Winterus Maximus!

16 03 2016

I haven’t published anything for far too long, but it’s not like my draft bin’s empty. This weekend is the annual Flying Canoe Volant festival, which is fantastic and highly recommended to restore your sense of wonder at the world. Here’s something I started writing almost a year ago, in a much simpler time, about the 2016 festival:

Spring has come disconcertingly early this year after the warmest winter in memory and I’m pissed off. Not only is this a sign that climate change is ramping us up into a dystopian future, it also means that prime winter fatbiking conditions are already long over for the year.

Ahhh, good memories…

So tonight I’m looking back on a way too short winter. A highlight was the annual Flying Canoe festival, which takes place in Mill Creek Ravine and E-Ville’s French Quarter for two magical nights in February.

This is actually a barrier to a washed out trail. 

My favourite part of the festivities happens in Mill Creek. The familiar single and double track, shrouded in darkness, is reimagined with art and light, connecting a lively Metis camp with a colourful Indian village. The name of the festival comes from a Metis legend about lost voyageurs who make a deal with the devil to gain the ability to fly home. As you wander about the ravine of whimsy, you never know when you’ll meet a canoe clad voyageur paddling through the forest or be chased by giant wolves with red glowing eyes, pack leader growling through a megaphone. Dylan Toymaker’s enchanting lanterns transform the drab winter forest to otherworldly, punctuated by many light and art installations by him as well as Grant Mac art students.

This year, Flying Canoe included winter cycling fun. The Brite Lite Winter Nite Bike Ride attracted around 40 riders who decked out their bikes with all sorts of lights and rode through the valley and through the festival site. (I was a sweeper on the ride, and my duties superceded taking pictures, luckily someone else was. Unluckily, the link to them is now dead.) 

My bike. Not my photo. Unfortunately I can no longer find this online to give proper credit.

We arrived just in time to catch Winterus Maximus. 

A crowd gathers for strange happenings in the darkness.

“What is Winterus Maximus?” you might ask. It’s brand new this year, so you can say you heard it here first when it becomes a big thing. Winterus Maximus is a fat bike chariot race – two bikes pull one sled and “driver” over a snow covered track.

Except, plot twist, the snow had melted and refrozen into a thick crust of ice over the entire schoolyard/racetrack.

Yes, it was as slippery as it looks.

Teams put together their own chariots, and since this was the inaugural fatbike chariot race anywhere, there was no standard to follow, no model to copy. It made for some creative sleds.

On your marks…

The fastest teams modeled their rigs after, or built them with dogsleds & kicksleds.

There was also at least one creation fit for a Roman emperor, complete with elaborate lighting. Thankfully, the builders and pullers of the most creative (and heavy) sled also received a nice prize.

Looking forward to 2017’s race, I anticipate more standardized sled designs based on 2016’s faster ones, and lots more LED’s. This race occurring in the dark certainly made my, as well as other folks’ attempts at documenting the magic frustrating, so I can’t wait to see how version 2.0’s organizers and participants step up to this end, because in the 21st century if there’s no photos, it didn’t happen. And I sure hope they bring back the guy who calls the horse races back to call the next race! Dude was epic!

Sled & steeds

See y’all at the fatbike chariot races!





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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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.





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!





Finally, Some Thaw

4 04 2013

When the snow starts melting at a rate greater than it falls, it must be April, and maybe even spring? When kitted-out road warriors on slicks inexplicably yell at you on the bike path, could that be a sign of spring? When bike parking starts to become possible as the bike racks emerge from the piles of snow they’ve been buried under, does it mean spring is finally on it’s way?

Your business claims to be bike-friendly, yet you use your bike rack to pile snow on...

Your business claims to be bike-friendly, yet you use your bike rack for snow storage…

When finally, FINALLY, that omnipresent layer of slick bumpy ice that’s covered all but the busiest roads since October, has melted, and despite the fact that what it revealed was a road surface more pothole than not, greeted the asphalt remains with joy, does it signal spring is in the air?

And the winner of the title for most pothole laden street is my street!

And the title of most pothole laden street goes to … my street!

The cyclists foe changes from ice to potholes.

And the cyclists foe changes from ice to potholes.

When the reason to ride includes fun, not just transportation, could it mean that a change of season is here?

In creating this blog, sometimes I have strange photographic misfires. I thought this one was share-worthy. Also, bare fingers? Spring must be in the air.

In creating this blog, sometimes I have strange photographic misfires. I thought this one worthy to share. Also, bare fingers? Spring must be in the air.

So I went for a joyride, and created the first timer photos that I’ve done in a while.

And then I slipped and nearly landed on my ass and recovered just in time for the camera to catch me. Self portraits can be dangerous, you know.

And then I slipped and nearly landed on my ass and recovered just in time for the camera to catch me. Self portraiture can be dangerous, you know. Also note the Canadian kickstand.

OK, this is more like it. A girl and her bike on an early spring day.

OK, this is more like it. A girl and her bike on an early spring day.

No pothole foiled me. The Fixte rode responsive and nimble. I haven’t taken it down any hills bigger than the one to the High Level Bridge yet but the bike is proving to be a trusty city bike. I’m liking this fixed thing so much that I’m considering converting Porta-Bike.

