Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Junk Hat


Winter cyclists know that dressing for success, if not survival, means protecting the extremities, those most valuable digity bits, with high-quality gear like serious boots and full-on mitts. In fact, there’s a wide range of (very expensive) footwear and hand wear marketed to winter athletes and sportsmen and women, from cyclists and snowmobilers to ice-fishers and skiers. You can spend a lot of money on these items; and, in many cases, it’s worth doing so.

But what of protecting that most valuable extremity of all (at least, for dudes)? How is the winter cyclist or sportsman supposed to keep his willy warm on frigid days? Winter folk of all kinds have long had to deal with this problem. It’s said, for instance, that Norwegian scouts of the twelfth century embarked on days-long journeys through blizzards and drifts, protecting their family jewels with ptarmigan carcasses stuffed down the front of their breeches.

These days, alas, the winter-clothing industry hasn’t moved much beyond the ptarmigan method. I know of only a few commercial options available. Not surprisingly, however, resourceful winter athletes have invented their own ways of protecting their central extremity. Herewith follows a guide to some of the most common methods of keeping one’s unit from freezing off whilst awheel in the winter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dinosaur Provincial Park Loop

Dinosaur Provincial Park is the jewel of Alberta’s Badlands. Sure, the region’s largest city, Drumheller, has its charms: the Royal Tyrell Museum (with its world class collection) and a gigantic tacky T-Rex at the town’s tourist info centre (an essential ironic photo op). But if I had to pick one spot in the Badlands to recommend for sheer beauty and wow factor it’d be DPP, 48 km northeast of Brooks, Alberta. And if you cycle there or bring a bicycle with you, do not miss out on riding the brilliant 3-km gravel-road circuit next to the campground. It’s one of the coolest bike rides in Alberta.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ice-Up Shoreline Ramble

 For this year’s edition of the annual ice-up ride, I decided to explore a new (at least, to me)  section of the North Saskatchewan River valley, the area beneath the Henday bridge close to the neighbourhood of Cameron Heights. I’ve often cycled along the paved path under the bridge and noticed a patchwork of trails near the shore and through the woods. And with the river water so low lately, I’ve noticed that there’s enough dry shoreline that a person with, say, a fat bike could probably ride for quite a while right next to—and occasionally into—the water. So that’s what I did on a recent sunny Sunday morning just before the first big dump of snow.

Riding shoreline, I discovered, entails a very particular kind of rambling--super-slow, constantly navigating around big rocks and ice-blobs, stopping occasionally to carry the bike over big boulders or across little (frozen) streamlets emptying into the river. It’s more like a roll-and-stroll or hike-a-bike than an actual ride. I probably only went about a kilometer before turning back. But I loved it. The sun was shining, the ice was doing its lazy, mesmerizing dance, and I was completely alone. It felt like a different world down there, a secret one, a beautiful one, with its own surprising soundtrack.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Land of Second Chances

One of the big stories of the 2015 Tour de France was the emergence of African cycling—and I’m not talking about overall winner Chris Froome. For the first time, an African-based team, MTN Qubeka (South Africa) participated in the Tour. Five of the nine riders on MTN Qubeka were Africans (three from South Africa, two from Eritrea). One of their riders, Daniel Teklehaimanot, wore the Polka Dot jersey for a few days (first black African to wear any prize jersey at a grand tour), and the team finished an impressive fifth overall in the team classification.

When I picked up Tim Lewis’s The Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team (Velo, 2013) back in July, the timing was perfect. Lewis’s book about an African cycling story and the evolution of professional cycling in that continent suddenly seemed prophetic. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


These are the tattered remains of my MEC Merino T1 wool boxers ($42). They look like they’ve been chewed on by moths for decades and chafed up by thousands of miles of activity. But, in reality, they are only a few months old. I bought them as part of an experiment in cycling attire. This past summer, I decided to give up conventional lycra cycling shorts in favor of wool boxers and regular shorts-shorts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Miquelon Recon

Val and I had took a flyer out to Miquelon Lake Provincial Park with our fat bikes on the Thanksgiving Monday with two reconnaissance objectives in mind: One, we wanted to scope out the 20-km of cross-country ski trails there, which are open year-round to cyclists (one of the few skiing facilities in the Edmonton area that doesn’t expressly forbid fat bikes in the winter). And two, we were keen to check out the network of crooked gravel roads that run through and around the park. Plus Miquelon is less than an hour’s drive south-east of Edmonton and I hadn’t been there in 20 years. A visit was long overdue.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Tasting Notes: Mr. Brown's Canned Coffee

Western style was prevailing in Taiwanese society in the 1970s. Fashionable ladies dressed themselves with fluffy while the most popular among gentlemen was to hold a cup of mellow coffee to enjoy the elegance of the black beverage.   

