Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Fat Bike Vow

I, Jasper Gates, do solemnly swear that in purchasing this brand spanking new On One Fat Bike, hereafter referred to as “FB” (and which is, apparently, to be delivered to me some time in the next 6 days, possibly even by Christmas!), I will

Strive, at all times, to remember that I am an adult, with obligations and responsibilities, and cannot spend all my free time riding the aforementioned FB, even though riding a FB has a way of making me feel like a kid on Christmas morning;

Not allow said FB to interfere with my pursuit of other wintery leisure activities, especially those I enjoy doing with my spousal unit, to wit, cross-country skiing and skating and walking;

Not cause my spousal unit to become a fat-bike widow, whose husband disappears into the river valley for hours on end after every snowfall;

Occasionally allow the car to also be parked in the garage along with the FB;

Not neglect the other bicycles in my garage, that I will continue to love them equally in each’s own special way, even though the FB will obviously be my favorite, at least for the foreseeable future; 

Not scoff at bicycle tires less than 3.8” wide;

Allow, on special occasions, my teenage son Gil to ride said FB, though only under certain very carefully controlled conditions;

Remember that there are fun, meaningful, fulfilling activities in life other than riding my new FB.

Dated December 18, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Vélivre: A Bike Ride: 12000 Miles around the World

I love the modest title of Anne Mustoe’s 1991 cycle-travel classic. “A Bike Ride” suggests a jaunt, a lark, a spin maybe—so even with the much more impressive-sounding subtitle, we know we’re in the hands of a writer who, despite her impressive accomplishments, doesn’t take herself too seriously. It’s an endearingly British thing, this self-deprecation.

Mustoe’s story really is inspiring: at age 54, a widow with grown up step-sons, she left her job as headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in England and decided to head off around the world on her bicycle. She was, by her own admission, “not athletic”; in fact, she was “overweight, out of condition.” Although a seasoned traveler, she had never been “a keen cyclist.” Yet she got the idea in her head one day that cycling was the perfect way to go, offering the freedom and simplicity she was yearning for: “I should be breaking free, not only from my responsibilities but from life’s clutter.” Her goal? Simply to “dawdle in beautiful places.” It’s a narrative angle many of us can appreciate, if not emulate. To her credit, Mustoe soft-pedals the “personal journey of discovery” bit and simply gives us her informed, thoughtful, witty observations on her extremely long “bike ride.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Edmonton Ice-Up Rides

It happens quickly, sneaking up on even long-time Edmontonians. One day the river valley is brown and bare and the water is gently skiffing along. The next week, it’s all white fluff and chunks are beginning to form and bunch in the North Saskatchewan River. That week or two when the river ices up is a perfect time to grab the camera and go riding on the river valley trails. I went on three short ice-up rides over the past 10 days. Here’s what I discovered.

Friday, November 15, 2013

An Impromptu Shave

“One day, wishing to get rid of the several days’ growth of bristling beard on my face, I took out my shaving apparatus, hooked the leather strap to the brake handle, honed the razor, found an old can, brought some water from a brook near by, pinned the pocket mirror on a tree, and got as clean a shave as I ever had, washing my face with one corner of a handkerchief, and drying it with the other end.”
 --George B. Thayer Pedal and Path: Awheel and Afoot across the Continent (1887)

George B. Thayer was on the outskirts of Chicago, in the middle of the westward leg of his solo journey across America in 1886, when he succumbed to an overpowering impulse to get off his high-wheel bicycle and shave his face. I imagine there are, at this very moment around the world, many Movember-weary cyclists who can appreciate—and are perhaps jealous of--Thayer’s bold, some may even say rash, “IMPROMPTU SHAVE.”

Friday, November 8, 2013


“Yes! there is pleasure—genuine pleasure—in winter cycling.”
--R.J. Mercredy, “Winter Cycling.” The Fortnightly
          Review 50 (1891)

Anyone who’s ridden a bike in The Great White North knows that small thrill that comes with the first ride of spring. We pump up the tires, dust off the saddle, squirt a little grease on the chain, lift a leg over and off we go, kids all over again.  It’s elemental, this sensation that accompanies the first ride of the season—the shift from darkness to light, from grey to green awakens some deep life-affirming giddiness.