A mixte fixie, a white tire while I wait to build my white rim, shiny blue tights, and a sunny spring day. What more could you want?

A mixte fixie, a white tire to tide me over while I wait to build my white rim, matching shiny tights, and a sunny spring day. What more could you want?

And so I ride into spring in a new direction, one I never would’ve predicted when I started this blog. Bring on the fixies! Bring on the road bike! This summer’s going to be fast and light.





Happy First Day of Spring From E-Ville

20 03 2013

Because in Edmonton, “the first day of spring” is nothing more than a date on a calendar.

At least it's sunny.

At least it’s sunny.

There have been 10 inches of snow in the past week, with more in the forecast. Oh well, at least it’s sunny right now.

Before this week’ s snow, we’d been enjoying a bit of a mild streak, and I’d heard many speculating that this was an early spring. I suspect those folks haven’t lived in E-Ville for long, have a short memory, or have a rosy view of climate change.

second winter

Pretty par for the course in March, I’d say.





Passion for Fashion

21 01 2013

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted, and the last month has had it’s ups and downs. On the downside, I got this nasty, lung-clogging flu that kept me off my bike for the longest period of time since 2005. On the upside, I’ve built up my newest winter bike and am enjoying a little bout of newbike-itis.

Introducing the Romein Fashion 90210. The distinctive down tube/seat tube connection seems to be a hallmark of Romein bicycles.

Introducing the Romein Fashion 90210. The distinctive down tube/seat tube connection seems to be a hallmark of Romein bicycles.

This not so little dutch bike came into my life last fall sporting a back wheel with a cracked rim and a half dozen broken spokes and front wheel that wasn’t much better. But it also came with a 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub, drum brakes, full fenders & mudflaps, a skirt guard, a fully encased chain, matching rack, cafe lock, rack straps, and a super solid kickstand. It was exactly one generator (it even has the lights) short of being the perfect winter ride. But there’s also a bit of mystery surrounding it. This Romein, with it’s two-tone purple paint job was far brighter than your classic dutch bike, and it’s moniker, colour scheme and mountain bike-ish influences placed its birth square in the nineties.

It's Fashion! Also, check the cafe lock.

It’s Fashion! Also, check the cafe lock and matching purple rack. I took off the skirt guard to repair it.

I don't think anyone in Beverly Hills in the 90's would be caught dead on a bike.

I don’t think anyone in Beverly Hills in the 90’s would be caught dead on a dutch bike.

I decided that since the bike needed new rims anyway, that I would lace up those Sturmey Archer hubs to bright blue deep-V rims. Why? Because I can. Coloured rims, being the fashionable choice, would not only update the bike, they’d make it a bit of a show stopper.

New studded tire bling on the new blue rim.

Fresh studded tire on the new blue rim.

The early nineties Sturmey Archer hubs, (plastic) shifter and (plastic) brake levers aren’t exactly a classic vintage, however. If I can, I’ll probably replace them with older school metal components.

There seems to be a lot of plastic on the brake levers and shifters. I hope it will stand up to the cold.

There’s a lot of plastic on the brake levers and shifters. I hope it will stand up to the cold.

The chain case is also plastic and doesn’t seem very robust so I’m expecting to have to remove it sooner or later. Overall, it seems like it started out life as a low-end bike even though it has features that are either hard to find or only available on a higher end bike in North America.

One more clue:

A dealer sticker from Groningen in the Netherlands.

A dealer sticker from Groningen in the Netherlands.

What an age we live in that I can, with a few keystrokes, go to a Google street view and find a picture of a street half way across the world where this bike was first purchased. It’s a quaint, narrow street in the city of Groningen where there’s bicycles a plenty, but no bike shop. Groningen has been called the “World Cycling City” because 57% of all trips are made by bike (Wikipedia). Sounds cool.

Speaking of cool, the Dutchy's getting a taste of winter with an ice bear.

Speaking of cool, the Dutchy’s getting a taste of winter with an ice bear.

I still haven’t been able to find out much about the manufacturer/brand name Romein, save a couple of photos of bikes older than mine. If anyone out the has any info on these bikes, I’d love to hear about it!

This bike looks sweet with any colour.

This bike looks sweet with any colour.

In the meantime, I’m still adjusting things and have already changed the saddle (twice, and may again) and will probably change the pedals and handlebars as well. Part of me (specifically, my back) wants a bar more swept back. Another part of me has been eying this magenta flat bar currently on the shelf at EBC…

Fashion is best when you play around with it and switch things up.





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.





Snow Day at the Community Bike Shop

7 11 2012

Twelve hours, ten inches. It takes a lot of snow to mess with the functioning of this winter city, but that was enough. To mark this occasion, here’s some pictures from BikeWorks South.

Bike shaped object.

Bikes for sale! Buy a bike, get 6 inches of snow free!

Sticky snow.

Tunnel of bikes.

EBC’s tenacious Manitoba maple.

I saw quite a few cyclists on my travels today, and those of us with studded tires handled the slicked up roads well. It sure beats buses that are running 2+ hours late. The temperature’s dropping tonight, though, and the streets have turned to glare ice in places. I took my first fall of the season when my bike caught an icy rut. No biggie as there weren’t any cars around.