Who is Mr. Brown? Why does his canned coffee taste so good in the middle of a bike ride? Why doesn’t he look more Chinese? Why is he so happy? These are the questions that run through my mind every time I see a tin of Mr. Brown’s “Ready to Drink” Iced Canned Coffee, one of my go-to cycling beverages. Fortunately, I recently discovered, a mischievously translated source of all kinds of fascinating, if not entirely reliable, information about this apparently famous Taiwanese treat. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ascent of Mount Nebo

I feel the air getting thinner as I turn the final bend of the ascent.  Approaching the summit, I notice subtle changes in the vegetation: the dew on the grass glistens with a darker shade of green; the trees are just that tiny bit shorter. I feel a shortness of breath as I shift into my biggest ring on the back. I am pedalling up Mount Nebo, the 121st highest mountain in Manitoba.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dusty 100 Wrap

A small cadre of wheelmen emerged from the fog Sunday morning at Victoria Settlement game to embark on the first-ever Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge. The circuit turned out to be neither dusty (it's been a damp week around these parts) nor 100 (the route actually clocked in at 107 km), but it certainly was  gravelly and a challenge. It took 6.5 hours for our mud-and-bug-splattered butts to complete the course.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Alberta's Tour de Mud(dle)

All Photos: Casey B. Gibson |
Last Sunday’s stage 5 of the 2015 Tour of Alberta was a curious combination of farce and epic. Some will see what happened that day as irrefutable proof that the event is doomed; others, me included, will see past a muddled ending to great promise.

For naysayers, those skeptical of the whole Tour of Alberta enterprise, the fiasco near the end of stage 5, when second wheel Sven Erik Bystrom took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and the peloton followed him until a marshall on motorbike informed them all that they had to turn around, will be the defining moment of this year’s race, evidence that Alberta’s attempt at pro cycling is bush league.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gravel Glossary: Miami Mud

It rained a lot over the weekend here in southern Manitoba, where my wife’s parents live, but the gravel roads out by the Miami Hutterite Colony where I rode yesterday were mostly hard and smooth. Mostly.

On a whim, I decided to turn down an unmaintained road—the kind with a strip of grass growing down the middle, the kind that that has not been beaten down by vehicle traffic. Any vehicle traffic. The road looked fine, but it wasn’t. Within seconds I experienced a distinct riding-in-quicksand sensation. Mud and tiny bits of gravel flew scattershot on my legs and clung to my tires like prairie barnacles at the same time. I detected a strange, low rumble coming from the vicinity of my tires. Then it hit me: it was the Miami Mud, laughing at my Clement MSO tires.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tour of Alberta 2015 Preview

Photo credit: Edmonton Journal
Feels like this could be a  breakaway year for the Tour of Alberta bicycle race. After a couple of years of mixed results, during which the race sometimes suffered from uninspired route choices and an uncertain identity, the T of A is showing signs of finding its form. Here’s why:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Camping at the WBR

One of the highlights of our family’s recent camping vacay in Montana and Idaho was a short stay at the Whitefish Bike Retreat (WBR), a gem of a spot about 10 miles northwest of this ski-resort town in northwest Montana. The WBR opened in 2013 and has been growing steadily, catering to mountain bikers and touring cyclists alike. The location is key: the WBR is trailside lodging for the terrific Whitefish Trail system, 26 miles of smooth single track; it’s only a minor detour off the Adventure Cycling Association’s popular Northern Tier route; and it’s also close enough to the Tour Divide route that Divide riders have been known to swing by for visit. The WBR has a bunk lodge where you can sleep in a bed and cook in a communal kitchen, but we opted for the camping.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bindloss, of Alberta