Strangely, though, I found myself experiencing some of that little thrill in my stomach last weekend, believe it or not, as the weather forecast promised the first serious snow and cold of winter. I spent the weekend getting ready for winter cycling—rustling up a winter machine for my 13-year-old son, Gil; switching over to studded tires (and studding up a new set); and digging out the neckwarmers, ski goggles, and longjohns—the thermal wardrobe of winter riders.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tasting Notes: GU Energy Gel (DIY Chocolate & PB)

GU Energy Gel is the only energy gel maker I know of to produce a peanut-butter-flavored product. And all you have to do is try it to realize why no one else has bothered.

Now, I love ya, peanut butter, but you’re just not a good fit for a gel—at least not on your own. The problem with GU’s pb gel is simple: it’s too damn peanut buttery. After squirting an envelope of the stuff in your gob, you know precisely how that poor dog feels—the one whose owner thought it would be “hilarious” to see how Fido would like peanut butter. The goo adheres to the roof of one’s mouth and initiates a quicksand-like tongue-immobilizer reaction. One’s brain instantly calls for saliva but it’s too late—the pb has contracted the inside of the mouth, glomping up the salivary release points.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gravel Gloss: Hard Tack

Premium Alberta Hard Tack
Gravel grinders dream about this stuff: imagine a gravel or dirt road surface that is so beaten down by tires and wind that it takes on the look and feel of regular asphalt. In fact, premium, grade-A hard tack—polished to a kind of soft sheen—can be even smoother and faster than pavement.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


The road treasure cornucopia.
It’s that time of year: the elementary school’s pumpkin patch overfloweth. My neighbour’s apple tree is weighed down like a sherpa. Huge bundles of hay dot the brown fields outside the city. Farmers are frantically taking off crops and storing up the bounty of the season. The Saturday market stalls are bursting with fabulous butternuts, swelling turnips, and mighty rutabagas.

But if farmers are harvesting now, why can’t cyclists? In the past week of riding, I’ve noticed an incredible amount of road treasure—you know, the man-made prize objects that somehow end up on the shoulder of the roads (not garbage, not litter), the cool stuff that motorists don’t see but that cyclists do, even if they don’t always stop to examine it. Every cyclist’s got his or her road treasure favorites: the diamond ring, the teddy bear, the Ganesh figurine, the waterlogged Bible.

The treasure I’ve been noticing isn’t just the usual flotsam and jetsam of bungee cords and work gloves but weird stuff, and tons of it. It’s as if the very roads are trying to get in on Nature’s act, and, like the fields, are brimming with their own strange fruit.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dusty Lens: October Sunday

October 6, west of Villeneuve, Alberta. The dumb-ass birds are heading the wrong way.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pit Stops: Alexander Circle

In a prairie city, where the streets are laid out in orderly grid fashion, a circle (not a cul-de-sac dead-end circle but a true, free-flowing traffic-circle circle) is something of a novelty. In Edmonton, though, most traffic circles are busy and dangerous spots if you’re on a bicycle. Most cyclists try to avoid them.

One lovely exception, however, is Alexander Circle, in the west end of the city, at the intersection of 133 Street and 103 Avenue. This elegant roundabout in leafy Glenora, tucked away between two busy commuting routes (102 Avenue and Stony Plain Road), is a peaceful gem of a spot and a swell place to take a break when on a bike ride.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Summer of the Hydrobike

Jesus walked on it. Mark Spitzed in it. Sponge Bob farted under it. Now I’ve cycled across it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bicycletiquette: Shirtless Bib

Dear Jasper,

I saw this dude the other day in the park. It was smoking hot out, sure, but . . . really? Is this get-up—the bib shorts without a top—ever okay?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cino Heroica 2013 Report

I’m 20 miles into the first day of the Cino Heroica, grinding along the dusty dirt and gravel back-roads of Montana on my 1983 Bianchi, when I see a cluster of bikes and riders gathered in an opening. Ah, a rest stop. And what am I to be offered at this break? Oreos and Gatorade, you think? No, for this is no regular bike race. Try bacon, cooked up on the spot on a Coleman stove. And Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Now that’s Cino!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Prologue Report

“Exquisite.” That’s the word Peter Sagan used to describe how he felt after winning the prologue of the inaugural Tour of Alberta last night. Sagan’s English may be a bit shaky, but his word choice on this occasion was perfect. He pretty much nailed how a lot of us who attended last night’s time trial felt when it was all over.

