Monday, November 29, 2010

Near Canada's Largest Desert

In my previous post it was mentioned how I like to daydream during the winter of my cycling adventures (usually in warmer weather) and I began describing a trip along the Kettle Valley Railway back in 2008.

On leaving Vaseux Lake under broken clouds, we hit a headwind that would dog us all the way to Oliver.  Roy was some distance ahead of me and I worked hard to catch up to him so that I could stay right on his rear wheel and draft him.  Every cyclist has heard about this technique but this was the first time I had ever tried it and I was very surprised at how much easier riding into the wind this way could be.  Drafting also added some excitement to our first day of riding in that one has to pay very close attention to the acceleration and braking of the lead bike which is only inches away. Out of fairness we traded off at the outskirts of Oliver and Roy got to experience the pleasure of me breaking wind in front of him!
When we entered Lakeside Resort on Tugulnuit Lake in the late afternoon, I was struck by how much the camping experience can resemble a refugee camp.  Tents covered in bright coloured plastic, guy ropes tied at odd angles to trees, picnic tables, tent pegs.  As we rode around to eyeball our campsite, one could only think that this makeshift village had experienced some recent rain.  Considering that Canada's largest desert is just down the road, the idea of rain seemed peculiar to we prairie boys.

Without pausing to set up camp, we headed up the Black Sage Bench and into the wind to the Quinta Fierrera Winery where Roy introduced me to John Fierrera, a swarthy and rotund vintner of Portuguese extraction.  We enjoyed a sampling of terrific reds and we chose a Merlot to go with our "Hungry Man Mountain Beef Stew" that was on tonight's menu.  I had enough wine samples that I wiped out at the bottom of the bench on some loose gravel trying to avoid a local motorist ignoring the 3 way stop at the bottom of the hill.  Maybe it wasn't the alcohol that caused me to spill but my eagerness to set up camp and start swilling that Merlot.  Luckily Roy had the bottle of red in his possesion or the spot where I crashed would have been red with wine and not with blood.

Photo Credit: Roy C.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Winter Daydreams

I really don't like winter.  That is the conclusion that I have come to after a week of -30 degree temperatures and lots of snow flying through the air.  So my mind wanders back to days of long ago or I daydream about exotic places I could bike - hence the picture of me on the moon (was it photoshopped?).
In my dreaming I relive some of my favorite bike trips and to help you cope with winter I'm going to share some of those stories.

The first story dates back to 2008 and my cycling buddy Roy and I are on our second Kettle Valley Railway trip doing the oval - shaped tour: Penticton-Oliver-Osoyoos-Rock Creek-Beaverdell-McCullough-Chute Lake-Penticton.  The year before we had done the same loop except that the trestles in the Myra Canyon were still being restored after the Okanaga Mountain fire had destroyed many of them.  This trip would include riding on the recently re-opened trails in the awe-inspiring canyon and this would explain why we are making essentially the same trip.

After leaving our friend Richard's orchard on the outskirts of Penticton, our first stop was at the Bike Barn in Penticton where I had had emergency repairs made to my bike last year after my rear pannier rack fell off on the murderous by-pass around the construction at the Myra Canyon.  Roy entered the premises searching for a bowl to eat from and he soon came out of the store with only paper plates in his hands.  The business didn't have a bowl to his liking so it was off to the Sally Anne thrift store which was on our route albeit many blocks to the south.

He came out of the thrift store with what looked like a doggy dish that was strong and light.  Myself personally, after closely inspecting the metal salver, became absolutely convinced that it really had been a dog dish and there was no way I would have eaten from such a basin.  Roy turned a blind eye to the canine teeth marks impressed on the outer rim and the many scratches (claw marks?) decorating the insides.

As we saddled up, I noticed a sign on the Salvation Army Church across the road which proclaimed "The will of God will never take you to where the grace of God won't keep you."  I pondered this adage as we rode south along the shores of Skaha Lake toward our first day's objective - Oliver, the wine capital of Canada.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Baby it's cold outside

The top picture is the original bike and by looking carefully behind the foreground bike in the bottom picture, you can see the original bike chained to the sign post.  That little bike back there has been there since a freak snowstorm in May that caused everyone to despair that last winter would never go away.
And  it's lovely how the person cleaning off the sidewalk has created a little snow island around the two bikes.  It is probably a safe bet that no one else will inhabit the island with their bike and these two will remain stranded for who knows how long?

