…Now with 50% Less Bollards

14 10 2013

One of my favourite routes to get out of the river valley from Rossdale is an old, slightly neglected bike path that runs parallel to 97 Ave. It’s a gentle climb over several blocks, and now it has 50% less bollards!

They took out half of those bloody bollards!

They took out half of those bloody bollards!

And now that there’s one less bollard in the way, anyone hauling a trailer now actually has a chance to make it up the hill.

This path continues into the Legislative grounds where you can access the High Level Bridge and becomes a much more pleasant, though slightly steeper ride.

Choose your flavor of bumpy - unkempt asphalt or  sidewalk slabs.

Choose your flavor of bumpy – poorly maintained asphalt or sidewalk slabs.

The Leg ground paths have not, however, gone on a bollard diet, and still continue to stand as a monument to the 80’s.





Helmets Aren’t Stupid But Using Them as the Sole Measure of Safety Sure Is

27 09 2012

Before I get into this rant, I want to remind everybody that this is my personal blog, and all opinions expressed here are my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the positions of any organizations that I may be affiliated with. So if you’ve got beef with what I’m going to say, direct it at me please.

So, here we go. Helmets. Their use, efficacy and mandated use are possibly the most polarizing issues in the cycling community today. I’ve purposefully avoided directly addressing helmet use in my blog because I don’t want to host a regurgitated, staid debate that does nothing productive and just pisses people off. But something recently happened that I feel compelled to share.

I was excited to hear about an educational bike tour that the city was putting on. I even shared links to the event over facebook and through local bike related organizations, invited friends, and was genuinely looking forward to it. On the day of, I agonized over which bike to take, and decided I’d challenge myself with the old CCM as the organizers classified the difficulty of the ride as “beginner to intermediate.”

The CCM was ready for some river valley adventures.

I rushed to the rendezvous after work and immediately felt out of place. There I was on a single speed loop frame wearing a skirt, and everybody else there (with the exception of the folks I knew) was sporting spandex and fancy road bikes, looking ready for a race. Admittedly, I was confident I wouldn’t be the first one walking once we hit the hills in the  river valley, and was loving the thought of showing this homogenous group what a real cyclist can look like. I’d even brought my tools in case someone broke down.

It wasn’t meant to be, though. As we were socializing before the ride started, one of the organizers approached me and told me that I would not be allowed to participate because I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I was stunned. I thought this was going to be a casual ride, and nowhere on the event publicity had it mentioned that helmets were mandatory. Some of my friends came to my defense and told her that I was a very safe and capable cyclist, but she claimed that if the group were even seen with a non-helmeted rider, it would make them look unsafe and irresponsible.

It was all so arbitrary. They were judging my skill, safety, and whether I was a threat to myself or others by my choice to not wear a styrofoam hat. If I’d been riding a bike with no brakes and flat tires I’d’ve been good to go in their eyes as long as I was wearing the prescribed head gear. Part of me wonders if they would’ve been so hard line if I’d been decked out in cycling gear and riding carbon, but it still boils down to fashion sense and not sporting the right uniform. I have a little bit of experience in organizing group rides myself, and safety is also a priority for me (hey scoffer, I said safety, not legality, they aren’t always the same) as I would feel responsible if something bad happened at my event. This means that if someone’s having mechanical issues, we don’t ride until it’s fixed, or if they’re riding like an idiot, they hear about it. Preventing accidents has way more safety benefits than all of the best protective equipment. That being said, there is one piece of safety equipment that I almost never forget – my gloves.

Regular readers may have noticed that there aren’t any pictures of me wearing a helmet on this blog. In the last 10 years, the only place I’ve worn one is on the bike polo court. I’m not knocking anyone else’s choice to wear a bike helmet because it is just that,  a personal decision. I live on my bike. I’m more comfortable riding than I am walking. Do I need a helmet to walk, even though I’m clumsy sometimes? Of course not! So why would I think I need one to bike? The chance of me falling on my head is equally unlikely. I also know that not everyone has the same amount of practice/skill/balance/confidence/sobriety that I do on a bike, so if they feel safer wearing a helmet, then great! I support anything that helps riders gain confidence.

I could go into how promoting helmet use increases the perception that cycling’s unsafe, or how drivers give more space to riders without helmets, presumably because they either identify them as humans before cyclists, and can therefore better relate to them and their fragility. I could talk about how helmets only seem to be effective in mitigating a very specific and uncommon injury.