The weather was about as good as it gets in early September around here, a respectable crowd showed up (at least where my gang was, on the hill going up to the legislature), and there was a kind of electricity in the air, especially as the final riders (Sagan, Evans, and Hesjedal) zoomed past. It was a remarkable evening for Edmonton cycling fans, a rare chance to see these strong-men up close. (I could have touched several of the riders—they came that close to the curb I was standing on.) My sons got into the action too, snapping action photos and holding up a home-made sign (a reference to Cadel Evans's deadpan remark at Monday's press conference: "I notice you've got a few potholes here." The mayor was standing next to him. The crowd cracked up.)

And it was also a special evening for Edmonton. The crowd wasn’t spectacular, but it was spirited, lively, appreciative. I’m not sure how many people on the roadside knew what was really going on, but they clapped and cheered for everyone, in solid Canadian fashion. For a lovely few hours the city felt downright cosmopolitan—the kind of place you’d see on television. It was a promising start, not just to this year’s race, but perhaps to something bigger.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tour of Alberta: Q & A

The Tour of Alberta kicks off on Tuesday, September 3, with a prologue in Edmonton’s city centre. (Five stages follow, hopscotching south for the grand finish in Calgary.) This is a new event and a huge deal for both Canadian cycling and Alberta. Some elite professional teams will be here (Garmin-Sharp, Cannondale Pro, BMC Racing, for instance) as will some big names in the sport: Cadel Evans, Peter Sagan, and Canada’s own Ryder Hesjedal (complete with hipster sunglasses).  Around the Gates’ household, we’re pretty excited. We’ve watched these guys on television every July, but the prospect of seeing them live is a little thrilling. My youngest son is, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, crafting a “Go Evans!” placard, while I am thinking of dressing up as a giant Jelly Belly, in honor of the team with the coolest name in the race. 

But as the anticipation grows, several questions about the fledgling T of A linger. Here are a few, some of which I will attempt to answer/speculate on.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Elk Island 200


“Bison don’t like bicycles.” These are the ominous words in my head, spoken to me last summer by a National Park ranger. Val and Penn and I are staring down a gaggle of shaggy bison in the middle of the only road through Elk Island National Park, 60 km east of Edmonton. We stand there, the bison and the bicyclists, sizing each other up for a good 10 minutes. The two sides quickly reach the same conclusion: bison are enormous; humans, not so much. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Land of the Bicycle Worshippers

The bicycle holds a special place in the hearts and chakras of Hornby Islanders. In my meanderings around this exquisite gulf island (north of Nanaimo, British Columbia), I’ve been struck by not only how many bikes I see being ridden (it’s a small island, perfect for getting around by bicycle), but also how many bikes I see displayed as works of art and, possibly, something more.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cino! Cino! Cino!

We’re in. It’s official. The Dusty Musette squad is heading over the border. We’ve made the cut for this year’s Cino Heroica, near Kalispell, Montana, on September 7-8. As I explained a few weeks back, the Cino is a cycling event (more than a race) that pays homage to the Euro cycle racers of old, especially the heroes of Italian gravel-road racing from about the 1940s to the 1980s.

Participants must ride an “heroic bike” (pre-1986, steel frame, down-tube shifters, etc.) on some gravel back-roads over the course of two days. There will be heroic provisions: salami, baguettes, cigarettes, wine, and hot springs. Riders are also encouraged to dress in heroic fashion, a la Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, and Eddy Merckx.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gravel du Jour: Manitoba White

I call this stuff Manitoba White, a kind of pale, chalky gravel common in southern Manitoba, where I visit each summer. I’m guessing it consists of some kind of post-glacial limestone mixed with a dash of petrified Mososaur bones. (You can’t hardly stick a shovel in the ground there without hitting dinosaur detritus.) I`m adding this one to the Gravel Glossary, likely the first of a bunch of regional gravels.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Code of the Semi-Serious Cyclist: Part 9 (Strava)

The SSC doesn’t have a Strava. Doesn’t need one. Doesn’t want one.

