Oh Hail No!

24 08 2012

Long time residents of E-Ville may be familiar with “the most dreaded of all meteorological phenomena.” For cyclists in our fair berg, though, it’s not the Siberian high (that’s the coldest of the cold, for y’all in more southern climes), it’s the hail storm. And yesterday, we had a gooder. Golf ball size balls of ice tearing the leaves off trees and flattening gardens, marble size hail forming a white blanket on the ground, a cyclist caught in such a storm risks serious injury (though it’s the best argument for wearing a helmet ever).

An hour after the storm, there was still a solid layer of hail cores on the ramp at BikeWorks North.

Here’s a shout out to Chris and the other cyclists who were on the High Level Bridge when the storm hit – I’m glad you’re OK. Having been caught in hail storms before, I’ll never forget the scary sound of the falling hail approaching as the front moves in. It’s the sound of “you’ve got a few seconds to take cover or else you’re going to get pummeled to a mush.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to leave work until after the hail stopped falling, but there was the accompanying deluge to deal with. All the leaves torn off by the hail clogged the storm drains, causing intersection after intersection to flood.

Every second intersection looked like this, making for a very challenging and wet ride home.

Of course I was on my road bike, which really hates getting wet.

Le Mercier is not an aqua bike.

I’m sorry Mercier, I’ll overhaul all your bearing systems again as soon as possible. The trick will be finding a Stronglight crank puller so I can do that finicky french bottom bracket.

Four Months of Crappy Tobogganing

7 05 2010

On days like these, describing Edmonton’s seasons as eight months of winter and four months of bad tobogganing doesn’t seem like hyperbole. A May snow storm isn’t any more unusual than a December snow storm, the only difference is that December snow usually sticks around for more than a few days, and a May snow storm can damage trees that have started to bud and flower.

As I rolled down the hill towards the High Level Bridge through the fresh snow, I decided to chance taking the bike path that runs between two long rows of caraganas for one last slalom fest of the season and was greeted by a Xmas card scene of droopy hedges. “How bad could it be?” I thought as the first few branches flicked off my face, then whap, whap, bigger branches slapping my face, flinging more snow, WHAP, completely blinded by a big branch and all the snow on it. Whap, whap, WHAP, WHAP, more branches, more snow, I can’t see where I’m going, my brakes aren’t working fast enough, my face is getting scratched, caraganas are jumping out at me, grabbing my hood and stealing my hat, WHAP, finally I skid to a stop.

The bike path seemed like a good idea at the top of the hill.

I stopped just before the obstructions got worse and ended up crawling underneath the leaning trees, dragging my bike behind me. And this was but the beginning of my journey. The bike paths on and leading to the bridge were uncleared and slushy (meanwhile, crews were completely clearing the square block of no-bikes concrete known as Churchill Square), and in some places all the bicycle tracks merged into a single tire wide line through the heavy snow. Downtown, a massive clump of snow rained down on me from the roof of a large building, leaving me looking like Frosty the Biking Snowoman. I must have been quite a sight when I walked into work with squishy boots, several inches of snow on my head & shoulders and a hood full of snow. Several people just said “wow.”

My ride home was a little less eventful, and I decided to skip the caragana experience the second time around. I arrived home exhilarated, tired, sweaty, cold, to a voicemail from my friend Chris. “If you happen to be passing by the bicycle bottleneck this  afternoon, make sure you take the multi-use trail through the trees and take some pictures cause it’s really gorgeous. I had to crouch ’cause the trees are drooping from the snow, but it’s really quite magical.”

Magical? I did have an encounter with hat swiping ents, so I’ll get behind that sentiment.

The next day, I took a joy ride through snow covered fields.

Studs meet spring. It's green under all that snow!

And it was such a lovely, fun ride that I was powerless to suppress a beaming smile. The snow will be gone in a few days and be replaced by green. It will take with it the layer of dust that’s been covering everything for the past month and leave behind fresh spring air and the hope that the land won’t dry up beneath our feet and blow away. It will be the true beginning of the season of growth.

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Season

10 04 2010

Early April in E-town is more often a time of snow and chills than of anything most people would consider springlike. This year, the snow melted early and the sun has already started sucking what little moisture is left from the parched ground. The last decade has been among the driest on record, and years of drought are  beginning to do permanent damage to Edmonton’s urban forest. Knowing this makes it harder to embrace an earlier retirement of the long underwear for the season, as it comes at the expense of the trees that protect me from the summer sun and break the brutal winter wind.

So, a change in weather is welcomed, but not one involving gale force winds.

A dust cloud rises over downtown. This is taken from the same spot as one of the pictures in the previous post where you can see the skyline.

This is the type of wind that sandblasts you and everything around you with dirt and gravel and sticks and garbage. It’s the type of wind that, when it’s at your back, can blow you up a hill, accelerating without pedaling, and when it’s at your side it can blow you off balance. It’s the kind of wind that will leave you motionless, blind, and breathless should you be so unlucky to have to ride straight into it. It’s the type of wind that evaporates precipitation before it hits the ground and sublimates snow before it can melt and be absorbed by the soil. In short, it’s the last thing this thirsty burg needs.

Street art near bicycle bottleneck.

Having an errand to do, I arrived at EBC just as the first clumps of snow began blowing in horizontally. I was light headed from the wind but ecstatic about the prospect of precipitation that could actually stick. That’s when I saw this old girl that had appeared mysteriously in the yard overnight.

A vintage step-through frame with most of its parts but in very rough shape.

Perhaps it was the prospect of enough moisture to quell the dust storm mixed with the first flashes of fever from an impending flu that made me so infatuated I decided to start fixing her up on the spot. The impression I have is “farm bike,” used & abused for many years before being abandoned, overgrown and partially buried, then rescued, repainted but never given more “maintenance” than the occasional shots of WD-40. I was hoping to restore her into a stylin’ ride for EBC to sell to a very lucky someone, and eagerly began cleaning, sanding, and replacing spokes and bearings. However, everything I’ve taken apart so far has revealed major issues with this bike, including bent frame & forks, shot rims & worn down hubs, serious enough that it shouldn’t be resold. Still, I want more practice working on these old cruisers, so I’m going to see how far I can get with this one.

Hub crud - one of many reasons you should keep WD-40 away from your bikes.

The hub was encased in an unholy epoxy of balsam poplar sap (and buds) and WD-40. I had scraped off approximately 90% of it before taking the picture above, and was still left with a sticky gungy mess. When I finally did get things clean, I was greeted with a pitted hub and disintegrating cones.

This is what a cone should not look like.

All the poplar-cement (my new least favourite thing found in a hub) removal took a few hours, and I’ve still got much more to do. Here’s hoping for no sap in the bottom bracket. As the snow had started to collect on the bikes outside and the wind was forming it into icy drifts on the side streets, I ended my impromptu repair session to return home to curl up with the kitties and listen to the wind howl.

EBC yard bikes under a blanket of snow. Don't worry, petites bicyclettes, spring is coming and we'll find new homes for you soon.