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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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.





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.





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.

 

 





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.





Brown Xmas

27 12 2011

With temperatures on Xmas morning at 7C and rising, I loaded up my bike for the journey to my parents’ place, who live outside of the city. Though I often ride out there, this would be the first time I’d try it during “winter.” (Though there was that time I got caught in a snow storm on Mother’s Day…)

Gifts for my parents, brothers, and sister in law - check. Vegan main dish and snacks for the only non-carnivore in the family - check. Sleigh bells to alert me to load slippage and to act as talisman against highway grinches - check.

There’s no bike infrastructure connecting E-ville with my folks’ town, so my route choices are: freeway, highway through stinky industrial area known as refinery row, super-busy highway and freeway that doesn’t directly connect but spits you out on shoulderless country roads where people drive like it’s a freeway. I took option  #1 – the direct freeway. At least the shoulders were wide, there wasn’t much sand and ice, and the holiday traffic was light. It’s not exactly the scenic route, though.

Expansive scenic views from the freeway.

Funny how the closest I got to a white bikey Xmas this year was a pic on a gift card.

After I stopped to take the above picture, my gloves were so soaked with perspiration that I had trouble getting them back on. Thinking temperatures would drop as I left the city, I had completely overdressed, and was so sweaty when I arrived that my mom asked if I needed a shower.

It was difficult enough to not let the parents insist upon picking me up instead of me riding out for Xmas, and I knew that my worried mom would not let me ride home after dark. Once it started raining, there was no question, so at the end of the evening we loaded the bike into the freshly washed pickup (first time dad’s ever washed the truck on Xmas!), and my mom drove me home through the Xmas rain.

P.S. My dad would like to claim responsibility for the unseasonably warm weather, as he bought a new snowblower after the first (and only) cold snap we’ve had so far this winter. By this logic, he is also responsible for the rain, being caused by the washing of the truck.

Back at home, Squeeks amused herself with the bells on Porta-Bike.





Darkness

21 12 2011

Combine the unseasonably warm weather with one of the longest nights of the year and you have a recipe for a dark ride through the river valley.

The rain made the wooden bridge shine.

It started to rain just as I left (and December rain in E-Ville is always freezing rain), which soon turned to sleet, which greased up any exposed asphalt and made me second guess whether I should be joy riding in the valley (on a single speed foldie no less) on such a night.

Things started getting dicey after this picture was taken.

I’ve said it many times – freezing rain is my least favorite riding condition – specifically, when freezing rain forms a very thin but effective coating on hard surfaces that renders tire studs useless. As I rolled over the black roads and paths, I could feel my back tire slipping back and forth, and hoped I wouldn’t have to try to stop, because I doubted if I could and still remain upright.

Once I got into the shaded ravine where the trees protected the last snow we had from disappearing, the freezing precipitation formed a hard crust that my studded tires easily bit into, creating perfect traction. If I had been walking, it would’ve been a much different story.

The sepia glow of darkness in a city lit with sodium streetlights.

Through the night, the rain turned to  snow, and I awakened on the shortest day to the sun reflecting off a blinding white landscape. And even though the worst of winter still lays ahead, I can at least look forward to every day being a little bit brighter.





The Jingle Ride Cometh

14 12 2011

I know planning group rides in the winter can be a bit of a crap shoot, but I like riding with people, and I miss riding with friends now that winter has made it so much less appealing to be outside on a bike. Know what else I like? Shiny things, coloured lights, the pleasant tinkling of bells, and skating! Combine all these together and you get:

Jingle Ride!

Wednesday December 14th

It starts at 6:00 at EBC (10043 – 80 Ave – back alley entrance) with a quick winter cycling skillshare, then at 6:30 we leave for a fairly easy ride to check out some notable Xmas light displays.

You can be sure this house is on the must-see list.

We’ll make several stops, and eventually end up at the legislative grounds to go for a little skate. Holiday cheer (especially in warm beverage form) and bicycle decorations are encouraged, and I’m totally jumping on this opportunity to legitimately light my bike up like an Xmas tree and deck it out so the rattling of potholes turns into sleigh bell music.

Porta-Bike will be at the ride, with bells on!

Alas, my bike awaits the rest of the decorations in my living room. My parents were here last night and thought I’d flipped, decorating a bike instead of a tree. Of course, Porta-Bike’s a working bike, and won’t stay inside for long. But now that I think about it, I wasn’t planning on getting a tree anyway, and since I’ve got other bikes that won’t be doing anything ’til spring anyway, maybe decorating a bike for the holidays isn’t the craziest idea in the world…