The smaller bike has been doing a slow disappearing act since May.  Just about every time I go to the Timmy Ho's near this scene and sit at a window table with my buddy we marvel at how first a wheel went missing, another time it was the chain that had vanished.  One day the seat was "borrowed".  Recently the front wheel was returned.  I imagine that whoever took it really did borrow it and had enough intergrity to not only return the wheel but attach it back onto the forks.  Perhaps the person who owns it uses it like a parts depot - grabbing a wheel when it's needed, a chain when required.

Throughout our fair city there are dozens of these abandoned two wheel conveyances and I often wonder if the city has a program for cutting them away from their posts and then donating them to a worthy cause.  I've been tempted to do that very thing myself.  You know - put on a pair of coveralls, a hardhat, work gloves, steel toed boots and with a honkin' big bolt cutter and act like a city maintenance person and have at it.

I truly feel bad about these abandoned bikes and I hope their owners take better care of themselves than they do with their transportation.

Friday, November 19, 2010


In my November 2 blog I described how to attach a small video camera to a bike and voila! here are some of the results.....

By the way, this video was shot in October and the weather then certainly doesn't match the weather now!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A studly post

You've maybe chosen a bike without shocks and you've tried some winter cycling only to discover that it gets really slippery out there.  As though you're riding on banana peels!  So it's time to discuss tires for winter pedalling.

One group thinks that having slick, skinny road tires is the way to go as they will cut through snow and get you some traction on pavement.  I only have to look at bicycle couriers who ride year round - they for the most part have road tires on their bikes and yet they continue to zip around our streets and sidewalks.  (Naughty naughty).

The other group (studs?) maintain that the way to go in winter is with studded tires - either store bought or homemade.  The hardcore types hold that only one studded tire is needed and that is on the front wheel.  Myself, I think that for the nominal extra cost, two studded tires are best.  Even on my automobile which is front wheel drive I mount four snow tires for the extra gripping power.

It is true that when you lose control of your front tire you're a goner.  Two years ago I hit a patch of ice hiding under a skiff of snow and BLAM!  Down I went, smashing the back of my head into the pavement and breaking my helmet.  I was seeing stars and felt shi**y.  So I continued on in a reckless manner.  Probably a mild concussion accounted for the star - scape during daylight hours.

Just like snow tires on a car, the studs on the tires will wear out but given the amount of snow we get here in the frozen north, you won't be doing much riding on bare pavement.  Two studded tires will increase the odds that you will have an accident free winter cycling season.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Winter Cycling Part One

You might wonder why there is a  picture of front  forks on today's blog and what do they have to do with winter cycling?  All will soon be revealed.

There are a lot of things to consider when you decide to ride in the winter.  Mountain bike?  Road bike?  Hybrid? Fat tires?  Skinny slicks?  There are many schools of thought on this and I hope that this blog doesn't muddy the waters further.

Of all the considerations that surround winter cycling one of them concerns shocks.  Most mountain bikes are equipped with front shocks and full suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension systems.  If you live and bicycle commute here in the frozen north, then you may want to consider a bike that has no suspension at all.  Once it gets really cold, shocks will stop operating and the sand and salt that cover our roads and trails in the winter will get into the mechanism of the shock and destroy them.  Hence the picture of the front forks that have no shock absorbers.

In a future blog we'll discuss other decisions to be made for winter bicycle commuting.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Bookstore shelves are crammed with adventure books.  Climbing the tallest peak of every continent.  Walking backwards across Australia.  Riding a unicycle across Russia.  Around the world on a skateboard.  But who has pedalled 15,000 miles in search of the perfect meal?  Meet Tom Kevill - Davies whose idea to search for the perfect meal came to him while on a cycling trip in France "the center of the gastronomic universe, and also the birthplace of the bicycle".

Riding a British racing-green touring bike and carrying 120 pounds of gear, Kevill - Davies recounts many adventures and a host of interesting people and situations that will leave you shaking your head at what he is willing to eat.   A warning here - if you are at all squeamish and not in favour of eating animals that our culture considers to be pets - then don't pick this book off the shelf!

Other than that, I must say that this is the first book I've read that made my stomach rumble at his decription of some of his meals.  "Booooooom!  My senses exploded in what appeared to be some kind of orgasm.  The meat was unfathomably tender and each bite released ambrosial juices into my mouth.  It was a dream come true and I truly believed I had found the perfect meal.  But in a land where meat is a luxury, nothing was put to waste, and my carnivorous feasting had only just begun...."

In South America upon meeting a fellow cyclist: "Cycle tourists are like dogs, and with our brief introduction over, we began sniffing each others bottoms.  How much weight are you carrying?  What pedals are you using?  Caliper of disc brakes?  Drop handlebars or flat?  Slick tires or knobby ones?  A derailleur or internal gear system?  Sniff.  Sniff."