For me though, the truth is simpler. I don’t like them. I hate they way they feel, I hate the way they look, I hate how I can’t feel the wind in my hair, I hate how they smell, I hate how bulky they are, and I hate how they effectively increase the diameter of my skull by two inches, making it more likely that I’ll bump my head into things (this was my experience during the few of years of my life that I was wearing a helmet all the time). Because of how integral bikes are in my life now, if I chose to wear a helmet, I’d have to do everything but sleep in it, and for me, the hassle and disincentive to ride far outweigh the potential benefits.

So, I wasn’t allowed to join the ride. There was a bit of a debate with the organizers and my friends stayed back with me in solidarity. Instead, we went on our own rides. I had this urge to take the CCM offroading, and Christal had a new 29er to test out, so we headed for the valley as the other riders walked their bikes down the block.

We can ride if we want to, we can leave your friends behind… (girl without hat & the safety dance).

Christal & her new ride.

I had a good time on our alternative ride. We explored some gorgeous corners of the river valley and challenged ourselves with some fairly difficult single track. Going up steep gravel paths definitely wasn’t the CCM’s thing, but otherwise it rode fine. “Gravel, pffft,” says the tenacious old bike, “when I was young all the roads were gravel or dirt. You kids today have it too easy!”

OK, so I wouldn’t want to bike here every day, especially with this bike, but I still had an awesome time. I felt so old-school. It reminded me of being a kid and exploring the ravines on my old mixte.

From what I heard back from the people that stayed on the main tour, it was also a really good experience with exceptionally knowledgeable guides (minus their views on bike helmets, of course). I haven’t singled out the event for criticism because I want to see more events (educational bike tours) like this, and I don’t want to start up petty beef with the organizers when they’re doing something that I really support, it’s just this one stupid little thing…

One of my friends wrote a lovely letter, expressing his displeasure with how this was handled. The response wasn’t the one I was hoping for, but it was the one I expected. In the future, it will be clearly expressed in all promotional materials that helmets are mandatory, and the organizers will have some extras on hand in case anybody shows up without one. In other words, the helmet fixation will continue.





Road Bike Season

25 04 2012

All spring I have been watching the road and trail conditions, waiting for the last remnants of ice to disappear and for the city to sweep up all the gravel it’s laid down throughout the winter.

Notice that there's so much debris in the counter-flow bike lane that it obscures the markings. More notable is the awesome neighbour who pressure-washed clean the lane where it passed by his house. I sure appreciate not having to choose between no traction and oncoming traffic.

Road bike season started for me the day before my b-day when I realized that one of the stays on Marjory’s rack had snapped as I was loading it up, and I just couldn’t bear another day of chugging on the heavy Transend. I had been wanting a long ride on le Mercier for my birthday, so I thought I’d better break it out and give it a try. I’ve missed that bike: so swift, so light, yet handles so well I can trackstand forever and never have to take my feet off the pedals.

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a long time you may remember that last year, I got a flat tire for my birthday. This year, after a roll through a short but intense rainstorm, I wiped out. I was rolling through the leg (pronounced “ledge”) grounds (where it looked like it hadn’t rained) and hit several inches of pea gravel as I was navigating around the stupid traffic control arms they put up after 9/11 that they never open for cyclists, even though it’s a designated bike route. There was a peace officer in the little booth who saw me go down, but didn’t come out to check on me until I was ready to get back on my bike again, when he was a patronizing ass about it. I rode home slowly and carefully, avoiding jarring potholes, ordered a pizza, and spent the rest of the night taking it easy and icing my sore spots.

The next day the sun was shining, my body was hardly aching at all, and Mercier seemed no worse for wear, so I decided to try once again for an epic ride.

Keeping an easier pace than usual through the valley meant I was more prone to seeing little dirt side paths and wondering "what's down there?"

Le Mercier, after a roll through the grass.

Signs of previous visitors.

There's still a little ice on the river.

Obligatory awkward self-portrait with bicycle.

Sundown.

Finding myself famished in a far flung suburb after most places closed, onion rings and root beer was the best I could do for fuel while still keeping an eye on my bike.

After turning back towards home, a long, lighted, clear bike path was a welcome sight. Not pictured: more deer.