Site where the school once stood in Bindloss
"Last had come the prairie--the land of promise--which seemed to run on forever, flooded with brilliant sunshine under a sky of dazzling blue."--from Prescott, of Saskatchewan (1913) by Harold Bindloss

Believe it or not, the idea for our Rural Alberta Adventure began with Bindloss, a tiny hamlet about 100 km north of Medicine Hat. Back in May, Val and Penn and I sat staring at a map of Alberta, wondering where we should go. We were thinking Badlands, for starters, but then where? Penn pointed to an empty area east of Dinosaur Provincial Park and said, "Why not try here?" The nearest town on the map was Bindloss, which, we quickly discovered, was named after an obscure English writer who wrote over 40 novels in the early 1900s, many of them set in the Canadian west, including one with the fabulous title Prescott, of Saskatchewan.

None of us had ever been to that part of Alberta, and, certainly, none of us had ever heard of Harold Bindloss or his Prescott. We were intrigued. That sealed it. We would ride through Bindloss, on a kind of reverse literary pilgrimage.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge

WHEN: Sunday, September 13  (NOTE THE NEW DATE) 8:30 am bugle call and roll out

WHERE: Waskatenau, AB (75 minute drive northeast of Edmonton); meet at ball diamond (corner of 52 Street and 52 Avenue)

WHAT: 100-km gravel-road loop on a quiet, picturesque route we're calling "The Iron Victoria" (part Iron Horse Trail, part Victoria Trail)

WHO: Anyone up for a gravel-cycling adventure (and who doesn't mind a little dust)
  • This is not a race (though times will be recorded); no prizes will be awarded.
  • All riders will be given a cue sheet; then you're on your own.
  • All riders must be completely self-supported. (Limited supplies are available at a couple of places on (Pakan) or near (Smoky Lake) the route.)
  • Almost any kind of bike will work (cyclo-cross, touring, mountain, fat) but tires 33 mm or wider are strongly recommended

Dusty Lens: Good Hope Cemetery

Near Schuler, Alberta, close to Saskatchewan border

Friday, July 17, 2015

Range Road Explorers

Our back road adventure took us over all manner of gravel, including several varieties I hadn't seen before. Like this one, on a range road southeast of Trochu. "Gravel" hardly seems the right word for this stuff on what is, essentially, a path through farmers' fields. (It really is an actual road, though, marked on the map, and with a road sign and everything--though a separate sign warns that the road is "unmaintained." In other words, you take your chances on such roads. How could we resist?)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dorothy & Linda

View of Dorothy, AB, from above the Red Deer River.
My Backroads Alberta Map Book says that Dorothy, Alberta, is a ghost town. But it isn’t at all. Sure, compared to this pioneer town’s glory days a hundred years ago, when coal mining was at its peak in the Red Deer River valley, Dorothy today is a shell of its former self. A handful of long-abandoned original buildings, in various states of dilapidation, dot the townsite. (The fancy new rest stop bathroom is an exception.) But a few families still live in this picturesque little hamlet, and there’s a surprisingly vibrant sense of community there, thanks in large part to Linda Miller.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Story of the Three Bears

Once upon a time, three bears went on a bicycle adventure in a far off land, from the village of Red Elk to the town of Medicine Toque. But it was no ordinary cycling trip on smooth, asphalt roads. This adventure took the bears across dusty backroads, over farmers’ fields, and along gravel laneways. They rode on some pavement, too, but only when they had to.

The first bear took his Cannondale T800 touring bike decked out with Clement Xplor MSO (40 mm) tires.

The second bear travelled on a Salsa Fargo with Continental Race King 2.0 29er tires.

The third bear rode a Surly Pugsley fatbike, running an ultralight Larry 3.8 on the front and an Ectomorph on the back.    

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bleriot Bike Ferry

“A day’s outing is indeed most perfect when its rewards consist of experiences derived on wheel, as well as afloat.” -- W.S. Beekman

A ferry crossing is an essential part of any good bike tour, according to one of my hardy touring partners, Val Garou. He argues that there’s something about shifting from bike to boat to bike that adds an extra dimension to a trip—even if that boat portion only lasts for a few minutes.

