Ride Like a Girl

5 03 2016

Cycling in the winter – as a practitioner and an advocate, it’s a topic I’m always interested to read other people’s takes on. The media represents winter cycling in predictable ways such as during a snow storm, “look at the tough/poor cyclist in the storm” pics, or vaguely supportive pieces including tips for winter riding, or first hand accounts of reporters doing it for the first time. The comments sections are even more rote, so I came up with this to spice up the experience:

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It’s winter cycling comments BINGO!

Meanwhile, I’ve been living with the side effects of making over my fatbike with a very eyepopping and gendered colour.

Pink in the pines. (Actually they're spruce, but pines sounds better).

Pink in the pines. (Actually they’re spruce, but pines sounds better).

I chose bright pink over equally bright green or orange – but really it could have gone any way. I’ve already got another bike with fluorescent green tires, and the only reason I didn’t go orange was because with my blue rims, it would emulate the colours of the local last place professional hockey team. This would’ve resulted in a barrage of drunken pickup truck passengers shouting “Goilers!” on any game night or in the rare event that they actually win. I don’t like getting anything shouted at me from pickup trucks, thank you very much.

Riding on water.

Riding on water.

Colours carry so much symbolism, and no colour in western culture is as heavily weighted as pink. I honestly didn’t expect the colour to completely take over. Nobody notices anymore that the rims are shiny blue and the frame is white.

So now I’m the woman with the pink fatbike. So much for being inconspicuous. Part of the appeal of getting a fatbike was being able to access areas that are hard to access, and the ability to not stand out can be helpful in that regard. Every time I ride it, people stop me to compliment my bike, or ask questions, or do U-turns mid block on 4 lane streets to say “cool bike!” (or just try to make themselves feel smart with passive aggressive statements-as-questions that they clearly don’t want a response to).

Look, I'm not entering!

Look, I’m not entering!

The main objective, though, is to bring joy, and I don’t say that lightly. With the fun, the exercise (especially in winter), the fresh air, the nourishing escapes from life’s stresses, this bike has been one of the best investments in my mental health I’ve ever made. Just looking at it makes me smile.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

This bike brightens my day and coaxes me into fresh air, sunlight, and exercise.

So, may as well go fabulous all the way. After all we’re talking here about an entire season in which the landscape is regularly covered in glitter!

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura on a perfect winter day.

Perfect snowflakes on black cordura pogies on a perfect winter day.

My plain black pogies were warm, but their look ultimately utilitarian.

Check out the frosted tips!

The black pogies reduce the visual lightness (if you can say that about a fatbike) of the bike.

I decided that custom pogies would be a nice touch, and had a little time over Xmas holidays to make it happen. The fabric I decided upon was perfect, except a certain cat became completely obsessed with it and kept running off with pieces as I was trying to sew.

Meet my sewing assistant.

Meet my sewing assistant.

The end product was a pair of bright pink, faux fur pogies, so glam that they distract from the huge pink tires. (Those same huge tires that a certain tubby cat tried to climb up to try to chew on the fur.)

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Taaadaaa! Is there no limit to how fabulous a fat bike can be!?!

Now the pogies were getting all the attention and comments. My partner, out cycling with me one day, asked “is this what it’s like to be famous?” after being stopped for the umpteenth time to be complemented on my “mitts.”

One night, headed to the sketchy corner convenience store on an errand (the one-stop-shop for munchies, crack pipes, and knives in the neighbourhood), I was stopped by the local constabulary who happen to patrol the area by fatbike.

“That is the girliest fatbike I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed one of the cops.

“Uh, haha, thanks?” They stopped me all authoritarian like to comment on my bike? As I turned toward them, they recognized me from my job at a local not-for-profit, changed their tone a little, offered to come by work with some donations, and then turned their attention to creeping the patrons of the neighbouring head shop. Awkward (which I guess is the best one can ask for in a police interaction). This creates additional complications to exploring and testing limits, so to speak, and will ensure I’m on my best behavior riding this bike, at least until I unpink it. If my fattie ever gets stolen, those dudes had better be on it.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

Talus balls looking pretty clean for the middle of winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the original impetus to get a second set of tires was to add studs to grip ice. I was surprised how long this winter I didn’t need them, but when January rains ended the perfect winter riding conditions, I knew it was time to add metal.

First you drill the tires, then you put the screws in...

Does this still look “girly?” Does it roll like Furiosa?