The book has an interesting cultural perspective - a tailgate party as seen through British eyes: "Big men, big trucks, big grills and big cuts of meat.  Wherever I looked, food was being prepared and eaten on a grand scale, but overwhelmed and intimidated by this multitude of football crazy, asphalt-dwelling omnivores, I didn't know where to begin."

The book isn't all about food either - you can imagine some of the situations that anyone riding 15,000 miles through the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America would have.  I'll leave you with this nugget: "When I declined again, he bent his other hand behind his back.  When it returned it was gripping a gleaming, silver revolver.  The heavy weapon hit the table and I stared in disbelief at the barrel pointing towards my chest.  "Tocarlo!" he said quietly, and holding up my arm he tapped a substantial mound of white powder onto the back of my hand, and at gunpoint I sniffed.".

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Size is your A**?

United Cycle was holding a "Bike Expo" the other day and for someone interested in bikes, it was the place to be.  Several exhibition tables were set up and after chatting with a street planner from the city about proposed bike lanes and then meeting the new MS Bike Tour coordinator and discussing the 2011 Bike tours, I made my way to the parts area to snag a replacement tube.  Then it was upstairs to try to find (and see) the TREK series of "Gary Fisher" bikes.

 Upstairs, after talking at great length to a Specialized rep and learning all kinds of things about MTB's that I never knew, the guy offered to measure my behind on the Ass-O-Meter.  A simple device that I had read about in Nick Lees column recently and someday hoped |I'd get a chance to have my ass measured.  It's just a matter of sitting on two soft foam pads that are calibrated and hold a "memory" of your sit bones and that calibration will determine what size seat would be best for you.  Like most evrything else for a man my size, I fell in between small and medium.  A reporter that I used to work with used to tease me that I did all my clothes shopping in the "Boys" department.

As an aside, I recently was measured for a suit and discovered that since I was last measured, my chest size has expanded from 38 inches to 40.  Something I attribute to all the aerobic activity on my two wheeled steed.

The knowledgeable rep from Specialized did show me a seat that would fit.  I had no idea that seats came in different sizes.  Probably because I've been using my "Spiderflex" seat for almost all my riding except mountain biking.

What I really wanted to see was the TREK "Gary Fisher" line of bikes.  The Rumblefish 29er had caught my fancy and at 2,400 beans strikes me as being reasonably priced.  REASONABLY PRICED?*%$#@!  My first car was only 900.00!   That is four months of groceries!  A couple of weeks pay! 

I'll probably get it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pannier Repast

Sunday was a meeting of the bicycle commuters board of directors and as I sat in a hallway waiting for other board members to show up, I was interested in seeing how everyone would carry whatever food they were contributing to the potluck that we had decided would be our lunch.  Being a bicycle commuters society, nearly everyone would be arriving by bike.

I don't know what type of bike most of them ride - I imagine being mostly university students, their bikes are modest and most likely secondhand or at least older models.  What surprised me was as each person showed up, they had all manner of panniers (saddlebags).  Large ones mostly.  Some were hard - shelled cases.  Most were the softer ripstop nylon ones.  What struck me most was the condition of the panniers.  To a one they all looked brand new.  Just out of the box brand new.  So maybe they don't spend much money on a bike but they do spend money on their saddlebags.  And judging from the condition of the bags - they take good care of them as well.

 It was with astonishment that we all watched as Chris - like a magician pulling an endless scarf from their sleeve - pulled a cast iron frying pan, a combination lid/strainer, noodles,srouts,vegetables,rice, a cutting board, a spatula, a large glass bottle of olive oil and a stove out of his bags  Well maybe not a stove but something more than a hotplate.  It was a device that I had never seen before and heated by some sort of mysterious magnetic pulse.  The stove/element itself didn't warm up but the cast iron frying pan was hot enough for Chris to cook up a delicious concoction that put a whole new spin on potluck.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Goal Achieved

Riding my bike to Mountain Equipment Co-op meant that I crossed over 3,000 km. on my bike.  Actually  156 Street marked the exact spot and I thought I would feel a great sense of achievement.  You know.  Stop the bike.  Open up a bottle of champagne.  Set the camera up on a small tripod and take a picture.  Instead, I blew through the intersection without walking my bike across (which would have made me a pedestrian) and continued on without much feeling about all the klicks I'd done.  Maybe I set my goal too low and it really didn't require that much effort to attain.

