Midnight Ride (with lasers)

23 06 2013

What better way to spend the few fleeting hours of darkness of the shortest night of the year, than to ride the night away with a big group of fellow cyclists, with a portable sound system and laser light show.

It's like a bicycle disco.

It’s like a bicycle disco.

Before the ride, participants pimped out their steeds with all sorts of lights.

Before the ride, participants pimped out their steeds with all sorts of lights.

Rollin' down the Ave.

Rollin’ down the Ave.

Smiles all around.

Smiles all around.

Laser wheels in the late night twilight.

Phantom wheels in the late night twilight.

Riding on, into the night.

Riding on, into the night.

Taking the streets, groovin' to the tunes.

Taking the streets, groovin’ to the tunes.

It's actually quite hard to get a photo of this big a group at night.

It’s actually quite hard to get a photo of this big a group at night.

Retro futurism (with bikes and rowdy riders).

Retro futurism (with bikes and rowdy riders).

Zoomin' through the 'hoods.

Zoomin’ through the ‘hoods.

Instructions: 1) Weave sparkler through spokes. 2) Light with torch or other sparkler. 3) Ride away before you set something on fire.

Instructions: 1) Weave sparkler through spokes. 2) Light with torch or other sparkler. 3) Ride away before you set something on fire.

Future-bike disco.

Future-bike disco.

Invade a parkade.

Invade a parkade.

Lovers in auto-centric times.

Lovers in auto-centric times.

Photos with friends.

Photos with friends.

It's a portable disco!

It’s a DIY disco!

Riding With the Boy

20 05 2013

When bicycle advocates are espousing all the reasons you should ride a bike, there’s something often forgotten. Fun, play, romance.

Here’s to late night rides with loved ones.

A quick turnaround.

A quick turnaround.

When he wants to fly, he goes so much faster than me. In fact, he goes faster than anyone I've ever met.

When he wants to fly, he goes so much faster than me. In fact, he rides faster than anyone I’ve ever met.

Flying down empty steets on the fixies.

Flying down empty streets on the fixies.

Skinny tires seek out fresh pavement.

Skinny tires seek out fresh pavement.

Faster, into the night.

Faster, into the night.

Exploring twisty corridors.

Exploring twisty corridors.

This ride brought to you by... these two bike geeks.

This ride brought to you by… these two bike geeks.

Here’s to looking forward to a summer of passionate nights.

Yellow Sodium Lights

28 11 2012

I was a young child when all the street lights were switched from the bluish metal halide to the yellow-orange high pressure sodium bulbs, but I still remember the change that gave a literal sepia tinge to most of the subsequent nights of my life. Those ubiquitous yellow street lights have also coloured the many night time posts of this blog, and it feels ironic to finally find the beauty in something that I always thought was an urban blight.

I love my neighbourhood, especially the elms, not so much the ice.

A bike, snow bank, and a wintery street scape.

So many half remembered golden nights…

…forged in the sepia glow, like living nostalgia of the simple act of sitting on bench, by a snow bank, drinking tea.

Sodium lights are on their way out, and cheaper, whiter, more efficient LED’s are starting to replace them. It won’t be long ’til the golden glow of a long winter’s night is replaced by a new hue and nostalgia for the old. I wonder how it will change how we see and act in the night.

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.

Ride Like You’re Trapped in a 1980’s Super Computer

20 09 2012

This Saturday night we’re going back to the future. This ain’t just another retro theme ride. It’s the long awaited TRON Ride!

Don’t miss the TRON Ride this Saturday!

After escaping the insidious Master Control Program on our light bikes, we’ll reconvene at BikeWorks to party like it’s 1982, with retro arcade games and a screening of the first ever computer-animated feature film. No movie before or since has looked like TRON, and no bike ride before or since will look like the TRON Ride. So break out the lights and glow sticks and get ready to explore the digital underbelly of this computer program we call “Edmonton, ” cuz we’re ditching the game grid.

Be there, and be square.

TRON Ride: Saturday September 22, meet at 7:30pm at BikeWorks North, 9305-111 Ave.

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.

