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.
image

A little trail maintenance is a nice touch, though.
image

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.
image

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.
image

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.
image

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.
image

Life is sweet. Cold and sweet.





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.





Of Never-Ending Winters, Girly Italian Foldies, and a Fixation

17 05 2013

It’s been far too long since I made a post, mostly because I’ve been ridiculously busy (I’ve had one day off of work in the last 6 weeks thanks to multiple jobs). Still, it’s been a relatively short amount of time since the landscape looked like this:

Joyriding on the Fixte through a wet ravine on a warm April day.

Joyriding on the Fixte through a wet ravine on a warm April day.

And only a week after the following picture was taken, the temperature had increased by 30 degrees Celsius:

This is me getting close to losing my mind during a late April snowfall.

This is me getting close to losing my mind during a late April snowfall.

After what seemed like a never-ending winter, the seasons changed as if a light switch had been flipped, and suddenly the weather is summerish.

I’ve been mostly riding the Fixte. I love the speed, the engagement, the challenge, the feeling of connection between woman and machine and the road. It feels a little weird to go on about it, because I feel like I’m saying the same things the fixed gear riders would rave about to me, the same things that wouldn’t convince me to open my mind to it being something that might actually be safe and fun. I get it now. After riding fixed for a while, when I get back on a bike with a freewheel it feels like the bike is out of control, like “holy crap, this bike is moving all by itself and I’m not even moving my legs!” Yes, I’m liking this fixed gear thing. I’m even planning to convert another one of my bikes to fixed.

The Fixte and some lovely art of the night.

The Fixte and some lovely art of the night.

I had built up a front wheel to match the back, a high flange hub and a white deep-V rim, but was waiting for the gravel to be cleared off the roads and for the city to get a start on patching potholes to install it and my new tires. They even came to my street and very crudely filled some of the worst offenders, so my bikes still rattle and bump uncomfortably every time I leave the house. I guess feeling like your fillings are going to rattle out is still better than worrying about dieing on the street after wiping out in a pothole. Deciding that things weren’t going to get any better and that I wasn’t going to wait any longer, I upped the hipster quotient of the Fixte.

Mixte Fixie version 2.0

Mixte Fixie version 2.0

I wouldn’t say that the 700 x 23 tires are ideal for E-Ville’s cratered roads, but it sure is fun and looks cool. Bright lime green is a colour I’d never wear but I thought I’d try a pop of brightness on the bike, and if it gets old, it’s just rubber and can be easily changed. I have a goal in mind, though. I’m working on how to skip-stop, and I plan on leaving a trail of bright green skid marks around this town by the end of summer.

In other bike related news, there was a Critical Lass Ride to celebrate CycloFemme, a Global Women’s Cycling Day. A small group of us took a jaunt across the High Level Bridge and around the Leg Grounds.

Critical Lass at the Leg

Critical Lass at the Leg

Thanks to Deb for organizing and scoring some really cool temporary tattoos!

This time has gone by in such a blur. Always busy, always something interesting going on, always another challenge. My job at the Bike Library is finally over, and though I’ll miss it, I should have a little more time for myself, to enjoy riding, instead of spending nearly every waking minute encouraging other people to enjoy riding.

Another night, another river crossing.

Another night, another river crossing.

With my fleet of bikes feeling full and my joyriding time close to nil, the last thing I expected was to feel the need to acquire another bike, but guess what fell from the sky?

What's that? A vintage Italian loop frame foldie with a Duomatic hub?

What’s that? A vintage Italian loop frame foldie with a Duomatic hub?

This bike was donated to EBC after it didn’t sell at the annual Bike Swap. How could so many people looking for bikes pass over this gem in the rough? Sure, it needed quite a bit of work. I switched out the saddle and tightened the bottom bracket to make the bike rideable, but it was only after I’d been working on it a while when I discovered its secret. That worn down sticker on the seat tube that I initially read as DOOMATIC was actually Duomatic! Much to the amusement of the rest of the folks in the bike shop, I freaked out. For years, I have wanted to get my hands on a 2 speed kick-back hub to build into Porta-Bike, and here was a bike that had one, that had all the features of Porta-Bike plus more, was prettier and in better condition, and it didn’t have a sketchy looking home weld job at the hinge.

So, I bought it.

Annabella, near the end of a joyous night ride.

Annabella, near the end of a joyous night ride.

Meet Annabella. I’ll be posting more detailed pictures soon and as I fix her up. She needs a new saddle, tires, chain and everything overhauled, so I guess I’ve got another bike project. It’s so little to ask to get this lovely Italian Annabella back on the road.

Ciao for now!





So, Winter, Eh?

31 10 2012

Given the crazy weather in other parts of the continent right now, I’m going to refrain from the favourite Canadian pastime – complaining about the weather. But, yeah, it snowed, and it’s cold, and it could be a lot worse.

