Monday, December 26, 2016

Pedal & Skate

Image result for frank patterson cycling artist

Happy Holidays, my friends! Here's to getting outside and enjoying winter.

Illustration by Frank Patterson. Cycling magazine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Corners

That’s been the mantra around our house the past few weeks as our family (me, my wife, and two teenage sons, all winter commuters) once again gets accustomed to riding in winter conditions. It’s been a good seven months since we negotiated icy roads, and it’s amazing how easy it is to forget just how cautious winter cyclists have to be when making turns—even with studded tires (which we all have).

In the days following the first ice, I heard three different friends’ stories of wipe-outs, all occurring on turns taken just a little too aggressively for the conditions.

I find it takes a conscious effort to shift from the mindless leaning into corners we do for three seasons of the year. Winter cornering generally means slow-mo, ever-so-gradual turning—not a single sweeping motion but rather a series of incremental micro turns and corrections as you attempt to keep the bike at a 90 degree angle to the road. I think of it as perpendicular cornering, an action both impossible and necessary. And it’s almost as good for the core as planking. 

Winter corners, winter corners. We say it to each other as we leave the house. I say it to myself as I approach the first turns of my commute, reminding myself to slow to a deliberate crawl as I attempt to change directions.

Winter corners, I recently learned, is also a scrapbooking term used for certain decorative touches in the corners of a page, usually some variation of snowflakes or holly. Since learning this term, I’ve found myself picturing my own scrapbook page, a variation of those “my-first-bike-ride” pages that parents create to commemorate that milestone. Except my imaginary “My-Winter-Cycling” page features a shot of me splayed out under my bike in a snow bank, having taken an unseasonal corner—complete, of course, with festive snowflakey curlicues and scrolls of holly along the edges of the page.

If you’re riding in winter conditions, be careful out there, my friends. Winter corners, everyone. Winter corners.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers

Image result for tim hilton one more kilometre

Tim Hilton’s 2004 cycling memoir, One More Kilometre and We’re in the Showers, is my kind of cycling book. It’s a charming account of Hilton’s cycling life in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century, and it covers both his fan’s perspective of continental pro racing as well as the history of Britain's unique club cycling and cycle-racing cultures. Hilton’s background as an art critic (biographer of Ruskin), together with his communist upbringing, gives him a unique perspective on this world. His delightful book is literary (full of poetry and descriptions of club magazines from the 1950s and 60s), nostalgic (celebrating the romance and mythology of English cycling’s past), visual (an image accompanying each short chapter), and chock full of stories that capture a time and place when cycling mattered in almost every town and village.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Most semi-serious Edmonton road cyclists know Halicz-Glidehurst—even if they don’t recognize the unwieldy name. It’s a 20-km zig-zag paved road that runs through a quiet rural area southwest of Devon, Alberta. The noteworthy feature of H-G (as I call it) is that it is the only paved back road in the area. It is surrounded by a grid of gravel. I’m not sure why H-G is paved; apart from being a back-door route to Devon, it doesn’t seem to connect anything to anything. But it’s an exquisite piece of asphalt for skinny-tired cycling, an unlikely but pleasant respite from truck-infested highways 19 and 60, and the kind of road you can ride down the middle of, most of its length, almost any time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Onoway Getaway

It was back in May, during the Dusty 100, in fact, that Val, Penn, and I received an invitation to visit Bigfoot Ryan’s cabin near Onoway, northwest of Edmonton, and ride some gravel roads around Sandy Lake. Finally, a few weeks ago, we got our act together and ventured out there. It was a glorious, sunny, clear day—a rarity in recent weeks—and perfect for autumn riding. But the cycling was only part of the reason for going. I’d heard Ryan and his partner Gigi talk about their cabin at the lake for years and just wanted to check it out.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Liberal Fenders

The Alberta Liberal Party is a longtime political sadsack. Unlike its much more successful federal version, the centrist Alberta Liberals are perpetual underdogs, it seems, having never formed government in this province. For the longest time they could blame it on the genetic conservatism of Albertans; but that explanation no longer works, given that the leftist New Democratic Party under Rachel Notley leapfrogged over the Liberals in the 2015 election and took power.

Still, though, I have a soft spot for the Alberta Liberals (for the same reason that I’ve always loved the Leafs). That’s probably why I agreed to put a Liberal sign on my lawn when candidate Donna Wilson knocked on my door a month before the election. I liked her and had heard good things about her work. The Liberals went on to lose the election, of course, and in the end, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even vote for Donna Wilson. (Sorry, Donna, really! I got swept up in the orange wave like everyone else.) But it may be some consolation to Donna and her party that, while the campaign was a failure, her lawn sign lives on.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Worm Carnage

Rained all day here on Saturday, so even though the sun was shining yesterday, the roads were still damp, even bepuddled in places. Which means our Sunday road ride was worm carnage. 