Strava, which means “screen junkie” in Norwegian, is all the rage in serious cycling circles these days. The program, of course, works with a GPS device such as a Garmin or smartphone, to provide mapping, tracking, and statistics of a person’s rides. When passing by certain popular ride areas or “segments,” Strava users can compare their times against other Strava-ists. The best time for each segment wins the “King/Queen of the Mountain” or KOM/QOM designation. Strava users can also post comments on others’ performances.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tour of the Anatomy

Check out my skinny cyclist arms.

Hard to believe these belong to a 46-year-old man, I know. Over the years, friends and strangers alike have observed that I’ve got the forearms of a 12-year-old girl, the wrists of a child. Finding a manly watchband that fits has always been a challenge. I admit that for several years I actually wore a lady’s Timex, its little pink button sending out unintended signals, because it was the only watch I could find —apart from kids’ watches—that fit me. Most men’s watches, with their over-sized faces, look absurd on me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Tour Is Won on the Alpe

Like many fans of the Tour de France, I long ago circled July 18 on the calendar as a stage in this year’s race not to be missed. That’s Alpe d’Huez day, when for the first time in Tour history, riders will climb the legendary mountain twice in the same stage, with the stage finish at the summit of the second ascent. (The Alpe was featured twice in in the 1979 route, but on two different days.) This intriguing race route  factoid prompted me to pick up The Tour Is Won on the Alpe (2008) by French journalist Jean-Paul Vespini. (The book was translated by American cycling historian David Herlihy.)

As Tour de France fans know, the Alpe d’Huez is one of a handful of mountain climbs—along with Mont Ventoux and the Col de Tourmalet—that has an iconic status in the Tour de France. The punishing 21-switchback ascent first appeared on the Tour route in 1952; then not again until 1976; since then it has been included almost every year. Because it is such a difficult ascent, the Alpe has been the site of some great Tour de France drama over the years. Many champions, from Fausto Coppi to Bernard Hinault to Miguel Indurain to Lance Armstrong, have taken command of the race on the slopes of the Alpe. As Vespini puts it, “It is a climb that delivers a verdict—absolute, impartial, and final.”

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Range Roadies

We are the Range Roadies
We roll the township lines
We rule the rural grid
We pee in range road ditches.
We are the Range Roadies, and we eat gravel for breakfast.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pit Stops: Fort Edmonton Footbridge

An old shot of the FEF, before the water came up.
It’s hard not to think about water here in Alberta this week, what with the crazy flooding in the southern part of the province. In Edmonton, where I live, we’ve been spared the worst, but the river is as high as I’ve ever seen it. The other day I went out for a spin through the river valley so I could get a good look at the brown torrent we call the North Saskatchewan, and I ended up at one of my favorite hangouts, the Fort Edmonton Footbridge (FEF).

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gravel Glossary Project

A road is a road is a road.—Gertrude Stone

Okay, so maybe I’m taking some poetic license with that line, but I do so to make a point. It’s unlikely that the above misquoted statement would ever be uttered by a cyclist. Anyone who’s ridden a bike any distance knows that road conditions greatly influence the quality of a ride. The slightest differences in road surface (not just concrete vs. tarmac vs. cobblestone, for instance, but the kind of each of those), the number of cracks and potholes, the quantity of sand or dirt on the street—all of these factors play a role in how you roll.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tasting Notes: Idaho Spud

The Idaho Spud is one of my favorite candy bars (or chocolate bars, as we call them in Canada), and it makes for a perfect road snack for bike rides. The catch is that you can only get an Idaho Spud in actual Idaho—or some parts of Montana, Oregon, and Washington State. My pal Penn just returned from a drive down through some of those places on his way to Arizona and he was kind enough to bring me back a sack of spuds, which I’ve been enjoying on bike rides all week.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Alberta Beach

One of the highlights of last year’s riding season was a May day-trip with Val and Penn out to Alberta Beach, a village on Lac St. Anne, about 75 km northwest of Edmonton. I’m not exactly sure why this ride stands out in my memory. Maybe it was the turtle hordes. Or perhaps the healing waters. Or, possibly, the exploding beavers. Whatever the reason, I have fond memories of this day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rolling a Fatty at Midnight

Man, was I feeling high the other night--after rolling a fat bike along gravel roads in the dark.