Short cable-ferry trips across the Red Deer River have long been a part of getting around in the Badlands of central Alberta. At one time there were a dozen ferries on that river, but now there are just two left: Bleriot and Finnegan. We took our bikes aboard both.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Report #2: Gopher Town

Torrington, Alberta, a hamlet located about 160 km northeast of Calgary, is one of the sadder places we visited on our recent rural adventure. Like a lot of tiny rural communities on the prairies, Torrington has seen better days. Many of the buildings are empty or in a state of severe neglect. The hamlet is not a ghost town—yet—but it does feel like it’s dying. The day we were there the streets were deserted, the cashier of town’s only store (Pizza and More, Eh?) wasn’t exactly welcoming, and, despite a few quaint touches such as colorfully painted fire hydrants, the place just generally gave off a depressing vibe.

But Torrington does have one thing going for it: the World Famous Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. Now “museum” is a generous term for this establishment. It’s really a shack containing about two dozen small dioramas of dead, stuffed gophers dressed up in clothes and staged in a variety of humorous, if not bizarre, human endeavours. A pool hall, church, firehall, curling rink, etc. In some cases, the stuffed gophers have been even been given little speech bubbles for comic effect. The dioramas are kitschy, goofy, often hilarious, and, in some cases, just weird. There’s even one freakily postmodern scene involving a gopher-taxidermist.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rural Alberta Adventure Report #1: Donut Mill

All great Alberta adventures include a stop at the Donut Mill.

Albertans know that any trip between Edmonton and Calgary on highway 2 must pass through this legendary institution on Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley on the south edge of the city. The Mill produces some of the finest and freshest donut creations in the west. For many people and families, including my own, it would be inconceivable to drive through Red Deer without stopping in for some treats from the Donut Mill’s case of goodies.

So when the Dusty Musette touring crew was scheming our recent Rural Alberta Adventure route, it made perfect sense for us to kick off our trip from the Mill. We needed a genuine Alberta landmark for our jumping off point, preferably one that could quickly get us onto the gravel roads we were after.  Throw in the possibility of Bismarks and Boston Cremes, and we knew we had our departure point.

Friday, June 12, 2015

In Praise of Crap Bikes

Let’s hear it for the crap bike! The Supercycle! The Infinity! The clunky Schwinn, the rusty Nishiki, the rattly Norco!

These bikes are, for the most part, total horseshit, manufactured out of cheap, heavy materials and bottom end components, then slapped together by department store workers who know nothing about bicycles. In car culture, you’d   call them “beaters”—old, dented, scratched rides that get you from A to B, most of the time, and roll with the understanding that you won’t be spending much money or time on maintenance. When they expire, you just go on kijiji and find a new one.

Yet every cyclist needs a crap bike in the garage. (And the fact that you can store your crap bike in the garage, as opposed to in your house, is just one of the many virtues of the crap bike.)  Crap bikes, for all their undeniable crappiness, are essential. Flashy, expensive, nice bikes are fun to ride, sure, but crap bikes make the cycling world go ‘round.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Preview: Rural Alberta Adventure

Ten days, 900 km of mostly gravel roads, a southeast squiggle from Red Deer to Medicine Hat, through the Alberta Badlands and around Special Area No. 2 (I know, it sounds like Alberta’s version of Roswell’s Area 51 but it’s actually just an ominously named rural municipality)—that’s the trip Val, Penn, and I will undertake in a little over a week from now.

We’ve been scheming a gravel cycling adventure for some time now, eager to test out what it would be like to tour on dusty back roads. Our very own province of Alberta boasts gravel galore, so why not start close to home? But not too close to home. 

We’ll start in Red Deer, at the Donut Mill, no less—the acknowledged omphalos of Alberta. Our route will take us across prairie and Badlands, through a series of small towns, and across some remote town-less stretches, into a land without espresso. We will follow the Red Deer River for much of the first part of the journey before dipping down along the Saskatchewan border to the Hat.

Here are a few things I’m looking forward to on our rural Alberta adventure:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pit Stops: World's Best Climbing Tree

Trees can be a cyclist’s best buds, in so many ways. They provide shade along the roadway, they tell you which way the wind is blowing and how much, and they can even block a nasty headwind. Just the other day, in fact, battling a stiff southeast clipper on the way back from Alberta Beach, we lucked into some roadside groves of aspen trees that provided the perfect wind guard. The effect was remarkable, if short-lived.