I can't say that I noticed many worms on the asphalt as we pedalled, but when we finished and looked at our bikes, this is the gruesome spectacle we witnessed: tiny, noodly corpses attached to pretty much every surface of our bicycles. Tires, of course, rims, spokes, cables, down tube, brakes--even one affixed somehow to Val's headset. ("The horror!" I can almost hear Chris King whispering.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gravel Glossary: Fresh Powder

Encountering a grader at work on a rural road is something that occasionally happens to gravel riders, and for me, anyway, it’s usually a mixed blessing. True, graders can transform the nemesis of so many gravel cyclists—unholy washboard—into perfectly flat road surface, but in the process they tend to leave behind this soft, fresh powder, which, although pretty to look at, is no picnic to pedal through. As skiers know, fresh powder can be deceptive. It may look perfect, all soft and fluffy, like grey icing sugar, but it’s a quagmire in the ass to ride on. In a car? No big deal. But on a bike? It kinda bites.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Grand Beach Postcard

End of summer, one last hurrah, a few glorious days at Grand Beach, north of Winnipeg, visiting old friends. Classic cottage activities, catching frogs and playing cards, helped us not think about school bearing down. But this beautiful bike ride along a lovely stretch of the Trans-Canada Trail that runs parallel to the shore of Lake Winnipeg was the highlight. My favorite riding partner, Victoria Day, joined me on this one; here she is, among the birches, on our way back from the Ancient Beach Trail. I like how the trees are showing the beginnings of autumn, and I like how the trail looks like it goes on forever through the woods.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pit Stop: Crepe and Shake

Bodacious Beaumont. The lovely little town on the hill southeast of Edmonton has got it goin’ on these days. Not only did Beaumont recently take over hosting the annual Tour d’Alberta bike event (and do a fine job of it); it’s also home to one of the hottest new restaurants in the west, Chartier. This once-sleepy French town is accumulating reasons to make it a destination. Edmonton cyclists have long appreciated Beaumont as a place to ride out to and back. And now there’s a terrific place to stop and take a load off, yet another Beaumont success story: Crepe and Shake on 50th Avenue just west of 50th Street. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tour of Alberta 2016 Preview

The Tour of Alberta professional bicycle race is just a few weeks away, but I have to admit that I’m having trouble getting excited about it. The race route this year is, in my view, the least inspired one in the race’s four-year history. Why? No true mountain stage, very little gravel, and too many urban stages. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sex, Lies, and Handlebar Tape

Before reading this book, all I really knew about Jacques Anquetil is that he was the first man to win the Tour de France five times, that he dominated cycling in the years between the reigns of Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx, and that there was some kind of incestual monkey business in his personal life. Paul Howard’s clever title for his 2008 biography of Anquetil is a nod to the Steven Soderbergh movie of 1989, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, in which a disturbing but strangely arresting James Spader films various women talking—just talking—about their sexuality. That film was compelling but gave me the creeps; the same can be said for Howard’s book about Anquetil’s life. The Frenchman was a great champion and an enigmatic character, but like Spader’s character, a complicated and curiously sympathetic perv. All of which makes Anquetil’s story one worth telling—and re-telling.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Velvet Street

Within minutes I am lost in Connecticut, the land of quaint mailboxes and plentiful roadkill. I had set out north from New Haven, prepared, or so I thought, with a cue sheet ( and an area cycling map (courtesy of College Street Cycles). But it turns out that prairie living has dulled my navigational instincts. I’ve dwelled for so long inside orderly grids, a right-angled universe, that Connecticut quite literally threw me for a loop. The roads here are neither straight nor orderly—they criss-cross, circle back, wind around, shift identities.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Victorian Bikepacking

Strolling around the display of old bicycles at the International Cycling History Conference in New Haven, CT, a while back, I was struck by all the cool Victorian bags. I’m not talking about Mary Poppins’s famous suitcase. I mean all the brilliant little storage bags attached to these nineteenth-century bicycles. It seems from the very beginnings of cycling, riders devised ingenious ways to hang, strap, and just generally affix storage compartments to their machines—under the seat, inside the frame, off the handlebars. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Connecticut Quick Stop

The cow on the roof beckoned. I was ready for a break, for lunch, in fact, when I glimpsed this rooftop bovine and took it as a curious harbinger of good eats. Rural Connecticut, and much of New England, I imagine, is dotted with independent places like this, offering a little bit of everything for locals, travellers, cyclists: cold drinks, “fried dough” (?), night crawlers, fireworks, pastrami sandwiches.