In what’s becoming something of a tradition, the DM crew ventured out on the weekend for a full-moon ride. Here’s how it works: circle the date on the calendar, plan a gravel loop in the outback where there will be minimal traffic, drive outside the city as the sun is setting, get lit up, and go for a spin under the moonlight. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Maglia Rosa: Triumph & Tragedy at the Giro d’Italia

As some of you may recall, I’m a recent convert to the Giro. In fact, you’ll find me perched near the tippy-top of the Giro bandwagon, along with all the other Ryder Hesjedal fans who hopped aboard following his surprising victory in 2012.

Now, after reading Herbie Sykes’s fascinating history of the Giro (published in 2011, two years after the event’s centennial), I’m even more intrigued and bewitched by the race for the pink jersey. Sure, the Tour de France gets all the Grand Tour-hype, but I find myself largely convinced by Sykes’s claim that the Giro is actually “the most beautiful, and the most captivating, of cycling’s great stage races.”

Friday, May 17, 2013

Alphabet City

They call it DC, this city that’s also a state (or rather a district)—not to be confused with VA across the river or MD, which surrounds it on every other side. That two-letter moniker—DC—is apt, since letters seem to float across and even organize this town. 

Although it’s the place where (federal budget) numbers, with dollar signs, tend to get the final say, at heart, Washington is an alphabet city.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Guest Post by Victoria Day: Cappie Diem

They’re red. They’re sturdy. They’re affordable. They’re cappies.

For the past five days, I’ve been riding around Washington, DC, on Capital Bikeshare bicycles—or “cappies” for short. I rode on city streets and bicycle paths. On paved trails and gravel trails. I rode in the sun and the rain.  And I loved it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Capital Gains & Losses

Cycling around Washington, DC, for the past 10 days has been terrific—about as good as urban cycling gets in a major North American city, in my experience anyway. It’s got the kind of cycling infrastructure you’d expect in a Portland, Madison, or Tucson: the usual web of bike lanes, sharrows, and secure lock up stations, not to mention an impressive bikeshare program. Then, to boot, there’s a remarkable network of cycling paths (such as the Capital Crescent Trail and Mount Vernon Trail) that connect major suburban areas (Bethesda, MD; Arlington, VA) to the core of DC. The sight of these trails at rush hour is a marvel to these North American eyes: a steady stream of thousands of people riding their bikes to and from work.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Washington DC Postcard

It was during my first full day in the nation’s capital that I stumbled upon Fletcher’s Cove. It’s a sleepy, leafy hideaway tucked in the eastern shore of the Potomac River along the Capital Crescent Trail between Washington proper and Bethesda, Maryland. I was cruising along the busy commuter trail in the drizzle, heading north, when I suddenly realized I was starving.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Birth Announcement: MB 2000

Gil Morgan is tickled to announce the completion of his bouncing baby bicycle, the MB 2000, after a seven-month, over-winter gestation period. The MB weighed in at 25 lbs and 7 oz and looks shiny, sleek, and ready to roll.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Winter Rust

I love the smell of WD40 in the spring time.

The long winter of commuting by bicycle here in the Great White North has taken its toll on my machine. Every little nut and cranny seems to have a blossom of rust. And the chain? Well, despite my frequent applications of Tri-Flow over the winter, the chain has a distinct orange-vomit hue that just won’t go away. The drivetrain is disintegrating; the derailleurs are pretty much seized up. The bike looks a little sad; crusty is the word that comes to mind—like it’s come down with the mechanical equivalent of pink eye (orange eye?), all seasonal gunk and pus. Such is the cost of winter cycling in these parts.

