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.

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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.





Suddenly Springtime

15 05 2012

Here in the Great White North, the longer the winter wait, the sweeter the spring.

Springtime at sunset.

I hope y’all are getting out to enjoy the roadbike weather (even if it takes you somewhere not quite roadbike appropriate).





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.





My Pants Are Falling Down and Other Spring Stories.

10 04 2012

Ahhh spring… the season of rebirth, the season of returning warmth, the season of random intense snow storms. For the record, I think that the morning of the latest storm was the worst riding conditions of the winter, and I was very grateful that I still had the Globe set up for winter riding because walking or transit would have been way less fun.

You know it's coming down hard in E-Ville when you can't see the other end of the High Level bridge.

The snow came down so fast it just obliterated every distinctive feature on the ground, but it wasn’t too bad to ride through where it hadn’t been packed into treacherous mounds of ice.

In the winter, there are many commuters who ride this path every day. Even with the snow erasing all traces of where the pavement ends and where the gravelly puddles begin, the regular riders have memorized where the path zigzags.

The nice thing about spring snow is that it’s easy come, easy go, and it melts almost as fast as it comes down. And in no time at all, it’s clear for summer bikes and summer clothes (meaning a lot of the same clothes as I wore in the winter, but less of them at any one time). With my recent weight loss, though, I was not looking forward to having to put away the long johns, because it meant I would have to deal with this:

So, without extra insulating layers, even the skinniest of my skinny jeans are constantly falling down. Also, check the summer bike! Transend makes its first appearance of the season. (PS, nice to see Rast getting up again.)

Um, yeah, so if anybody has any good vegan weight gain strategies (I’m having trouble with this 4 meals a day thing), I’d love to hear them. Food’s cheaper than a new wardrobe, right?

Wardrobe malfunctions can’t ruin the feeling of the first spring rides though, when the loss of of the drag & friction of extra clothing layers & metal tire studs make riding seem effortless. Transend is a heavy bike though (in fact, the heaviest I own), and since it’s not clear enough for the road bike yet, I yearned for a bike that balanced swiftness and utility. In other words, it was time to revive Marjory.

For those of you that don’t know, I crashed my 1982 Canadian-made Raleigh Lenton, dubbed Marjory Stewart Baxter, last fall, and I was very sad. I’d been putting off fixing it all winter, mostly because of the logistics of getting a non-functioning, non-rolling bike to EBC.

While it is possible to bend a steel fork back into shape, I chose not to try because it was bent so badly in two different directions - backwards & splayed, and because a reasonable replacement was available.

I decided to take advantage of of a nice break in the weather to borrow a cargo trailer for some errands, and would haul Marjory into the shop on my last trip. If all went well, I would be done fixing her before it got too late, and be able to ride her home. What I wasn’t planning for was Transend falling onto a cinder block while I was unloading the trailer, breaking an integral plastic bit of the fender stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this had happened until I was on my way with another load, when the now dangling stay was sucked into the disk brake rotor in a series of thunderous whacks, followed by a massive outburst of profanity.

I was in a very dark alley, and I had to take off my front light to assess the situation. I did not like the prospect of pushing the crippled bike and trailer, actually, considering where I was and what time of night it was, it was out of the question. I’m a good scout though, so I had another option – I always carry some zip-ties in my purse.

Zip ties are the duct tape of bike repair. I can't count the number of times that a zip tie has been the difference between me walking or riding home.

After limping back to EBC with Marjory in tow, and already late, I switched into bike mechanic triage mode. Knowing how unlikely it would be to find the replacement part for Transend at the bike co-op, I decided starting with Marjory was the best bet for having a working bike the next day. The fender was mangled beyond repair, but the the rest of the switchover of the fork & headset went off without a hitch. The colour of the new fork is almost a perfect match, and though not quite as stylish, it’s not fucked, which is the most important part.

Marjory Stewart Baxter rides again! AKA obligatory crappy early morning hours photo. Also, the new fork is not bent, it's just at a weird angle. I freaked out a little after I initially saw this picture and double checked.

I rode her home triumphantly, and quickly walked back to the shop to turn my attention to Transend, the silver beast. As expected, I couldn’t find a replacement part, so I re-secured it with zip ties which kept the fender off the tire until I hit the first bump on the way home. At least I had one working bike.

Sometimes, when you’re fixing bikes, the most frustrating situations are simple repairs requiring a part you can’t find. After checking my neighbourhood bike shop without any success, I figured a trip to a shop that sells lots of Giants was in order and took the long slow ride to Western Cycle, where they not only had the part, but they insisted on installing it right there and not charging me for it! Thanks a bunch guys! For someone who’s used to being the one on their knees, getting dirty, fixing someone else’s bike, it was a treat to be able to keep my hands clean for a day.