I parked my rental bike out front, not worrying a whit about someone stealing it. (The serene and elevated cow somehow gave off a protective, Jedi-Master air.) Strolling about the surprisingly large store, I surveyed the broad selection of weird American “candy bars” and artery-busting pork rinds, eventually settling on a custom deli sandwich. The Quick Stop felt a bit like an old-timey general store, with its eclectic inventory of food, hardware, and toys. This was my kind of place.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Old Bikes of New Haven

Here in New Haven, Connecticut, you can’t swing a cat without hitting an old bicycle these days. I’m in town for the International Cycling History Conference, an event devoted to celebrating the machines and culture of the early years of cycling, especially the 1860s to the early 1900s. 

This year’s conference, in fact, is being held to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first bike ride in America. In the spring of 1866, French transplant Pierre Lallement rode his prototype velocipede between Ansonia and Derby, CT, just outside of New Haven. As part of this year’s festivities, some old bike aficionados brought their wondrous old boneshakers, pennyfarthings, and safeties to display and even demonstrate on the New Haven Green last Saturday.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gravel Glossary: Packed Tarsands

What do you get when geyser meets gravel? This stuff, which I am calling packed tarsands, a suitably Albertan moniker for this kind of road surface. Although real tarsands are a naturally occurring phenomenon, this one is human-made. It's essentially a gravel road that's been sprayed with oil (the stuff is so cheap around here these days, why not use it as road spray?) and then packed down hard by traffic and baked in the sun  It makes for a remarkably smooth, dust-free (boo-hoo) surface. The only problem is the sun. On hot days, the oily gravel gets gooey; you can feel its stickiness on your tires, like you're riding through molasses. This particular gravel is unusual in that it has an unmistakable odour, a certain eau de tar. I'm not a fan of packed tarsands, any more than I am of those other Alberta tarsands. Perhaps one day the Europeans will lobby to boycott Alberta's real dirty oil.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Overnight Postcard: Joseph Lake

First, came the sand flies, clouds of the tiny bastards, rising up out of the grass to greet us as we began pitching camp. Then, only minutes later, a stray dog peed on my tent. Seriously. Centennial Park Campground on Lake Joseph, about 75 km southeast of Edmonton, “The Best Kept Secret in Leduc County” (or so says the sign), was not making a good first impression. Besides which, the designation “Lake’” seems a bit generous for what is really a slough, a shallow pond that can’t be at any point as deep as my bike is tall. But all that didn’t really matter. We’d escaped the frantic city that afternoon, our bikes packed with minimal camping gear, and soon enough we (that’s Val, Penn, me, and the sandflies) were watching a long, mellow orange sunset across the “lake,” glasses of whisky and cans of Pringles on the picnic table, the campfire crackling (and its smoke baffling the flies), with plans for new cycling adventures being hatched.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Dusty 100 Report

The second annual Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge took place on Saturday out by Victoria Settlement in Smoky Lake County. Five intrepid challengers assembled at the start line at 9 am under cloudy skies, with a light wind blowing from the southwest. After the traditional bugle call (which attracted some local wildlife), the party rolled out heading east from Metis Crossing, beginning the 107-km counter-clockwise gravel loop. The group vibe was downright giddy: it wasn’t raining and the gravel was (mostly) firm. The air was humming with the positive energy brought out by the fellowship of the wheel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dusty 100: Route Details

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge may turn out to be even more challengy than anticipated. The forecast is calling for some light rain on Saturday, so be prepared for some mud, rather than dust.

The event is a go, regardless of weather. My bugle is waterproof.

You can see a map of the route here:

GPX file is available here.

Cue sheets will be handed out at the start, 9 am. Until then, all ye brave gravel challengers!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge?

Why take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge on Saturday, May 28, out at Metis Crossing?

Because . . . you'll get to see this:

And this:

And quite possibly these:

Monday, May 16, 2016

50th Streets

One of the many pleasures of riding a bicycle in rural Alberta is visiting small towns, little villages, and dinky hamlets that I would almost certainly never pass through otherwise. Some of these are sad (Torrington), some are charming (Duchess), and some seem to barely exist at all (Rollyview?). In any event, I always get a small thrill rolling into a new place, no matter how miniscule, and getting the lay of the land, scoping out the main drag, locating all the usual small-town landmarks—the post office, the Chinese-Canadian restaurant, or the buildings that once housed such stalwarts.