I put a studded tire on Porta-Bike in time for some late night riding in the fresh snow.

S’no problem.

Playing with my new front light.

A flic before crossing The Bridge.

Knowing that the weather in late October here can be a toss-up, back in early fall I committed to doing free bicycle tune ups, outdoors, as part of Sustainability Awareness Week on campus. That gamble sure didn’t pay off. I did have a tent & a heater, but I still couldn’t feel my toes after 4 hours. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t very busy, though I did fix about ten bikes (not including my own), gave a bunch of referrals and talked a lot of winter cycling.

Giving Porta-Bike a little TLC during one of the slower moments of Sub-Zero Bike Repair session.

I’ve been riding the foldie since it snowed because I found that the freezing temperatures have brought out some issues with the Globe (my other winter bike), and I’ll have to replace cables before I can ride it far. Not a big deal, I just need to find some time to dedicate to it. I also have another winter bike on the build, but I am waiting for rims to rebuild the wheels before I can launch it into the great Canadian winter. Stay tuned for more on that one later.





June Critical Mass

20 07 2012

As June is Bike Month in E-Ville, June Critical Mass is usually the the most well attended of the year. I don’t know what it is this year, but Critical Mass seems to have lost momentum. Maybe it’s because some of the folks who’ve been putting most of the effort into promoting it have had other commitments lately. But, promotion or not, we know the time and place. and we still ride.

Rubber to the asphalt.

The High Level Bridge is always a highlight.

Rollin’ down Whyte Ave.

It’s the Bikewriter himself!

Brian and a particularly triumphant bike lift.

Last Friday of the month, 5:30pm, City Hall (fountain side).

Be there or be a square wheel.

 

 

 





May Critical Mass

3 06 2011

Wow, it’s June already, which means it Bike Month, which means my doing bikey stuff to writing about bikey stuff ratio is going up, up up, and I’ve fallen behind on my blog posts. So much to write about, so little time.

To fill the void, here’s some pictures from last week’s Critical Mass.

Laughing and rolling. Rolling and laughing.

Kim on the bridge.

Turning left.

Micah don't need a car, or a car dealership.

What's more fun and more attention getting than a shiny new auto? Brett's freaky art bikes!

CJ was flashing me a peace sign, but my camera was too slow to catch it.

Adrian, aka Bikewriter, aka EBC mechanic, aka professional cameraman, was waiting for us on the hill at the end of the bridge.

Another reason bikes are awesome: If you're a kid in a chariot and you see your fave aunt riding behind you, you can say hi and chat.

After the ride, it's time to play around on other people's bikes in Gazebo park.





An Ode to the High Level Bridge

26 01 2011

Of the 17 bike accessible spans across the North Saskatchewan River, one is known to cyclists in Edmonton simply as “The Bridge.” Forty six meters (155 feet) above the river with a deck 777m (almost half a mile) long (not including approaches), the High Level Bridge is the only one that crosses the top of the river valley, sparing its users the long trudge up and down the only significant hills in E-Ville, hills that also split the city in half.

Traffic rolls through the bridge, disappearing into a blur of long exposure.

I love the bridge because living near it opens up the entire city to me and my bike, but it looms ominous like the bridge at Sleepy Hollow. No matter which way you go, the south approach is a descent with a series of turns at the bottom, weaving around girders with no room for error, and no matter the season, traction is always an issue, with the turns either getting iced up, or sandy or gravelly. Two people (one cyclist and one rollerblader) have been killed in the last decade in accidents on the south approaches, and countless more have been injured (including a friend who was thrown off her bike and slid halfway down the icy hill on her backside, yesterday). I ride the bridge twice a day on average, and have had too many close calls to count (though with freezing rain today, I can expect more). It’s the coldest and often most dangerous part of my ride.

Bare concrete, I've missed you so!

Darker still is the other place in our collective conscious The Bridge resides in. Talking about it is taboo, but the issue is too familiar to those who walk or cycle the bridge every day. I’ve never been able to find statistics of how many people have jumped off the bridge, but I know people who have, and most everyone from around here knows someone… And every now and then a new memorial pops up, or missing posters go up and down, or a high profile missing persons case suddenly goes into the collective memory hole… This is the subject of the locally produced short film “The High Level Bridge,” which is currently screening at the Sundance Film Festival. To me, (unfortunately), it wasn’t the filmakers’ stories that were extraordinary, it was extraordinary that they broke the taboo by talking about it.

Here it is (for a limited time only):

If my life were a cartoon, the bridge would be a character, a friend, but a dark practical joker that I knew too well to completely let my guard down around. (and like a troubled friend, sometimes you have to call their mom, er 311 if things start getting really dangerous). What can I say, the bridge is an important part of my life, and like the film points out, it has made an impression on our collective psyche. But you don’t get that level of intimacy by driving through it. There are no headless horsemen here, still it’s only after safely crossing the bridge that I can get comfortably on my way.