Puddle Vision

21 03 2012

Day after day, the same commute, the same ride, the same potholes to dodge, the same creative maneuvers through badly planned infrastructure, the only things changing are the wind direction & temperature. The mild winter should have left me more opportunities to explore and play on my bike between home and work, but thanks to a perfect storm of illness, appetite killing medications (which I’m thankfully off now), and quitting my pop habit (which is a really good thing, but I’ve missed those extra 500 calories a day), my body has been left short on fuel and exhausted, and I’ve lost weight (and I did not need to lose weight). In fact, for the first time in my life, my BMI is in the “underweight” category (my doctor told me that I shouldn’t expect any sympathy for this problem). This has also meant that my commute has become extremely rote, always the same, shortest route, treading closer to feebleness than enjoyment.

Sunset, brighter in the puddle world, as the first fingers of ice crystals begin to envelope the water.

For a short time in spring, the puddles of melting snow offer a glimpse into a different world, similar to this one, but the sun is brighter, the sky is clearer, there’s magic in the air and the outlook is always up.

Only in a reflection can you see the magic in the air.

And so my commute came to life again, and staring into the puddles & watching the constantly re-framed reflections allowed me to see my familiar surroundings from a different perspective. Sometimes, a different point of view makes all the difference in getting out of rut.

I could look back at this past winter as a lost opportunity for all sorts of winter adventures. For Edmonton, it was a cyclist’s dream, the mildest winter in memory, warmer and for more days than this born & raised prairie girl would dare to hope for. Yet, I probably would have done the same cycling if it was constantly -20.

Let it be known, that for a few short days in March, there was just barely enough snow on the ground for a "Canadian kickstand."

But it isn’t just weather that makes the winter, and instead of looking back I’m focusing on the future with a reacquired sparkle in my eye, and full fat coconut milk on my cereal.

 

 





Have Mercier!

4 05 2011

We were still in the depths of winter when an especially lovely Mercier was donated to EBC. With tubular tires and hard to find French components, it wasn’t a bike for your average rider, and the derailleur and derailleur hanger had been bent all the way into the back wheel. Its lithe lugged steel frame with cast dropouts called to me though, and I’d visit it every time I went into BikeWorks. I fixed up the bent derailleur enough that I could ride it around the shop (there was still several feet of snow outside), and even on the cramped shop floor, that bike wanted to fly, and I’ve never ridden a bike that felt so quick and fast. I was smitten with this bike, but considering how little money and how many bicycles I have, I couldn’t justify buying it.

One day, I was giving some folks a tour of EBC/BikeWorks, and when we entered the bike “showcase” area I noticed the Mercier was nowhere to be seen. I began to panic – “my” little French bike had been sold! I kept it cool and continued the tour, but I was holding back tears. After everyone else had left, I frantically looked around for some clue of what had happened to it, and found the bike hanging unassumingly in the bike room. Relief! I decided at that moment that I would somehow scrape enough together to buy it.

Le Mercier, taking a break from going fast.

Justifying it as an early birthday present, I finally brought her home, where she sat in my living room where I could admire her while waiting for winter to loosen its icy grip. When the roads finally did clear, I wasted no time taking her for speedy rides, wishing the puddles and gravel and potholes would go away faster. When I ride this bike, I feel like it’s pulling me along, not me pushing it.

Spring and Mercier!

As lovely as this bike is, there’s a couple of issues. First is the rear derailleur. I was able to bend the derailleur hanger back into shape (I love steel – it was, like, 30 degrees off) but the derailleur itself was also bent, and the lightweight aluminum wasn’t as forgiving, though with some help from the Raving Bike Fiend, we got it working. The metal is probably weak, though, so I should expect to have to replace it soon.

The other question about this bike is the tubular tires. I figured this would be a great way to learn something new, but from what I’ve read it seems like patching them is difficult, replacements are expensive (even with a shop discount), and the whole system seems much more prone to failure than the common clincher. I decided I’d just ride them and deal with that problem when it arose.

It was only my third ride on this bike when I got a flat. I was a long way from home, a long way from anything, and I ended up using my shoulder bag as a sling to carry the bike two miles through the river valley to a place I could catch a bus with a bike rack the rest of the way home.

Sad bike and rider wait for a bus on a cool spring evening.

As I waited for the bus, I pulled three sizable pieces of gravel out of the completely flat rear tire, while moisture on the front tire revealed that air was also slowly bubbling out of it. Two flat tubulars? What had I gotten myself into?

Mass transit saves the day.

So, now I either have to repair or replace both tubular tires. Hello steep learning curve! My other option is to replace the rims with ones that take conventional tires, and I’m so torn between the two options that I think I’ll do both. Those beautiful tubulars are part of the magic of this bike, and it will be difficult to find comparable clincher rims without spending an arm and a leg. The tubulars seem so delicate, though, and it’s important to me that I don’t end up stranded somewhere, especially after riding hard for a long distance, so I’m going to build up a second set of wheels for when I feel like a more robust ride. Stay tuned for more updates once the Mercier is roadworthy again, including some pictures of the components that made the raving bike fiend drool!