Riding After Midnight

18 05 2012

As the night time temperatures warm enough that frostbite and hypothermia are no longer a worry, the deserted streets beckon riders already weary of crowded bike paths and streets congested with more construction than Hazzard County (I can’t believe I just made that reference).

Riders in the night, crossing Gretzky.

Always a challenge keeping up with the Raving Bike Fiend.

Cyclists in the moonlight.

Zooming through a subterranean loading dock.

All the cars have left downtown, leaving so much room to play.

Even midnight riders have to stop for a traffic light now and then.

Passing through your neighborhood like ghosts in the night.

As I write this and look at the photos from recent late night excursions, I’m reminded that the streets are a lot quieter these days in my neighborhood, and not just because  school’s out. There have been a series of stranger-assaults on women walking alone at night. This is fucked. What is even more fucked, though, is that the police and (especially) the media’s response has been to generate panic, fear and victim blaming, warning women not to go out at night and not to walk alone. I’m not saying that this is nothing to worry about, and being vigilant and aware of your surroundings is always a good idea, but shit can happen anytime, anywhere, and the sad fact is that a women is far more likely to be assaulted in her own home by someone she knows than by a stranger on the street, no matter what the time of day or neighborhood. In fact, it happens so often that it isn’t considered newsworthy enough to report, or shocking enough to sell newspapers.

I’m a creature of the night. It’s both my playground and my solace, and I won’t let creeps and tabloid fear-mongering take that away. Dark, mysterious, unknown, it’s easy to fear the night, easy to buy into stories that fuel the anxiety, but I just want to say how quiet, beautiful, liberating, tranquil, consoling, calming, awe inspiring, energizing, limitless the dark hours, while everyone else is sleeping, can be. And if you don’t believe me, I have a challenge for you: take a late night ride on a weeknight, by yourself or with a friend, and see for yourself how much less action there is than during rush hour and how hospitable the wide open streets really are.

Scona Bombing

2 11 2011

A promising sign.

Every now and then the city completely closes down a major thoroughfare into central E-Ville for the summer, for paving, widening, revamping, and the creation of a 5 month long traffic jam. Not that I took that much notice, easily bypassing the resulting mess every day on my bike, but I was keeping my eye on this particular road, and when I heard it was about to re-open, I knew it was time for action.

It's all downhill from here...

As well as being a major artery, Scona Road is also a long hill that goes all the way down into the valley that bisects otherwise flat Edmonton. So what do you do when presented with a wide, empty, freshly paved street on an epic hill? You get some friends and some bikes and let gravity do the rest!

Holy crap! I'm rolling down the hill at alarming speed, trying not to scream, holding on with one hand while the other tries stay steady to take an action shot!

We weren’t the only ones marking Scona Road and 99th Street’s last night of being car-free, though. There was the odd pedestrian walking in the middle of the road, a guy walking his dog who stopped to chat, and a group of about 10 longboarders taking advantage of some of the best hill bombing of the season.

Longboarders meet cyclists.

The first time we went down, we ended up in oncoming traffic on an open road in the maze of interchanges at the bottom of the hill. The second time, we followed the longboarders down a safer route that went under the James MacDonald bridge. They had moved some of the road closed signs for an easier path, but seeing some of them fearlessly duck under the barricades at high speed like it was nothing made it look unnecessary for them.

The other part of hill bombing is increasing potential energy (going back up). These guys were making pretty good time.

Riding back up the hill wasn’t that bad, with the fresh pavement and the lack of car exhaust to choke on, plus it was a great way to warm up on a chilly night.

Panda action on a wide open & gleaming new 99 St.

I ended my night rosy cheeked and glowing from the rush of the hill bomb and the push of the hill climbs. If only there could be Scona bombing every Saturday night.

Also, check out my favorite reporter’s account of the evening’s adventures on Gig City.

Six Pack Ride

31 08 2011

Here are the rules:

Cyclists gather on a Friday evening, each carrying a six pack of refreshing beverages. Everybody gets two slips of paper, and on each they write a location in the city. All the pieces of paper are collected in a hat, and one is drawn. Everybody then rides to that location, consumes a tasty beverage, and then another location is randomly selected to have the next drink. Repeat until everyone’s finished their six pack.