River Valley Sorbet

24 08 2011

When I first heard of plans to develop a cafe in the river valley, I was skeptical. A river valley excursion can leave the hustle, traffic and noise of the city behind, and turning parts of it into a commercial space could threaten the essence of what makes it so special. I must admit though, the prospect of having somewhere to stop for refreshments during a cross-town river valley jaunt is pretty appealing.

So I checked it out when it opened last month. They offer bike rentals, Segway tours (not looking forward to meeting that tour group on the trails), and gelato, with the promise of more cafe acion once they get their commercial sink installed. On such a hot day, ice cream sounded like it would hit the spot, but there was a catch.

“Do you have any non-dairy selections?” I asked the young feller behind the counter.

He was stumped, “We have some sorbets, but I don’t have the ingredient list.”

Not willing to risk a case of milk gut, I left disappointed.

A few weeks later, on a particularly warm E-ville day (which is probably not that warm compared to places many folks who read this blog are from, but I digress), I decided to try again as I was passing through the river valley.

The guy behind the counter remembered me. “I asked our supplier, and he said 3 kinds of sorbet don’t have milk in them.”

Mango sorbet on the waterfront, FTW!

After doing a little celebratory dance, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the selection of containers of individually portioned icy treats (vegans aren’t used to having much choice when eating out). I wanted one of each, but I chose one, threw it in my pannier and rolled down to the river’s edge.

River breeze and a cold snack, a perfect interlude on a hot ride.

It’s so lovely to have a refresh & refuel spot on my river valley commuting route. I wonder though, where will this go? The idea is to encourage more people to use the river valley (there probably aren’t enough currently using it to support much of a business), but will they be pedestrians and cyclists? Or will this be just another destination in the city to drive to and park as close as possible? I’m afraid that for most planners and residents, getting more people into the river valley means getting their cars down there too.





Last Cruiser Days

25 10 2010

I’ve been riding Marjory this week, knowing that it won’t be long before I have to put her away for the winter. With that 4 letter word that starts with “S” in tomorrow’s forecast, it’s entirely possible that I’ve taken my last ride on her until spring. At least it was a good one.

Moon rises over Marjory.

Through the rolling ridges of Dawson Park (where the guerrilla art installation from last week is still up!), over the fresh tarmac in Riverdale into a breathtaking sunset over the river, followed by the caresses of cool air in Mill Creek Ravine.

I popped into a bustling EBC to say hi to a couple of folks, and was convinced to go on a dumpster raid for what was rumored to be a big score of bikey stuff.

As the sun set and the temperature rapidly dropped, under-dressed and patience running thin, we hit the motherload. Among a smorgasbord of accessories were several matching wicker baskets, each of them broken in a different way, so I grabbed two, making sure there was enough good parts between them to reassemble one working basket.

Squeeks tests out Marjory's new basket.

I put the basket on Marjory to try out (even though I’m not really a fan of baskets for day to day use) and took her out for one last ride. I don’t know why, but suddenly Marjory wasn’t so fast anymore. I didn’t realize how much I relied on seeing the front wheel in my peripheral vision for accurate steering, because it felt clumsy and awkward like the bike had sprouted a cow catcher. A friend who knows my riding style well predicted that I’d end up taking off the basket in no time, but I guess I’ll have to wait for spring to see how long it takes for me to get sick of it.





River Valley Art Gallery

15 10 2010

Yesterday, I found that some art had popped up along one of my favorite trails in the valley. With no camera to document it, I was forced (riding in the river valley on a beautiful fall day – what a hardship) to return today.

Marjory does just fine on this path, thank you.

Along a gravel path, somebody (or bodies) put up a bunch of art that delightfully surprises anyone traveling over the crest of a ridge. I never would have found this spot had I not been traveling by bike.

To whomever did this, it makes me so happy to find such spontaneous awesomeness can still sprout forth from this gray burg. Thank you so much, it made my day, two days in a row.

Cartoon faces overlook the trail.

A bird hides in the trees.

Portrait on Reader's Digest.

I love how this art incorporates its environment.

With the reflection of its surroundings, this piece becomes pure magic.

Have I mentioned how much I love fall riding? No leaves in the valley means more sun as the temperature starts to drop as well as more wildlife sightings. While I was checking out the art today, I saw a pileated woodpecker and two downy woodpeckers, just pecking at trees & dislodging big chunks of bark. Every beautiful day from now until winter is a gift. When the winter comes, I don’t want to have any regrets about fairer days wasted and every cross town commute is another opportunity for a lovely river valley jaunt.