There’s something confidence inspiring about having 7 dozen steel spikes protruding from each pink balloon tire, and I’m not just talking about ice. But still, bring on the ice, because ice is awesome!

Aka rollin' on a river.

Heading up the creek without a paddle.

Depending on conditions, you don’t necessarily need studded tires to ride over frozen bodies of water, but what a game changer. It feels like my tires are velcroed to the ice.

Aka still rollin on a river.

Winter makes pathways out of rivers. And rivers are pretty flat, so woohoo!

Riding on the river has been my favourite thing this year. Splashing over the gravel beds and beaches through the summer, and navigating around ice flows and over outfalls in the winter. The river is the reason for and life blood of this city, but once you are actually on it, the city fades away.

Following a lone coyote track in the dying light through tonnes of giant chunks of ice stacked by the river’s force, I passed the point of no return. In an alien landscape I would have balked at had I been able to properly see what I was getting into, I found riding skills and confidence I never knew I had. Getting safely home came down to the river, me, and my bike – pink didn’t matter. This is what riding like a girl is about.





The Pink Rubber Effect

5 12 2015

Given the choice between riding and writing about riding, it’s no wonder that I’ve been choosing the former for my sparse spare time lately. When I last checked into this blog, I was just beginning to explore fatbiking. In the interim, I’ve had a lot of fun on those four inch tires, and have got more spring, summer, and fall mileage than I ever expected.

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This is what happens when you try to commute by fatbike.

On a fat bike, the journey between two points is never a straight line.

With winter approaching, however, I had to be honest with myself. As much as the fatbike is the best thing ever on snow, it’s the worst thing ever when it turns to ice. I needed studded tires if I didn’t want to be slip sliding falling around between snow storms.
And so it started innocently enough, searching for reasonably priced tires that I could put studs in and wouldn’t suck for winter.

Here is how it turned out:

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My already flashy fatbike is now predominantly shocking pink.

I’m already used to this bike getting a lot of attention, but I didn’t foresee what would happen next.

The day after changing the tires over my boyfriend and I went out for dinner where we sat beside the window to keep an eye on our locked bikes. Watching the passersby we witnessed many double and triple takes, people stopping dead in their tracks to turn around to get another look, people getting so distracted that they tripped or bumped into other folks. As the new pink rubber glowed in the darkness, I wondered what exactly I had created, while the boy wondered if its mere appearance could cause a car accident.

The next day, the snow began.

Working late across town, I had the bright idea of taking the scenic route home through 8″ of fresh snow, forgetting how much extra effort that would actually take.

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Scenic route

I was less than halfway home before starting to feel the bonk, and by the time I was off the trail and back onto relatively easier car packed snow, I was struggling not to collapse. The streets otherwise deserted, a pickup pulled up to a 4-way stop sign just ahead of me, to my right. Taking a moment to catch my breath, I waited for the pickup to go, but it didn’t move. I motioned to the driver to go, as he clearly had the right of way. Stillness. Finally he rolled down his window.

“Go ahead,” I said, motioning again.

“No,” he said, “You go. I want to check out your cool bike!”

Momentarily stunned by his words, the likes of which I’d never had directed at me from a driver during a snow storm, I wobbled forward in front of his truck.

“Awesome tires!”

“Thanks,” I said, as I waved and trudged on.

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The fatbike rolls beautifully over the oatmeal snow that currently infests all of the side streets while the colour scheme pops from the grey winter scenery. So I’ve been riding it a lot lately.

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The other day, I was riding past a playground. A family was trying to enjoy a sunny winter day, except for a screaming, crying toddler. As I slowed and redirected to give them a wide berth, the older child caught sight of me.

“Look at the bike!”

Then the adult, “Oh, look at the bike!”

And then, silence.

I slowed my pace right down to stretch out the moment, wondering what other strange powers beyond quelling tantrums these giant pink tires bestowed.

As I said, I’m used to people commenting on or asking me about my fatbike. Though 80% of the comments amount to “that looks good for winter” and “that must be hard to pedal,” they are still overwhelmingly positive. Since the makeover, I’ve heard “nice tires,” a lot, but some of the reactions have been much less predictable.

Waiting at a red light, a random dude crosses the street in front of me.

“Nice tires!”

“Thanks.”

“They look really tastey.”

“Huh?”

“Like, I could eat them! I want to eat your tires!”

“Um…”

“Mmmmmmmm! Yum yum yum!”

At which point, the line between funny and creepy being crossed, I jumped the red light.





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.





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.





