Monday, January 20, 2020

Cycle Gleanings

Image result for william s. beekman

The student of nature has in the bicycle a very serviceable friend.

I’ve got a special bookshelf devoted to my favorite oddball classics of cycling literature. It includes copies of F.W Bockett’s Some Literary Landmarks for Pilgrims on Wheels, J.W. Allen’s Wheel Magic, and Charles Brooks’ A Thread of English Road, all works that no-one could call “great” books--they’re too weird and uneven--but that are nonetheless wonderful in some strange way. 

That’s where I’d love to someday put a copy of William S. Beekman’s Cycle Gleanings: or, Wheels and Wheeling for Business and Pleasure and the Study of Nature (1894). I say someday because it’s almost impossible to find extant copies of this book. I got to look at one of the seven existing copies listed in the worldcat via interlibrary loan, but good luck trying to acquire a copy for yourself. It’s rare and expensive (years ago I saw a copy online going for $700), which makes it even more of a gem, if you ask me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Winter Sunday

High on my list of favorite winter activities is a bike ride on a quiet gravel road on a cold, sunny day. 

Here are a few pics from the loop ride Val and I did west of Leduc on Sunday, starting at old Gnadenthal Lutheran Church, on the corner of RR 261 and TR 494.

What seemed, at first glance, to be a barren and desolate landscape turned out to be full of life. The many dogs of Leduc County were excited to see us; they greeted us enthusiastically. Only one gave us an actual scare, sneaking up on us in full stealth mode, not alerting us to his presence until he was on us. But even he was in too good of a mood to actually go through with anything menacing.

More surprisingly, we encountered no less than three horseback riders clopping down the middle of these country roads. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who enjoy a winter Sunday ride. 

But in the end it’s the sun--weak-ass as it is, barely able to peek over the trees by mid-afternoon--that makes a winter ride more than just pedalling. That muted light hitting the frost in the trees and the snowy fields or the glare off ice patches on the road or a country church spire--that’s the magic of this time of year.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Pit Stops: Lady Embalmer Park

In the heart of what we in Crestwood call “The Church District,” a two-block residential area with five churches (Catholic, United, Apostolic, Seventh-Day Adventist, Christian Reformed), sits a tiny parklet that I call Lady Embalmer Park.

It’s on 148 Street, just south of 99 Avenue, tucked into a large green space. There’s a cairn and two benches. A plaque on a cairn explains that Isabelle Connelly (1879-1963) was a pioneer teacher, community worker, and the first licenced lady embalmer in Alberta. LEP is directly across the street from St. John’s Catholic, which is not surprising, given that, as the plaque informs us, Connelly was awarded an honour by none other than Pope Pius XII (apparently a big fan of embalming, in general, and lady embalmers, in particular).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Banana Gallery 2019

2019 has been a good year for bananas--in various stages of decomposition--found on the side of the road.

Riding a bicycle, you can't help but notice that there's tons of these on the shoulders, on bike paths, sometimes even in the middle of the road. How? Why? Could cyclists packing fruit in their back pockets really be responsible for all of these? Do car drivers toss them out the window? It's one of the great mysteries of the universe.

As a kind of random experiment, I decided that this year I would stop at every road banana and take a photo.

At first it was fun, and I found it easy to stick with my banana vow. But after a while, I got weary of interrupting the rhythm and flow again and again for yet another squashed, brown Chiquita. I began to realize that this banana endeavor was a bigger commitment than I anticipated. My cycling partners wondered why I kept stopping to take photos of the ground.

Since about mid-July, I've been more selective with my banana mission, stopping only if an abandoned banana had something extraordinary about it--some weird color, beautiful squash pattern, origami peel formation, or peculiar landing spot.

Here's a selection of favorite road bananas of 2019.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Central Alleyway Trail

I almost don’t want to tell you this. I’m going to share a secret, my gravel-loving friends.

I recently discovered what is quite possibly the coolest gravel road in the greater Edmonton area. And what’s crazy about it is how it’s been right under my nose all this time and I only recently found it. I’ve been riding gravel in these parts for 8 years, and I thought I had a pretty good sense of most of the roads within an hour’s drive of the city. But this one somehow slipped through the cracks.

As many of you know, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Recreational Area east of Sherwood Park and just south of Elk Island Provincial Park is a terrific network of cross-country ski trails--home of the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Race, in fact. In the summer, these trails--mostly rolly, grassy double-track--are used by low-key mountain bikers. I’ve ridden them a few times myself. 

But what I didn’t know until recently is that there’s a gravel road that runs a zig-zaggy east-west route right through the middle of the park, from the Waskehegan Staging Area to Range Road 192, with a couple of off-shoots, about 20 km all told. On the satellite map it looks like any other gravel township road, but on the park map it’s labelled as a ski route: Central Alleyway Trail or CAT (though in the route below the name changes a few times). 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

First Contact

It finally happened. It took almost eight years, but it did finally happen.

Last Sunday, while out riding gravel northwest of Edmonton, I encountered, for the first time ever, another gravel cyclist in the wild. That is, someone not part of the same organized ride I was participating in. Val and I were heading east on Township Road 534, just west of the intersection with Highway 44. The cyclist came toward us from the paved Meadowview Road. But instead of following pavement north or south, as I assumed he would, he crossed the highway and rode onto the gravel, right past us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Dusty Lens: Golden Spike Salamander

Almost ran over this fella on Sunday, as we were out riding on Golden Spike Road, west of Edmonton. The tiger salamander was crossing the road and scurried out of the path of my wheel at the last second. We stopped and went back for a second take. He/she was about 8-inches long, prehistoric looking, and feisty. Penn transferred Sal to the ditch, where life is a little more laid back.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Muscle on Wheels

It’s a common claim of cycling historians that women didn’t ride the high-wheel bicycle, the so-called “ordinary” or “pennyfarthing” that was, hands down, the most popular bicycle from the mid 1870s to the late 1880s. The high wheel, so the story goes, required too much athleticism for women and was wholly incompatible with Victorian women’s fashion. So female cyclists rode tricycles until safety bicycles revolutionized the market in the late 1880s. High wheelers, so the theory goes, were the exclusive domain of men.

Edmonton author M. Ann Hall debunks that theory in her latest book, which tells the story of women who not only rode high wheel bicycles but raced them, often against men, more than holding their own. Muscle on Wheels: Louise Armaindo and the High-Wheel Racers of the Nineteenth Century (McGill-Queens UP, 2018) focuses on the exemplary racing career of one woman in particular, French Canadian Louise Brisbois, who competed under the name Louise Armaindo, and who was the first “highly successful woman high-wheel racer.” Armaindo was based in Chicago for a lot of that time and raced all around North America but especially in the midwest.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Advice from The Modern Cyclist, 1923 (Laws and Customs)


    "Whenever a dubious traffic situation arises, such, for instance, as led horses on the wrong side of the road and two motors approaching from opposite sides, the cyclist is not only wise, but dignified, who stops at once and looks on while the others muddle through.
. . . 
     Whenever you propose to turn to the Right hold out the right arm horizontally and never the left. To hold out the left arm and turn to the right, as I have seen both cyclists and motorists do, is a symptom of imbecility.
. . . 
Although the law requires you to keep to the left when required to by other traffic, you have a legal right to ride on any part of the road at other times. But modern conditions make it very risky to stand on one's legal rights in the matter. It strikes me as bad manners for cyclists to ride more than two abreast at any time or anywhere."