(For mountain bikers, the cyclist-tree relationship is a little more complicated, I think. Trees create many of the best trails and provide essential technical features but they can also hurt you and wreck your bike. For road cyclists, however, trees are almost always wholly a good thing.)

And that’s not even counting the aesthetic benefits of trees. They’re beautiful, at any time of year, constantly changing, sometimes smell great, and, I would argue, have a soothing, therapeutic effect on anyone in their immediate presence. If you’re in need of a pit stop on a bike ride, pulling off under a tree is always a splendid idea.

This particular tree in Edmonton’s west end is actually too close to my house to serve as mid-ride pit stop. But I ride past it almost every day, and even after thousands of passes, it can still take my breath away on a spring day, like today, when the blossoms are in full explosion. When my kids were little, my wife and I would walk them down to this pocket park and the boys would clamber all over the low branches. It’s a perfect starter tree—accessible, smooth-barked, with horizontal spots for hanging out. It came to be known as the World’s Best Climbing Tree. We don’t visit the WBCT as often as we once did, but a few weeks back we stopped by, and our teenage boys got right up into the branches, just as they did in those long ago days.

Some trees have a certain magic about them, an old power that fosters relaxation, reflection, imagination, and even regeneration. The WBCT is one of those trees, and as I sit here under its branches writing this, I can feel its ancient energy reminding me that everything grows, blossoms, and eventually sheds its leaves. 

With that counsel from a good friend, I hop back on my bike and continue riding.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Porcelain Sprocket

What is it with all the toilets?

Riding my bike, I see all manner of trash and treasure along the roadsides, especially at this time of year, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed something really strange: an alarming number of discarded toilets in the ditch.

The one above I spied beside a remote country road south of Edmonton. At first, when I rode by it, I mistook the toilet for a rogue snow drift, which had miraculously resisted the spring melt. But it was too white for spring snow, so I stopped, got off my bike, and took a closer look. The crapper had broken into several chunks, and the parts were scattered in a kind of porecelain splash pattern. On closer inspection, I concluded that this main bowl section may well have been sitting in the ditch for a while, possibly a few years.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

High Desert Postcard

Palm Springs, California—the town that Sonny Bono built—looks to be a fine place for desert road cycling, not that I’ve done much of that in my four days here. This holiday has been about hiking, and the place to do that in these parts is Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour’s drive north of the Coachella Valley, in what the locals call “high desert.”

And high, it truly is, in more ways than one. It’s uphill all the way from Palm Springs, and the temperature up at Joshua is generally between 12-15 degrees cooler. But the vibe up at Joshua Tree is totally chill too. The little town by the park’s main entrance feels like a different planet from Palm Springs. It’s a combination of tourist traps, artist studios, hippy retro shops, espresso joints run by long-bearded hipsters, and an assortment of sun-baked Burning Man-types.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shoulders and Toes: Specialized Defrosters

These boots have changed my life.

I know that sounds dramatic, but, honestly, I can’t think of another piece of cycling gear that has so profoundly improved my cycling experience. I wore them last autumn and now this spring, and on every single ride I look down at my Defrosters and think, Damn! I love these boots! how did I ever live without them?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Round the World on a Wheel

When intrepid English bicycle-traveller John Foster Fraser, in the middle of his trans-world bicycle trip in 1896, met with the governor of a province in Persia in 1896, the sultan asked him why Britons were always rushing off to seek out hardship and danger abroad. “There’s no pleasure in it,” offered the puzzled sultan. Fraser replied, simply, “There’s adventure”—as if this were all he needed to say. The sultan shrugged and dismissed Fraser and company as madmen.

Reading Fraser’s classic book about those “adventures,” Round the World on a Wheel (1899), I was struck by how both men were right. So much of Fraser’s journey was full of hardship and danger. It’s tough to comprehend how difficult such a journey would have been: navigating atrocious roads (and sometimes no roads), coping with mechanical breakdowns in remote places, encountering hostile natives (getting pelted with stones becomes such a commonplace event in Asia that Fraser mentions it the way one might mention a rain shower, an unavoidable natural phenomena that will, eventually, pass),  bad food (or no food for days at a time), illness, filthy lodgings, blizzards, wolves and bears and mobs. They travelled with revolvers—and needed them more than once. There were, of course, some moments of pleasure in the trip, but those aren’t what people remember.