Rolling Through a Wacky Winter

27 02 2012

Living on the northern fringe of the Canadian prairie, winter is a serious affair. It’s seriously long, seriously cold, and requires serious adaptation & preparation to really be able to get out and experience it, whether riding a bike or on foot (or skis, or snowshoes, or skates – so many options!). I have a hypothesis that a portion of the traffic I get on this blog in the winter is from other year-round cyclists, trying to figure out who’s the most hardcore (I nominate this guy).

My studded tires have been grinding more pavement than snow & ice this winter.

Except for the this year. Save a couple of cold snaps that I’ve previously posted about, it’s been the warmest winter in memory, with hardly any snow and many days above freezing.

Reflections on a clear street.

It’s meant that riding through the winter has been super easy, and it seems like I have to go out of my way to find any surface to put my studded tires to work.

Sunset on the Globe.

Even an easy winter has its challenges, though, and with all the clear riding I wasn’t giving my chain as much attention as usual.

Oh chain, how have I abused thee? Let me count the ways...

I gave it a thorough cleaning, but it became obvious that is was too little, too late, and that I needed a new chain. Oh well, there were thousands & thousands of kilometers on that chain (no derailleurs make for longer lasting chain), and I knew its time was near, I was just hoping it’d last the winter. It was also a good excuse to break out Porta-Bike.

Have I mentioned how fun this bike is?

This is hardly winter riding.

And this is just wrong for February in E-Ville.

Riding Porta-Bike is always a joy, and I pumped the tires up hard to try to keep the studs off the ground and maximize zippiness. I had a lovely ride, but on the way home noticed a strange bump every time the back wheel went ’round. I pulled over and found a large bulge in the tire, with one of the screws I used for studs dangling from a screw-head sized hole, and another hole sans screw. The bulge was visibly expanding, and I quickly let air out of the tire to prevent an explosion with screw-stud shrapnel.

I took this pic after letting air out of the tire. It was initially even bigger but diffusing a potential bike bomb trumps diligent blogging.

The next day, I replaced the studded tire with a summer tire and marveled at how close that tire came to letting go. The DIY studded tires were lined with a double layer of inner tube, and I think that’s all that kept it from blowing.

Notice how all of the supporting fibers on the inside of the tire have broken in the area the studs were forced out from. Intact screw-stud at the bottom of the pic.

I figured “No big deal, two studded tires is overkill anyway.” and set off on my daily traverse, enjoying the smoothness of the non-studded tire and riding without a jacket.

So then, of course, this happened:

The deities of winter cycling decree that if you remove your winter tires, it will trigger a surprise snow storm.

In E-Ville, winter’ll catch up with you if you don’t take it seriously, even if it’s just for a day. And now, with more snow in the past 48 hours than the rest of the entire winter, winter’s back with a vengence.





It’s So Cold That…

18 01 2012

After the warmest December and early January in memory, winter has arrived with a vengeance in E-Ville, with temperatures in the -30’s and windchills between -40 and -50 (Celsius, not that it matters much when it’s this cold). Being a winter city, E-Ville doesn’t shut down for cold or snow, and even though it’s a shock to the system, I still have to get to work somehow, despite the fact that it’s so cold.

It’s so cold that all the grease in Globe froze solid after I left it outside, and I could barely ride or steer it. Luckily, Porta-Bike was still indoors after Xmas undecorating, so I had an option that still had moving bearings.

It’s so cold that my fully-charged light’s low battery indicator came on after 10 minutes. It’s supposed to last 8 hours at that setting.

It’s so cold that exposed skin freezes in under 10 minutes. My commute is 40 minutes. As long as I’m well dressed and can keep the blood pumping, I can avoid frostbite.

It’s so cold that frost rapidly creeps into my extremities every time I stop riding, and a red light was enough for my feet to start going numb.

It’s so cold that breath sublimated in the hair causes a peripheral vision white-out.

It’s so cold that it takes 30 minutes to dress because of all the layers, and one day’s worth of clothes completely fills the laundry hamper.

It’s so cold that my eyelashes start freezing together after less than 5 minutes of riding.

It’s so cold that if you spill your coffee outside, it could bounce back.

It’s so cold that neither my camera nor my exposed fingers will work for more than a minute outside their cases, so the above picture is the only one you get.

It’s so cold that when I take off my mitt outside, steam comes out.

It’s so cold that even the hardy people born & raised here are complaining.

It’s so cold that this entire post was written without hyperbole.