It was one of those match my bike to my outfit kind of days. Come winter they'll be few & far between.





24 Hours in the Slow Lane

21 08 2010

It was one of those restless summer weeknights where adventure and responsibility fight for the attention of the insomniac mind, when I decided I needed to ride. I often feel that I have to go farther away to find fresh scenery, and to push myself to go harder and longer, but this night I felt bored with that prospect, and instead opted take Poplar (my 1950’s loop frame bike) for a tootle.

The University of Alberta campus is close to home, packed full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and is delightfully abandoned and quiet after midnight, making it the perfect place for a slow late night ride (so long as campus 5-0 didn’t bust me for riding without lights or a bell).

View from a parkade top. Also, check out the reflective design on my hoodie!

I wanted to top a parkade on Poplar mostly because I wanted to feel what it’s like to do it on a single speed with a coaster brake. Turns out it was no problem at all, and I therefore have no reason to feel bad about any time in the past where I may have “encouraged” anyone else on such a bike to do it. 😛

I wonder if, in the 70's it was some art or design student's project to paint large circles at the top of a parkade...

Coasting down the ramps of the empty parkade, ducking my head because the ceiling seemed too close, I inadvertently rode into a photo shoot for a shiny black SUV. What an ad that would’ve made – sleek new car in huge empty space-age garage, and suddenly appears yours truly, smiling and rattling and rolling on a rusty 60 year old cycle. That image kept me giggling as I rolled down to street level and set off to explore more of campus.

Sculpture garden in the FAB courtyard, where steel goes to rust.

With the huge amount of construction on campus, routes are constantly changing, getting blocked off and detoured. The amount of change certainly keeps things interesting, and the temporary walkways can be a blast.

So, you're not supposed to ride through here, but when it's the middle of the night...

Not long after, with a big yawn I returned home for a second chance at sleep.

The next morning, the city was blanketed with smoke from forest fires 1000km away. Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining abut the haze? Well here’s how bad it has to be for an air quality warning:

High Level Bridge disappearing into the smoke.

Everybody’s eyes and throats were burning, and everything smelt like campfire. Worse yet though, is the thought of the destruction in BC causing all this. The pressing question for me was whether or not I should bicycle commute. Sitting across from me in the living room, the answer was obvious, “Poplar, you’re going to work!” (Doesn’t everybody keep their vintage bikes in their living rooms?). There is no way I could ride that bike faster than 15km/h, therefore I wouldn’t be tempted to over-exert myself in the nasty air. I gathered some tools in case the bike acted its age and set off on my longest (non snow storm) commute.

I noticed more people taking it easy on slow bikes than ususal, and so many more people smiled and waved, more cars stopped for me – I’m not sure if was the haze or the bike. Not long after I left home, I realized I had brought neither a water bottle nor a lock, and started worrying I couldn’t safely leave my bike while I picked up something en route to soothe my burning throat. My remedy awaited in Churchill Square in the form of people giving out free mini cans of Sprite. Cold, fizzy, sweet, free liquid? Yes please! I was very happy that my coaster brakes allowed me to drink and cycle safely at the same time. Slow riding was looking better with every revolution of the wheels.

After work, where better to go for eerie, smokey pictures than a cemetery?

Baby graveyard, for extra creepiness.

I like riding in cemeteries. They’re quiet, green, with empty meandering paved roads, plus I find old gravestones fascinating.

Looking for the sun. Looking at the sun.

Next stop, a slow ride to 118th Ave for a gallery opening and some farmer’s market goodness. The guy at the fruit stand really liked my bike. I appreciate that the 118 market is chill enough that I could keep my bike with me, and that the Nina Haggerty allowed me to leave my bike inside.

Loaded up with fresh fruits & veggies and my pink tool bag, riding into the haze again.

After more errands, and some unexpected run-ins with friends, I headed back towards the bridge and the south side.

The sun was just a cold orange disc. I wonder if this it what sunshine on Mars would feel like.

The view of the river valley in the strange orange light was spectacular.

Or maybe this is just a prelude to some sort of post apocalyptic Earth.

Over 48 hours, I rode about 50 slow kilometers on Poplar, and maybe I’m just projecting, but I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. My 10km commute, not including the extra stops, was only 10 minutes longer than usual, and was far more enjoyable than I expected. I may have to take the slow bike to work again…

Smoke on the water, and fire in the sky...