a park near my workplace and set forth from there. I was so stoked for just a simple ride with good friends for the first time after such a brutal winter, I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about a bike ride.

So, of course, I also ended up getting my first flat tire in forever on the way to work. The back wheel that came with the Transend included a “self-healing” tube filled with tire slime, which bled fluorescent green slime reminiscent of you can’t do that on television all over the back end of my bike and into a small pool on the ground. Given the quarter inch long shark tooth shaped piece of metal that was completely embedded in the tire, the slime probably slowed the release of air enough to get me down the road instead of immediately and completely deflating. Still, I was on the cusp of an epic ride with a flat tire and a bike that looked like it ran over a gremlin, and though I had a pump and a patch kit, the patches wouldn’t stick to slime so I would need a new tube.

Luckily, my friends are awesome. I sent out text messages with my tube size, pumped up my tire after work and set off, hoping the tire would hold air long enough to get to the rendezvous point in the park.

Transend, ready for service!

Eventually, someone showed up with a tube, and we fixed up the bike, and even though we spent way more time hanging around the park and less time riding than originally planned, it was still a lovely evening. Thanks everyone for an awesome birthday! (And special thanks to Geneva for pumping my tire up to 60psi with the little frame pump!)

Bathroom break in the valley. There were ski racks, but no bike racks.

This week I also hit the highway and made my first ride out of the city of the year to see my folks.

On the shoulder of the highway. Nothing but rumble strips and a white line between me and 120kmh traffic. At least most of the gravel's gone.

Within city limits, the shoulder of the highway was still covered in an inch or two of gravel, and it was a tough slog, especially on Marjory, but after I passed the county line it looked like there had been some effort made to clear the winter debris. Riding in the city all winter is good exercise, but you never have the chance to just ride flat out for miles and miles, and I was a little surprised at how winded I got on some of the long overpasses. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride.

Later, on a warm spring night, riding with a friend, I decided to stop at a dumpster I know is often good for food and flowers. I needed bread, but I wanted flowers. I guess you can’t always get what you need. I didn’t even have to dismount from the bike, I just stuck my arm in the dumpster and pulled out a dozen long stemmed roses that were laying on top of the rest of the trash.

No bread, but roses for Marjory!

The best things about the arrival of spring are not having to always ride alone, and being able to stop and look for treasure (Terrence and Phillip got one thing right about this canuck) without freezing your butt off.





There’s Something About Marjory

31 08 2010

Marjory Stewart Baxter is a 1982, Canadian built Raleigh Lenton that was rescued from a dumpster and resuscitated by some old friends, who left her to me when they moved away. She was always a sweet bike, but when I replaced her rusty steel wheels with modern alloy rims something magical happened, and she became as zippy as a roadbike while still comfy as a cruiser. She’s still my favorite bike (even if she’s not the one I ride most), and anyone else who rides her instantly falls in love.

Lately though, she’s been giving me some trouble. It started one night at the local bicycle co-op while I was teaching a bicycle maintenance course. I was getting all the participants to check their chains and drivetrains for wear, and it just so happened that out of 8 bicycles, not a single one had any chain stretch. Being unable to remember how long it had been since I’d changed Marjory’s chain, I wheeled her out, knowing I could probably demonstrate what some chain wear looked like. In front of the class, I embarrassed myself by pulling the chain completely off the teeth of the crank – so according to what I’d just told everyone, that means that I’d likely need a complete drivetrain replacement that could’ve been prevented by changing the chain before it got so stretched. Bad mechanic.

I threw a new chain on that night, but it was several links shorter than the old one, and it quickly became apparent that the freewheel was also worn beyond repair, so I replaced it as well. The ride seemed better, until she started throwing off the chain, which would then get jammed between the chain ring and the chain guard and have to be forcefully pulled out.

Oh Marjory, sweet and difficile, why must I get so dirty to ride you so prettily.

After this happened twice in one ride (number of dudes who asked if I needed help while I was unjamming the chain: two), I decided that I was going to return to EBC and not leave until I remedied whatever was causing Marjory’s distress. As it turned out, my next opportunity was going to be after I taught another bike maintenance class.

That day, I packed up a smorgasbord of tools for the class’s benefit and set off on my daily commute only to be interrupted by a flat tire. What’s most surprising about a flat is how few (like, one) I’ve had this summer. Luckily, I had all the tools I’d ever need (though I had the wrong spare tube with me – oops) in my pink tool bag.

Number of dudes who asked me if I needed help while I was waiting for the vulcanizing solution to dry: three. There were also a couple of other dudes who approached me like they were going to offer assistance and then backed off when they saw me spin off the axle nuts with one continuous motion and remove the tire with a flick of the lever and a single pull, respectively. Is it the skirt? Sure, cyclists are pretty awesome and look out for each other and I’ve certainly helped and offered help to many strangers, myself. But, the same day, when another dude’s wheel spontaneously taco’ed at the finale of Critical Mass, he didn’t get anywhere near this outpouring of help, even in the middle of a large group of cyclists. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from offering help when they see someone who looks like they need it, but would those dudes have perceived another man changing a flat, with a complete set of tools, in as much need of assistance as girly me?

To avoid the common mistake (when fixing a flat) of applying the patch before the vulcanizing solution is dry, I tell people to do something else, like have a snack & a drink or chat with riding companions, rather than watching glue dry. On this day, I took pictures and told well-meaning dudes I didn't need any help.

Honestly, some days I get a kick out of messing with people’s preconceptions and playing up the femme bike mechanic thing, but some days I just get fed up with people assuming I know nothing about something I do quite well, based solely on my sex. Even though this was turning into one of the latter sort of gender-warrior-grind days, I want to make it clear I’m extremely grateful for all the kind people who offered to help a stranger. What’s bothering me is how the perception of gender can be the only difference between “mechanic fixing bike” and “damsel in distress” to a stranger’s eyes.

Marjory, one bell adjustment from being ready to roll.

Patching and reassembling Marjory was no problem at all, and I was back on the road with little lost time (but very dirty hands – though that’s what the small vial of the magical green powder called Worx in the tool bag is for, at least as soon as I could find a bicycle accessible washroom).

Later that night, as the midnight hour approached in a surprisingly bustling bicycle co-op, I realigned her derailleur and lengthened her chain, and she was once again reborn as my best bike ever. Here’s to many more marvelous miles on Marjory.