Friday, 5 June 2015

If you've never been a climber, can it start today?

I will admit that I have a BMI which does not match with Contador.  Not even in the same universe.  And by no means would I ever compare myself to any elite rider who can ride a bike for a living, or even race at an amateur level for that matter.  I just want to make the point that there is no way in hell that I could ever climb like a climber.  I am just under 5'10" and I carry more weight than I should - I think of myself as stout with big quads.  Therefore, my power to weight ratio is a "challenge."  Even if my legs are full of power, they are never going to be strong enough to haul this fat ass up a hill with any great speed.  On the other hand, flat roads or downhills are pretty good for me.  But if the grade goes above 3-4%, my speed drops tremendously.

I think everyone who rides wants to get better and faster if they enjoy road riding.  Whether they want their top speed on the flats to rise, their descending skills to improve, or to be able to keep up to their group on moderate climbs.  Nothing difficult comes easy, right?  I'm not scared of hard work and I realize the only way to get better at climbing is to do it, over and over.  In addition, losing a few pounds and strengthening my cardiovascular system should help right?  Here's the problem ... I really do believe that some people are just not meant to be climbers.  I have been riding a lot over the last 6 years and forever before that.  Climbing still sucks.  I love the torture of it and the challenge, but the results seem to be out of reach!

I'm at the point now where I have to do one of two things.  Either, I need to hire a coach and nutritionist to point me in a new direction (unlikely).  Or, I need to accept the fact that I'm the guy who will pull the group in the wind on the flats until the climb starts, and then fade off into the sunset as they leisurely pull away from me up the hill.  If I can at least keep a decent pace up the hill, maybe my fat ass will help me descend back close to the group before they hit the next climb.  Maybe this is a defeatist attitude, but I see no actual value in deluding myself.

I tried to lighten my bike to help with the hills.  Yeah I know ... "it will never turn you into a climber."  However, I enjoyed spending money on light weight components and making my bike look great.  At 15 lbs, it isn't the lightest, but it's pretty light.  In fact, I'm sure there are thousands of people who have done exactly the same thing as me, and have similar results.  In fact, I see every group ride why this is false hope brought on by the marketing geniuses of the bike industry.  There are riders in my group who are over 6 feet tall, weigh less than me, have bikes that are double the weight of mine (one even has a single speed bike), and they are MUCH faster climbers than I.  I also believe that they are all younger than me too, but that has nothing to do with it though, because I refuse to age.  Just ask my wife about the childish behaviors I exhibit most of the time.  

In the end, I don't take cycling too seriously.  I love riding.  I even love climbing.  But really, I love the bikes, the tech, the group riding, the gran fondos, working on my bikes, and wearing tight clothing that makes me look fast (fat?) when I'm standing still.  I also really enjoy supporting charities through cycling events that raise funds.

Just remember, if I pass you on the road with a serious look on my face, it's only because I know you will kick my ass on the next climb.

Hope everyone is having a great riding season here in the northern hemisphere.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The cycling social life

Part of what makes life interesting is sharing your experiences with those around you that can appreciate your stories.  That's why we build cultures that attract like minds.  However, it isn't always that easy, especially with new social media taking the place of actual social spots.  The pubs and social drinking holes are still busy ... because of alcohol?  But how about hobby and sports clubs that require you to actually get out of your house and drive or ride to a club or meeting place to sit around and shoot the shit about something you love.  I think it's pretty rare nowadays.  I have also seen people melding their interests with giving back.  I don't mind being a poster board for a good cause! Once again, cyclists prove to be innovative, creative, and responsible.

I am intrigued and impressed by social clubs that build the love of cycling and the outdoors in general.  A recent and great example is Rodeo Adventure Labs ( Not only do these  guys keep an active social media presence, but they have a web store for products, group rides that sound inviting, and they even design and create bikes.  Founded in 2014, this group is about racing, riding, and everything cycling.  If you know of them, you know what I'm talking about.  If you don't know of them, then you should check them out.  It is a model for the new social club. Their specially designed kits are produced by Castelli and carry with them a unique flavor of design and individuality.  The latest design came in 5 varieties to capture each rider's own flavor of riding style.  I was about one click away from ordering the "Trail Donkey" kit when my wallet guardian (ie. my wife) told me the last thing I need is a another cycling jersey (she's wrong by the way).  I would like to give these guys a huge thumbs up for doing something that is positive and creative and focused on cycling!!  Not to mention, I think their marketing genius is very apparent. They have built a brand that is awesome ... recognizable, cohesive, and fresh.