Riding into the night.

First stop: "Ewok Forest" (I've heard of two spots called Ewok Forest in E-town, this isn't either of them). Also, huge thanks to Alex and Oliver for portaging Marjory through that crazy Mill Creek trail.

Taking it downtown.

My beverage of choice (mock me if you may, but a gingered up me is much more fun than a puking drunk me).

Taking in the view after riding 10 stories up. Things are getting blurry.

See those two blurs between the black arrows? Gravity assisted cyclists rollin' down the other side of the double helix.

Retroreflective Goodness

15 02 2011

Cyclists constantly hear complaints from drivers about how difficult we are to see (or more accurately, how easy it is not to see us). In response, some cyclists will feed an endless supply of batteries to a Xmas tree’s worth of blinkies while others repurpose dayglo highway worker vests into everyday riding garb. And that’s fine, it’s just not the way I roll.

My hoodie with a retroreflective owl in a tree and stars, plus a floral design on my calf. Being seen doesn't mean having to wear stripes. Photo by Chris Chan.

Geneva put a little bird on her hoodie.

The retroreflective silver returns the flash right back to the camera.

When I ride, I hope to encourage other folks to ride, too, and I think that presenting bicycle commuting as something you need an ugly uniform to do safely is contrary to that goal. “Cycling clothes” need not be discernible from street clothes, they’re just street clothes that happen to be suitable for cycling (which includes  everything but the trench coat).

Haydn put some subtle stripes on his parka.

Under headlights, though, not so subtle.

Still, some of the technology being developed for safety and athletic applications, such as retroreflective treatments are pretty cool, and I am very interested in applying it to apparel without it reading as safety wear.

As well as a pennyfarthing motif on his sleeve...

... Ian also created a turn signal effect on his gloves.

Perhaps I should begin with what retroreflective is, besides a cumbersome word that spell check won’t recognize. A retroreflective surface reflects light back to the source, no matter what angle the light hits the material. This is important for cyclists because at night it reflects the light from car headlights back to the driver, often allowing them to see a cyclist earlier than without a retroreflective sumtin sumtin. It’s no substitute for a good set of lights, but every little bit can help. In the photos throughout this post, the camera flash simulates the effect of headlights.

Orange is good color for daytime visibility.

With the addition of some retroreflective motifs, it's a good choice for night riding, too.

Over the last year or two, I’ve facilitated several workshops for folks to add retroreflective accents to their own clothes. The material we use is scrap from industrial production, the process is pretty simple, and the imagination is the only limit. All the pictures you see in this blog post taken in the red room (the upstairs lounge at EBC) are of folks who spent an evening with me brightening their wardrobes with this silver film.

Brendan's strategy for choosing his motif was one of my favorite.

"Eyes" like a moth to activate the "flight" response in the most primitive parts of the human brain.

This week I’m holding another workshop (Thursday, 7pm at EBC – register by emailing courses (at) edmontonbikes (dot) ca ) for anyone who’d like to increase their visibility without increasing their geekiness (unless you want to up the geek factor, and I’d be glad to help you if that’s your steez).

As well as using the retroreflective silver film for clothing, this workshop will have another exciting aspect (hey, I get excited by stuff like this). Inspired by a really cool tutorial on Giver’s Log, I’ve got my paws on some raw, traffic grade, tiny retroreflective glass spheres – think of it as high visibility glitter.

The retroreflective glass beads I added to this orchid for my bike look like a layer of sugar.

Outside, in the dark, this lovely orchid sends more light back to its source than the red rear reflector.

Having access to the raw material means we can now retroreflectivize a greater variety of stuff (specifically, anything that can be painted with acrylic craft paint) in almost any color.

These bracelets don't look like safety wear.

But in headlights no one will miss a turn signal when you're wearing safety bling.

I’ve barely begun exploring the possibilities of this stuff, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the workshop participants will create on Thursday. If you’re in E-town this week, come check it out! The workshop will be fun, it’s cheap and there’s still space left for last minute registrants.