One phenomenon I’ve noticed over my years of cycling to and through a lot of these rural communities is the curious street-numbering system found in a lot of them whereby the main street is called 50th  Street. Not Main Street or First Street but 50th Street. This has always struck me as odd. Why 50? The smaller the settlement, the sillier this method seems.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Self-Propelled Voyager

“You can ramble and roam more easily on a bicycle than by any other conveyance.”
--Winfred Garrison (1900)

I’m excited about this book. Duncan R. Jamieson’s The Self-Propelled Voyager: How the Cycle Revolutionized Travel (Rowan and Littlefield, 2015) is the first serious, book-length, historical study of cycle travel and its literature. Jamieson is an historian at Ashland University in Ohio, and he brings an academic thoroughness to this research project while managing to strike a completely accessible—and, at times, surprisingly personal—tone. The book’s aim is to trace the “rise and development of long-distance bicycle travel through the narratives of those who travelled.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge 2016

The second edition of The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge will place Saturday, May 28, 2016.

The start/finish is Metis Crossing, AB (2 hour drive northeast of Edmonton); park one km east of the campground entrance, by the monument.

9 am bugle call and roll out.

The route is a 107-km loop on quiet, picturesque GRAVEL roads that include the scenic Victoria Trail, the oldest continuously used road in Alberta.

Everyone is welcome: gravel lovers, the gravel-curious, and anyone up for a dusty adventure. But a ride like this isn't easy.

A few things to know:
  • This is not a race (though the fastest known time will be recorded)
    • No prizes will be awarded.
    • There's no entry fee or mandatory registration.
    • There's no check-out at the end.
  • This is not an organized ride or event. We're just some guys who have put an awesome challenge together.  We're telling you how you can challenge yourself in the same way.
    • The route is entirely on public roads.  They are mostly lonely rural range roads with low traffic,  but they are still roads. Be respectful of the rules of the road. 
    • Especially don't ride in the oncoming lane while going up hills, no matter how sweet the gravel on that side of the road is. Nobody used to blasting their way down empty backroads on the way to the farm will expect you there, and they won't be able to see you, either.
    • This is a Challenge directed at the solo bicyclist. It's about you, your bike, and a lot of crushed rock.  Anything more complicated than that misses the point.
    • Have a plan to get home if your bike, your body, or your mind breaks down. There's no sag wagon or follow car.
    • Bring (at the very least) a multi-tool, patches, pump, and an extra tube. You're a long way from any bike shop or friendly mechanic out there.
    • Following the Code of the West, riders can help each other with unexpected mechanical support if they both want.  
    • This is just for fun. Always stop to render medical aid if you see someone having a problem.
    • Riders may not plan on sharing gear. (That is, three guys carrying one pump or one guy carrying his buddy's rain gear.) 
    • Riders may not cache gear or supplies or food or water along the course ahead of time. 
    • Getting any kind of help from any non-rider undermines spirit of the Challenge and is therefore not allowed. 
  • Riders will be given the opportunity to download a cue sheet and a .gpx file of the course--that's all. 
    • You're responsible for familiarizing yourself with the course ahead of time and for all route-finding on the road.
    • There will be no route markers, turn indicators, or signage of any kind on the course. 
    • Not traveling the entire course, taking short cuts, or deviating from the listed route undermines spirit of the Challenge and is therefore not allowed.  
  • There is an exceptionally lovely Petro Can and a restaurant in Waskatenau at the midway point. THAT'S THE ONLY SUPPLY POINT.
    • Watch the weather. This is an unusually hot year. Make sure you have enough water and food to get you where you need to be. 
  • Almost any kind of bike (cyclo-cross, touring, mountain, fat) will work, but tires 33 mm or wider are strongly recommended. 40 mm tires are even better if you can fit them.
    • And did we mention that it will be dusty?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Frozen Pigeon

Although winter feels long gone from the city, out at Pigeon Lake, where my family spent Easter Sunday, it still feels very much like winter, at least out on the actual lake. My son Max and I brought our bikes, thinking we'd explore some gravel roads around Mulhurst, the little village on the northeast corner of the lake.

But when we arrived at our friends' cottage, we realized that the lake was still totally frozen. Folks were out ice fishing, walking about, quadding, and generally cavorting on the ice. Our riding plans quickly changed. It's not every day that you get a chance to cycle on a frozen lake.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Shitty Sekine

I park beside this crappy bike almost every work day. I have no idea who owns it. But I have grown quite fond of it. 