Rodeo Adventure Labs Kit 2.0

Another recent discovery of mine which merges cycling and social interaction / responsibility in a super positive way is The Rescue Project (  Namrita Kumar is a cyclist and obviously an animal lover, and she started the project in 2013.  This organization retails Castelli kits and accessories where the proceeds are sent to a local animal shelter of your choice.  The designs are done by Straydog Branding out of Vancoucer in BC - cool looking kits that deserve support.  Since I love cycling, Castelli and animals in general ... my wallet will be forced to shell out for this one when the next design comes out.  Again, a huge shout out to The Rescue Project for making a difference and doing it through something we love.

The Rescue Project
I've said from the beginning of this blog that my goal is to spew my ramblings about cycling, but ultimately, I hope to find an avenue in the world of cycling that will allow me to move from one career to the next.  The current career took a lot of schooling to get to, and hence, it is hard to walk away from to venture into the unknown.  However, the introspective me knows that the passion is still fueled by fresh air, two wheels and caffeine.  I have friends and colleagues that ride, even more than me, but they love it for the exercise more than the entire lifestyle of the bike culture.  I could sit and watch bike racing for hours after riding for hours.  I could tinker with my bikes and talk about new parts all day.  I would love nothing more than to buy a travel frame, fly to somewhere warmer and see that  new place on two wheels.

I hope everyone is having a great rides or dreaming about spring time when the roads and trails are clear depending on your location.

Monday, 26 January 2015


Watching the Tour Down Under is one of the most exciting races of the year and it keeps getting better!

One of the most compelling and obvious reasons to watch the race is because it's the first of the new season.  We get a glimpse into the new teams, kits, and riders who will be fighting it out for each squad.  Australia didn't have many of the superstars on display, but there were several key riders who look like they are going to be great this year.  Rohan Dennis looked strong and very capable for BMC, hence the first overall place.  Dumoulin looked like he is going to be a star this year.  If he gets the team support for some of the big races, he could be a fantastic all around rider.  Of course, he may be overshadowed by the sprinter Marcel Kittel who may have usurped Cavendish as the world's fastest man ... and his hair is definitely superstar quality.  Impey, Pozzovivo, and Porte looked very competitive.  The best kit award goes to ... Team Cannondale - Garmin.  They looked sharp with the green argyle and POC accessories.

Ryder - looks fast.   Source: Cannondale - Garmin website

The TDU takes place in a great location with some decent climbs and some strong winds to test the riders.  It was a fast race which made for some exciting action, and a few scabs along the way.  The television coverage was fantastic, the background information about south Australia was really well done, and the geography makes me want to visit as soon as possible. 

The Saxo Team is going to be tough this year, and it's main rival will be the Sky Team.  There are so many strong riders on these two teams.  Movistar will be good too, but I won't predict too many big wins unless there is an upset in the major tour races this year as Quintana is a climbing machine. Cannondale Garmin will look good, but not to many wins this year.  Although I do have high hopes for Talansky and Martin, and Ryder is always my favorite for his laid back attitude and nationality reasons.

I want to head down under now more than ever!  Happy Australia Day!  

Monday, 5 January 2015

Western Colorado mountain biking - blue skies and blizzards

Every other year it's the time to head to Colorado for Christmas with the in-laws.  There are a few great things about this biannual trip, primary of course is visiting family.  A close second is the nearly hundred percent chance that I will get to ride a bike outdoors for a week or so.

This year, the temperature in western Colorado was not as warm as most  years, but  it was still much warmer than in Canada.  I had to wear the full gear from gloves to tights to a skull cap, but it was still so much better than the trainer!!

My favorite shop in Grand Junction is The Bike Shop on North Ave.  The guys there are not young punks, but they are young at heart and have a ton of experience.  I usually ride on the road there because I miss the miles during the winter.  However, with it being so cold, I decided to forego the skinny tires and demo a mountain bike. 

This turned out to be a great decision for 2 reasons.  First, the temperature was cold enough that a road ride would have caused significant shrinkage due to cold ambient temperature and wind resistance.  Secondly, I demo'd a Niner Jet 9 Carbon which was surprisingly awesome.