Friday, April 19, 2013

MB 2000: Decals

Assembling a bicycle from scratch, watching its essential bike-ness evolve, raises a metaphysical question: When does a bike-building “project” officially become a bike, as opposed to a collection of parts or a work in progress. When exactly is the official moment of bike conception?

Is it when the drive train is complete? When the wheels are attached? Or is it not until the whole shebang, bottle cages and bells, are attached? (Should the building of the frame be considered the moment of conception, or can we not properly speak of a bike until it emerges fully formed from the shop, like a full-grown Uruk hai popping out of Saruman’s slimy birthing pit?) I was thinking about this the other day in Val’s garage, as we made significant progress on the MB 2000.   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cino Heroica

Pardon me while I adjust my woolen tunic, roll down my white socks, add another dab of Brylcream to my ‘do, and prepare a fresh bowl of pipe tobacco. You see, I’m getting ready to be heroic. Or at least to look heroic, in that old-school, euro-cyclist way. Think Fausto Coppi circa 1947. Why am I so attired? Because I’ve been thinking about—no, more than that, getting ready for—a heroic bicycle race I recently discovered, one that seems tailor made for the Dusty Musette crew—The Cino Heroica, held near Kalispell, Montana, in September.    

According to the race website, The Cino is a
celebration of the cycling days of old when road racing in Europe meant racing on unpaved dirt roads over mountain passes, in sometimes horrific conditions. The racers rode steel framed bikes that were built as much for toughness as for speed. They drank wine and smoked Gitanes to quell their suffering. “Nutrition” was real food, like cheese, salami, and a baguette. Suffering was an art form taken to a new level by these riders, as they collapsed into the arms of their handlers at race’s end, their faces reflecting something that non-riders will never understand. But at the end of the day, it was all about style, the horrors of the struggle erased by the pasta with truffles, crystal goblets of Chianti and polite conversation.
Ah, now this is my kind of bike race. Which is to say, it’s not a race at all, but rather a half-ironic group gravel ride, part homage to cycling’s past, part silly pageant, all fun/perverse endeavor. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Vélivre: Rough Ride

Eventually I will read Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle's recent tell-all book about the dark side of professional cycling But before I do that, I decided to go back and pick up the original expose of the peloton, Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride. First published in 1990, it describes the “unglamorous” life of a domestique—routine doping, race buying, and politicking in the peloton—in a way no one had dared to do before. Kimmage took a lot of heat for the book. The title could easily refer to the book’s reception in the cycling community; Kimmage lost friends, made enemies, and earned a reputation as a code-breaking renegade, even a pariah. He once even described himself as the “Salman Rushdie of the cycling world,” such was the unofficial fatwa cast over him by his book. 

Although Kimmage quit racing in 1989, he’s remained a presence on the pro scene through his journalism in the UK. Well, presence isn’t really the right word for what many cycling insiders considered Kimmage to be. More like supreme shit-disturber, whistle-blower, PED alarmist, Armstrong vilifier (see his famous exchange with Armstrong, regarding Kimmage’s assertion that Lance was a canceron the cycling body), and relentless critic of the UCI. (He’s now suing the UCI, in fact, just for something to do, it seems, now that the Armstrong crusade is winding down. He seems to need to be in take-down mode.)

Given the recent events vis-a-vis Armstrong and Hamilton, it seemed right just now to go back and see just how rough the ride really was for Kimmage.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The High Life

In keeping with the recent beer theme at the DM, here's my new favorite beer commercial. Thanks to Tom Babin at Pedal for putting me on this.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Full Moon Ales

The moon is made of cheese, and so am I. At least that’s how I feel after inhaling a small drumlin of nachos. We—Val, Penn, and I—have been at the bar partaking of post-ride beer and snacks. That’s right. Post-ride.  As of this evening, the 2013 Dusty Musette cycling season has officially begun. 

Winter has waged a long and brutal campaign here in central Alberta. Just last week, it socked us with the final insult—another foot of you know what. But today was a breakthrough. Today felt like spring. So even though the snow is still piled high and the roads are a mess, off we went for an evening spin. A Full Moon Jaunt in Edmonton’s slushy river valley, followed by bevvies—what better way to celebrate the possibility of spring? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

MB 2000 Update: Headset & Crank

Building a bicycle with a 12-year-old is full of surprises. Whereas an adult might see the job as a series of orderly (and in my case, mildly daunting) tasks, the 12-year-old sees it primarily as a chance to do fun things with tools in the garage. On a recent afternoon in Val’s shop, these included . . . 