I must admit there were some trying moments mixed into the 3,000 k. I remember specifically the first day of our Kettle Valley Railway trip this year and how exhausted I was near the end of the day.  We'd been climbing steadily all day in +30 degree heat (and full sun) and my friend Richard and I took as many shade breaks as we could and my friend Roy and I had soaked ourselves in the nearby Tulameen River to try and cool off.  We had even stopped in the shady oasis at the Dirty Laundry winery to enjoy the shade and purchase a bottle of the best to have with supper.  A longer break still at the Kettle Valley Steam Railway station.

But later in the afternoon, I was so tired that with each pedal stroke I told myself "You can do it.  You can do it.  You can do it!"  By this time I was hunched over the handlebars and head down.  After 11 1/2 hours since leaving Richard's place near Naramata, we were still in the saddle and just starting to look for a campsite where we could set up our tents and have something to eat before darkness fell.

Or riding for two days in the rain during the MS Hinton bike tour.  That was tough.  While I didn't have to be like the little engine that could, I did have to stop frequently to try and dry off and warm up.  And near the end of the second day when I lost all braking power, it was rather hair-raising!

I recall early in the season going for a training ride with my friend Charity on a rainy and cold Saturday.  When I woke up and saw the rain I thought about bailing out but when I got a text from her asking if we were still going - then I wanted to see how determined she was to get in shape for her Cancer 200k. ride - so I said "Yes!".   We met downtown and rode what became a miserably wet and cold ride.  Half way we stopped under some trees to get out of the rain and it was so cold that our Cliff bars could have been called "Stiff" bars - they were so hard to bite into.  I think it was -4 degrees.

I love cycling so much that my attitude is "You have to take it as it comes - good or bad."  And I only mention these few tough rides to balance the fact that the majority of my riding has been fun and worth writing about.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Almost There

Earlier this year I set the goal of cycling 3,000 kilometers this year.  Last year I managed to do 2,835 so I decided to up the stakes.  As of this writing, I have 5 more kilometers to go.  And what a great year it has been for biking.  I've only gotten soaked by rain 4-5 times and have not been hit by any cars.  No wipe-outs either that have caused mild concussions in the past.

Mind you my bike have taken a bit of a beating.  The Hinton Mountain Tour and its rains pretty much blew out my disc brake pads and my rotors.  And just last week I had a flat that meant I had to push my bike a couple of k.

The new crankset I installed with its external bearings has made a huge difference to any climbs I've had.  And the gear job that United Cycle performed meant excellent shifting. (I do try to do all my own maintenance/repairs but sometimes it is best to let the pros handle a sticky problem).  I just could not seem to adjust the front derailleur to my satisfaction.

I noticed that Al, one of the Mountain Tour instructors had touring handgrips on his bike and after 6 years, it was time to swap out my old handgrips.  The comfort of these newer style grips is much improved.

Buying my red road bike has meant shaving off 6 minutes from my commute.  Although I must say that a road bike without a suspension and very hard tires does mean that you really notice this city's crappy roads.

So far this year I've done my three major rides of the year - the MS Leduc to Camrose, the Kettle Valley Railway, and the MS Hinton Mountain Tour.  All the rest has been pretty much either training for the big three or commuting.

The big thing I discovered this year was how much I enjoyed mountain biking.  Riding on trails in the woods.  Always having to keep a sharp eye.  Always calculating.  Constant decision making.   And discovering the trails at Terwilligar Park has been wonderful.

I know myself well enough to know that I won't be satisfied to go out and do 5 k.  I'll do a long ride or have my goal reached by continuing to commute to work.  Who knows what my next mileage (kilometerage?) will be?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Another Way to Make a Bike Video

Anyone who has viewed a bike video on YouTube will wonder how to make a record of cycling.  I've talked about this for years without actually attaching a camera to one of my bikes until now.

I took a small handicam and by searching around at my local camera store, managed to come up with a reasonably priced solution for securely fixing the camera to the bike.

The large clamp is made by Manfrotto  and the ball head is available at most camera stores - usually in the tripod section.  I know this clamp as a "Maffer" clamp but Manfrotto calls it a "Super Clamp".  I have managed to clamp the camera to one of my front shocks (see photo), to my pannier rack, my handlebars and the seat tube stem.  There seems to be no limit to how it can be attached.

In an upcoming blog, I'll show you some results from attaching the video camera to my road bike and my mountain bike.

*Note:  I've seen a knock-off version of the Super Clamp for half the cost of the Manfrotto offering and I found a no-name ball head as well.