Monday, December 22, 2014

Santa Cycles

Santa Claus, at least in his modern-commercialized form, is almost exactly as old as the bicycle. Some would argue that our image of Santa as jolly-fat-man-in-a-red-suit was invented by American illustrator Thomas Nast, who, in 1863, created illustrations for Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit by St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). These illustrations in Harpers magazine helped establish the image of a rotund, bearded, mischievous St. Nick.

Meanwhile, the earliest version of the pedal-driven bicycle, the velocipede or “Boneshaker,” was invented just a few years later in France and/or Britain, depending on which origin story you believe. By the end of the 1860s, velocipede fever had gripped Paris, New York, and London.

In a sense, Santa Claus and the bicycle grew up together in the late nineteenth century. Both captured the imagination of the late Victorian Age. And although the jolly fat man is generally associated with another form of travel altogether, he was, in those final decades of the nineteenth century, depicted aplenty on cycles of various kinds. It may seem an odd combination but it’s not, really. Santa Claus doesn’t look so different from the kinds of men so often depicted astride cycles in the 1880s and 90s, with their beards, pipes, bugles, and quasi-military costumes.

So, as a small yuletide gift to our readers this festive season, here’s a selection of some of our favorite old-school Santa rides. Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!

Friday, December 12, 2014


I’m a regular reader of Tom Babin’s cycling blog, Pedal. Babin’s day job is Features Editor at The Calgary Herald, but Pedal gives him a chance to write about his passion for cycling, especially bike commuting, bicycle infrastructure and culture in Cowtown (er, I mean, The Heart of the New West), and winter cycling. Babin’s posts on Pedal are always engaging and accessible, a provocative blend of the personal and the topical. 

Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling is a longer-form exploration of several ideas Babin initially explored in short bursts on Pedal. It’s the only book I know of about winter cycling specifically, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is bike-curious about winter. It’s a breezy read, and a mostly compelling combination of personal narrative, light research on the history and geography of winter cycling, and an argument for embracing both winter cycling and just winter, in general.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tasting Notes: Gu Salted Caramel Gel

For a flavor that I don’t even recall being an actual flavor until about 15 years ago, salted caramel has come a long way in recent times. It’s popping up everywhere—Haagen-Dazs, Starbucks, Nature Valley Granola Bars, Wal-Mart chocolate toffees, that gelato bar I went to in Ottawa last summer—and consumers can’t seem to get enough.

The combination of sweet and salty is an ancient one, but as this 2008 New York Times piece explains, its recent fame can be traced back to France, where salted caramel, like Jerry Lewis, was popular in the 1970s. Foodies in New York and San Francisco gradually caught on, and by the 1990s, salted caramel started showing up in everything from macarons to milkshakes. Next thing you know, Obama proclaimed a thing for salted caramel dark chocolates, and the once obscure combo was bound for the mainstream.