Hardship was the cost of “adventure” and Fraser was more than willing to pay the price. It was well worth it, for Fraser and, indirectly, for us.  His book, the last in the original age of around-the-world and trans-continental cycle-travel narratives of the nineteenth century (by rider/writers such as Thomas Stevens, Frank Lenz, Sachtleben and Allen, George B.   Thayer, Hugh Callan) is a highly entertaining account, chalk full of remarkable adventures.   After all these years, it’s still one of the best cycle-travel books out there.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Orphan Glove

People love to complain about dog shit in the spring time. As the glacial drifts recede from sidewalks and streets, and the detritus of the past five months slowly emerges, once-frozen dog turds shed their icy cocoons and come back to a mushy, pungent second life.

But spring cyclists don’t care about such things. When they look down, they notice other seasonal phenomena, namely the spectacularly shitty state of roads at this time of year, all gravelly, sandy, potholed, and litter strewn. It can make for a grim scene, all that flotsam along the shoulders. For me, though, a sure sign of spring is the ubiquitous orphan glove on the side of the road.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bicycletiquette: Natural Breaks

Dear Bicycletiquette,

What is the proper protocol for peeing mid-ride? Is it okay to pee on the side of the road? Just how discreet should a cyclist be?

Pee Protocoler

Dear PP,

That depends on what kind of cyclist you are. Exactly how and where a cyclist pees reveals much.

In the 1950s, when the great Fausto Coppi was the padrone of the peloton, he had a pet peeve about the indelicacy of his fellow cyclists whizzing on the side of the road. It drove him bananas. European pro riders in those days felt like they owned the roads and, therefore, were entitled to mark their territory freely, letting ‘er fly while standing over their bike frames on the edge of the roadway. The surprisingly prudish Coppi saw such behavior as gauche, juvenile, really, and beneath the dignity of respectable professionals. He insisted that his team, at least, be more discreet, dismounting and seeking out some leafy privacy before heeding the call of nature.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Winter Gravel

A few weeks back, Val, Penn, and I fled the city on a Sunday morning and took to the gravel of the Glory Hills west of Edmonton.  We rolled our fat steeds along frozen back roads under a brilliant, cold sky. We encountered five cars and three deer in our 30 km. It was a glorious ride, indeed.

Now, we all know that gravel-road cycling is on the verge of becoming a thing—all the big manufacturers are putting out gravel bikes and gravel events are popping up like dust devils across the Midwest and elsewhere. The benefits of gravel riding have been extolled by me and others for some time—namely the lack of car traffic and the almost endless route possibilities. But winter gravel? Could it be a sub-thing of that gravel thing?

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Night Bridge

I’ve only got one rule for a night ride these days: it’s got to include a crossing of the night bridge.

That’s what I’ve taken to calling Edmonton’s High Level bridge since July 1, 2014, when 60000 LED lights fired up and the 100-year-old bridge was transformed into a spectacle of color. The Light the Bridge project was the result of a creative fund-raising campaign that saw no public money spent on the lights—citizens and businesses “bought” bulbs (though the city now pays for the electricity to keep them running.) The project led to a healthy discussion of the benefits of large-scale aesthetic projects like this—whether fancying up civic infrastructure, essentially transforming a utilitarian structure into a work of art, is a worthwhile undertaking.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Under Pressure

Val keeps telling me to let air out of my fat bike tires. While I’m still pretty new to the fat bike, Val’s been riding his longer and follows what fat bikers say on the forums. He says that the serious fat bikers all claim that playing around with tire pressure is key to maximizing the fat bike experience.

On an intellectual level, sure, I understand how this works. Lower air pressure increases the surface area of the tire, providing better traction in soft conditions like, say, snow. I get the science of it. But the long-time roadie in me still has trouble letting air out of those valves. I’m so used to riding on hard tires and associating low tire pressure with inefficiency that I’m having difficulty adjusting to this new way of thinking. I know I should try it but I haven’t much.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bugle Lessons

A horn or bugle is used on club runs and at meets to give signals for concerted action; the lightest and simplest construction being preferred.