For one thing, it’s a Sekine (pronunciation: rhymes with "zucchini"), which gives it instant street cred. Although I remember seeing Sekine ten speeds in my youth, I didn't know the Sekine story until one of my Manitoba relations explained that Sekine bikes were made in the tiny town of Rivers, Manitoba, northwest of Brandon in the 1970s and early ‘80s. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Winter Fuel: Little Brick

 All rides should involve coffee. Before, after, during—doesn’t matter. Coffee just needs to be somewhere on the agenda of any civilized bike ride. It’s part of the Code of the Semi-serious Cyclist.

And in winter, this rule can be extended: All cold-weather rides should also include sustenance, some fortifying foodstuff, whether it be a hearty snack or a full-on hot meal. Winter rides call for something substantial to stoke the engine and boost the blood sugar before heading out to face the chilly wind. I’m talking about winter fuel--steel-cut oatmeal or Irish stew or cheese fondue—the kind of cockle-warming fare worthy of a wintry effort.

To that end, I’m introducing an occasional series on some of the Dusty Musette’s favorite winter pit stops, places worthy of a refuelling stop on winter bike rides. And to kick this off, I’ll start with Little Brick Café and General Store, the latest piece in local coffee guru Nate Box’s suite of hip Edmonton cafes. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Miles from Nowhere

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Bikecentennial, America’s great participatory cross-country ride in 1976, which signalled a moment of great optimism for bike touring in America. Bikecentennial’s legacy includes the formation of the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, MT, not to mention countless golden memories for a generation of Boomer cyclists.

In honor of Bikecentennial’s 40th, I recently re-visited Barbara Savage’s round-the-world-bicycle-adventure book Miles from Nowhere (1983), which tells the story of husband-and-wife team Barbara and Larry Savage setting out from their California home in 1978 and venturing through 25 countries and across 23 000 miles over a two-year-plus journey.

Now, the Savages journey wasn’t technically a Bikecentennial project, and, in fact, the book makes no mention of Bikecentennial (though there is reference to an inspirational slideshow by another couple who had recently cycled across the United States, possibly as part of BC). But it seems to me that, consciously or unconsciously, the trip is inextricably linked with the BC zeitgeist, which lingered over American cycling for many years after the bicentennial. The Savages embody the plucky, can-do, hit-the-road ethos of Bikecentennial, with their twin goals of operating as frugally as possible and seeing as much of the world as they can on their bikes. (They were no credit-card bike-tourists; their commitment to camping cheap, even amid dire circumstances, is commendable.) In my view, Miles from Nowhere is an embodiment Bikecentennialism.

Friday, January 29, 2016

McLaren Mudpuppies

The third-hole "green" at McLaren's challenging golf course. 
McLaren Regional Park, in southwestern Saskatchewan, about 100 km northeast of Medicine Hat, is my kind of place: quiet, mostly forgotten, a bit rough around the edges but recently loved and emanating some positive 1970s vibes. The day we pulled in there last June, near the end of our Rural Alberta Adventure (okay, so it wasn't purely Albertan), the place was empty, not a single other camper in sight (or on sites, for that matter). Right away, I had a good feeling about McLaren Lake.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Whitemud Creek Jaunt

Winter fat-biking in the city—even a city with a great river valley trail system like Edmonton’s—can sometimes feel, well, a little ho-hum. How many times can you ride the same small network of trails before it all starts to feel a little Groundhog Day-ish? Sure, there’s always the option to load the bikes on the car and head to the country roads and trails, but that requires time and planning; sometimes—most of the time, really—a semi-serious cyclist just wants to walk out to the garage, hop on a bike, and go.

Fortunately, a few weeks back, the Dusty Musette crew discovered a new urban option that’s got us excited: creek riding. The idea came to me while dropping my son off at the Snow Valley ski hill. As I drove over the bridge spanning the Whitemud Creek below the freeway, I noticed DIY cross-country ski tracks on the little frozen creek and thought to myself, hey, if it works for skiing, why wouldn’t it work for fat-biking? So Val, Penn, and I arranged an expedition up the Whitemud Creek one sunny afternoon, starting where the creek spills into the North Saskatchewan. We didn’t know how far we’d get or how many soakers we’d come home with, but we were keen to explore new territory in our backyards.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


Genuine discovery is possible in the nearby unknown.
                                              --Robert L. McCullough

Does being on a bicycle affect how one sees the landscape? That’s one of the big questions posed by Robert L. McCullough in his fascinating new book Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land (MIT Press, 2015). McCullough, a landscape historian at the University of Vermont, looks at the influences of bicycles on the land and how the bicycle changed how people thought about landscape between about 1880 and 1910 in the northeastern United States. And his answer to that question above is yes, at least for some.