Hammering: Despite Val’s sage advice—“A hammer is almost never the right tool when working on your bike”—one of the first things young Gil found himself doing was standing on a stool, mallet in hand, whacking the bejeezus out of a tube placed over the crown race of the headset. As Val explained, the crown race is held in place only by friction, so it needs to be pounded onto that head tube in a serious way. Gil whaled away like a mini-Thor, and then, pooped out by the effort, passed along the mallet so Val and I could get in on the fun too.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bicycletiquette: Bib Protocol

Dear Jasper,
Photo taken at Liberty Cycle, St. Catharines, Ontario
I am a semi-serious cyclist, and I recently purchased my first pair of bib-style cycling shorts. I like them a lot. In fact, they’ve changed my life. But there’s one problem. For the life of me I can’t figure out the logistics of, you know, relieving myself without getting entangled in a mess of suspender straps and shirt fronts. Is there a secret to this? What’s the protocol?
Bibbed and Desperate

Dear BAD,
Many brethren of the wheel would concur that bib-style cycling shorts are a game-changer. No more worries about one’s shorts creeping up or riding down; no more exposed hairy lower backs (or worse). The bib has a way of making one feel sleek, fully contained, and positively aerodynamic. But when nature calls, even the most serious bib-wearing cyclists must answer, and over the years some wily wheelmen and women have come up with proven, even ingenious, methods for taking care of bib-ness.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pushing the Season, Part 2

Image from Glen Norcliffe's The Ride to Modernity
Back in November I wrote about my scheme to extend my commuting season here in central Alberta. My plan was modest: I’d slap on some studded tires, stick a toque down the front of my pants, and pedal to work when the roads/sidewalks were more-or-less clear and the temperatures weren’t crazy-cold. The hope was to squeeze in a few extra days of riding here and there but still take the bus to work when things got frigid or snowy—nothing radical.

Now it’s time to report on this venture.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Between the Lists: Dispatch from the Karl Kronicles

With the MB 2000 Project back on track, I’m turning my attention to my other winter cycling project, reading Karl Kron’s footstool of a book, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle (1887). I’m only about ten chapters in (one sixth of the total), but I’ve got a pretty good sense of how the book works and what I’m in for the rest of the way. So far, the reading experience is mostly tedious. Although I’ve found the occasional gem of a line (“No vehicle invented by man ever stood in so little need of ‘regulation’ (to prevent interference with the rights and pleasures of others) as does the modern bicycle”), for the most part, reading this book feels akin to pedaling into a stiff headwind. It’s a grind, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will take me ten thousand hours to get through it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Rattle Cans

Painting stuff is fun—not to mention satisfying. (There’s something startling about the complete cosmetic makeover a splash of paint confers.) But painting stuff with spray paint? Now that’s an absolute blast. 

Messy? Of course, as with many fun activities, but that’s part of the thrill. Bad for you? Oh, yeah. Those fumes are nasty, even with full Darth Vader-style ventilator mask on. These days, what with everyone all bully on the ozone layer, we just don’t get to spray much of anything, except for the odd squirt of whip cream, air freshener, or insulation foam. The ozone layer’s well being aside, this is a shame.

Friday, February 15, 2013

February Fugue State

Went out for bananas the other day and somehow ended up at the bike store.

Not sure exactly how this happened. I have no distinct memory of deciding to stop at Revolution Cycle on my way to Safeway. It just sort of occurred. One minute I’m pulling out of my garage with fruit on my mind, and the next thing I know, I’m snapping out of a reverie in the bike store, standing there on the shop floor, fondling the Large Marges of a Surly Moonlander.

Here’s my theory: Some kind of February enchantment drew me there.