--Charles E. Pratt, The American Bicycler: A Manual for the Observer, the Learner, and the Expert. (1879)

I once wrote a half-serious post about wanting a cycling bugle for Christmas. Well, it took a few years, but my wish came true this past December. My wife gave me this fine specimen, made in India (?!). It’s the real deal, shiny and solid, a military-style cavalry bugle of the kind used by nineteenth-century cycling clubs to call out signals to riders. I love it. It sits on the piano in my living room, and has sparked numerous, usually short, conversations.  (A cycling bugle? Oh.) Now I just have to figure out how to play it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Brown Sugar Blues

Shimmy, shimmy sugar—SHIT!
February slush-squish, root beer Slurpee, mashed potatoes
with gravy

What is this crap?

Front tire side-swerves, back tire spin-slips
You look so soft, your mish-mush patches of plantation raw—
Or is it demerara, turbinado, or dark muscovado?

I won’t be fooled by your sweetie-pie schtick
You are sweet misery on asphalt
Bastard child of global warming and half-assed snow plowing
Succubus of slirt
Take my eyes off you and I’m down for one lump, maybe two

Give me a meringue of snow drifts
Give me a skating rink of a road
Give me an archipelago of potholes

But—ENOUGH with this brown sugar!

How can something that looks so sweet suck so bad?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jasper in September

I went downhill skiing in Jasper this past weekend, taking full advantage of the Jasper-in-January discounts. While driving up Marmot Basin Road en route to the ski hill, I kept thinking to myself, man, I’ve got to ride my bike up this mountain someday! The road up to Marmot is a stunning and steep ascent of a full-on mountain road, one of those climbs that just keeps going up and up. Think mountain goats and yetis.  Yet I, somehow, had never cycled up it. I’ve ridden my road bike in the Jasper area, and, in fact, cycled right past the turn off a few times. How is it that I’ve never thought to cycle up to the chalet?

So imagine my surprise when later that day I stopped for coffee on the way back through town and saw this headline in The Jasper Local: “Tour of Alberta creates mountain stage in Jasper.” Seems I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about riding a bike up to Marmot. In the article, Tour Executive Director Duane Vienneau explains that the September 5 stage of the Tour will begin in the Jasper town site and end at the top of Marmot Basin Road.  He wouldn’t reveal any more about the specifics of the route at this point, but that hardly matters to Tour organizers and fans who can finally say that the Tour of Alberta has a true mountain stage. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Frozen Balls

I’ve been thinking about frozen balls lately, both the City of Edmonton’s and my own. I frequently pass this sculpture, officially known as Talus Dome (talus being a geological term for a pile of gravel that sometimes forms naturally at the base of a cliff)  situated beside the southeast on-ramp to the Quesnell Bridge, a busy stretch of the Whitemud Freeway leading to west Edmonton.

Some Edmontonians, however, unofficially refer to it as a pile of gigantic silver rabbit turds. The mound of nearly 1000 big, hand-crafted stainless steel balls is a controversial subject for some locals. The sculpture cost $600 000 of public funds, and naysayers point to it as a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. Others, like me, kind of like it. It’s shiny, striking, dazzling in certain lights, a sort of man-made attempt at cool, natural beauty.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tomorrow, We Ride . . .

I love the photo on the cover of this book: two men—the Bobet brothers, Louison and Jean, riding side by side, so close together that they’re touching, in that way that only veterans of the peleton can do, despite having the whole road to themselves. The image captures the bond between these very different brothers. In some ways, they lived in different realms—Louison was the acknowledged champion, Jean the bespectacled intellectual—but throughout their eventually divergent lives, they shared a passion for riding bicycles together, one that lasted far beyond their professional cycling careers.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chickakoo Review

I’m pleased to report that Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area, 40 minutes west of Edmonton, is not only winter fat bike friendly but also winter fat bike fun.

Finding trails to ride fat bikes on in winter can be tricky around here. Sure, the river valley is the go-to place to ride fat, and the valley does offer a fair bit of variety, but sometimes a fella just needs to get out of town. Some of the most obvious places for winter trail rides around here are cross-country skiing facilities like Cooking Lake-Blackfoot and the Strathcona Wilderness Centre. The packed and groomed ski trails at these facilities are ideal for fat biking. There’s just one problem: the skiers.