Monday, February 11, 2013

An Expensive Ride

It's February again, and anyone who knows me also knows that it's time for my annual pilgrimage down to Arizona for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.  This is, historically, an expensive race for me--now even moreso because I'm coming from Canada. That I am gouged by both airline and government every time I cross the border is obvious to anyone who has taken a similar trip.  But racing the 24 has always cost me a lot of coin, even when I lived close enough to ride my bike to the venue. Nevertheless, my bags are already packed.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Cycling and cross-country skiing are the two sides of the same shiny coin, mirror sports of sister seasons. One’s classic summer, the other perfect winter, but the two activities share a sensibility. In their purest forms, they embody a fluid, graceful state of efficient, self-propelled motion. Simple technologies—no motors, few sounds—enable impressive speeds with relatively little energy output.

You can spend a lot of money on expensive gear for these pursuits, but in both cases, anyone, regardless of skill and with even the crappiest gear, can still enjoy the essential experience. I’ve routinely seen the same idiot grins on the faces of cyclists and skiers alike, of all ages and abilities, ecstatic just to be out breezing through the world.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Vélivre: A Thread of English Road

In A Thread of English Road (1924), American Charles S. Brooks, author of numerous forgotten travel books and plays (including the strangely neglected Wappin’ Wharf: A Frightful Comedy of Pirates), travels quietly by bicycle around villages of southern England, with two companions, rambling along the back roads between London and Bath. Not much happens on the trip. They encounter neither “high excitement” nor “raw adventure.” In fact, “Our days were as tame as a kitten by the fire,” he admits on the second page. This volume is more of a mood piece; Brooks’s prose and Julia McCune Flory’s illustrations capture the quaint pace and gentle air of 1920s rural England. Although at times the book feels a little too tame (some readers may wish for a frightful pirate or two), it has its moments, stringing together some memorable beads on its “thread of road.”    

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tour of Alberta

Here in sunny Alberta, far from Oprah-land, we’re pretty excited about pro cycling these days, because of a major announcement made late last year: the creation of a new professional cycling stage race, the Tour of Alberta, which will take place September 3-8, 2013. According to the T of A website, this will be a UCI-sanctioned 2.1 (whatever that means) event, featuring 16 teams, including eight international teams. The race will start in Edmonton and cover about 850 km before finishing in Calgary; the route will include “open prairies, rolling foothills, and . . . majestic Rockies,” with most of the stages taking place in rural Alberta. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sandy McTire

When Gil and I decided to stud our own bike tires a while back, we set out for supplies (a box of 5/8”metal screws) to the most aptly named store I could think of: Canadian Tire. Those of you who live outside the Great White North may not be familiar with this nationwide retail chain. It’s long been as much a part of Canadian culture as Tim Hortons and maple syrup. For generations, at least prior to the big box revolution, Canadian Tire was the place Canadians went to for just about any cheap-to-mid-range thing you might need, from automotive supplies to garden tools to hardware to kitchenware to sporting goods and electronics.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Dumonde Tech G-10 Bio-Green Chain Lube Review

When the subject of chain lube comes up, I am generally a pure agnostic. A simple Google search will reveal a plethora of heated, perpetual, and simultaneously partisan and inconclusive discussions about which little bottle of oil is the right one.  My position, generally, is that your chain needs oil and as long as that oil shows up regularly, it doesn't really matter which oil you use. As a result of my not particularly caring about what oil I use, a lot of little bottles have come through my garage.  Given that background, I figure the bottle I grabbed for my trip from Vancouver to the Mexican border deserves a little write up.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Mullet

The Squirrel Pelt. The Tennessee Top Hat. Hockey Hair. Call it what you will, no-one can possibly forget the mullet. The mission statement was simple but effective: Business in the front; party in the back.  It was the classic split-personality, Janus-faced (with emphasis on the “anus”) hairstyle of the 70s and 80s, adopted by rednecks, rock stars, and athletes alike. Think Macgyver or Paul McCartney (post-Beatles-breakup) or Jaromir Jagr. It may have fallen out of fashion of late and even been banned in the Islamic Republic of Iran, considered a dangerous and “decadent” Western hairstyle, but we all know the Camaro Cut will never completely die. It’s just too transgressive, too potent, too damn awesome.