Day1. Beautiful day, beautiful bike, smiles.

I was lucky to get a beautiful day on the Redlands, a reddish colored area of mesa type dunes covered in trails of all sorts.  I'm not a crazy downhiller or jumper or technical junky; I like to ride XC, climb, and collect views as I go.  The skies were a perfect blue and I only saw two other people on my trail that day ... very peaceful.  The second day of riding was a little different ... it started cold and cloudy, and soon became a snow storm with poor visibility. So snowy in fact, that a pair of ski goggles would have been perfect.  That said, the trail was in great shape and offered great views even in the snow storm (not so much for my camera though).

Day 2. Blizzard, smiles on the inside.

The Jet 9 was also a highlight.  After the theft of my Ibis Mojo, which I haven't been able to replace yet, it was fun to ride something new. The Jet 9 was spec'd with SRAM components, Stans NoTubes rims, and a carbon bar - a few things which I have wanted to try first hand.  I believe the handling of this 29er was superb.  Anything from switchbacks to narrow balance sections to fast downhill sweepers - it performed flawlessly.  I'm not sure how much the 29" wheels had to with it versus the frame design, etc, but it was much better than my old Mojo.  It was even the same obnoxious orange color that the old Mojo, but just a little nicer with the shiny paint appearance.

The other thing I noted about riding in Colorado, was that the locals idea of challenging for mountain bike trails is different than here in Alberta (at least where I ride).  The shop guy said "try the kids practice trail first, if that's OK then you should be good anywhere in that area."  Glad I did try that first.  The "kids" trail required balance riding on cliff edge trails, narrow rock bridges over gullies, and climbing up slick rock steps around blind corners.  At home, that would have freaked most of us out.  I belong on the road, but I still have fun scaring myself once in a while - keeps me feeling alive.

If you have a chance to ride western Colorado, stop by The Bike Shop, and see the Redlands before going to the Kokopelli trail.  Awesome times.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Time to switch to two skis instead of two wheels.

The snow here has reached about 2 feet on the ground.  Since I don't own a fat bike (previous blog), I have no way of riding anymore except for my trainer (another previous blog).  Therefore, I must now focus my energy on my second favorite past time, skiing.

I'm not really picky either.  I love to ski traditionally on XC skis, skate ski, and throw myself down double black diamonds in waist deep powder as well.  I've been watching some ski films recently on Netflix to get me in the downhill mood, and it's working.  However, I'm understanding more now than ever that some of these new school skiers are crazy.

WTF?  Maybe when I'm 85?  Source unknown

I know I'm getting older, and skiing down the chutes at places like Kicking Horse Resort is not that hard for many skiers, but I really do want to see my kids graduate college!  When I see the Red Bull athletes fly off of a 70 foot cliff with a front flip, all I can think is that this might be the dumbest thing I've ever seen.  Yes, they are trained and extremely prepared, but accidents happen ... all of the time, and leave these guys in a wheel chair eating through a straw.  I feel bad for them because they have so much life ahead of them and they don't realize it OR the marijuana is temporarily clouding their judgement and the munchies are making them get to the bottom faster.

So this winter, I plan on:
  1. Skiing inbounds all year
  2. Teaching my kids how to put the "pizza" away and use the "french fries" full time
  3. Not showing off for any of my ski buddies (almost blew out my knee last year because of that)
  4. Spending more time in the hot tub apres-ski
  5. Watching the weather reports and picking more deep days
  6. More XC skiing to build more fitness and not collect too much winter insulation.
I hate to admit that I'm getting older, but the truth hurts.  And, as I say to all of my patients who complain about their age: "getting older is still better than the alternative!"  So I may not be able to ski bumps all day or huck the cliffs that I used to; partly because my knees say no, partly because I don't want to miss the cycling season, and mostly because my brain knows better.  With age comes wisdom and being more boring.  I accept my boringness, reluctantly.  My wife appreciates it.  My kids think their dad is smart (thank you offspring for that vote of confidence).

Cross country skiing on the other hand is very safe and excellent for your fitness.  I will attest to that after my first nordic ski two days ago which nearly killed me (maybe it's not so safe?).  I decided to head to some nice groomed trails on one of the local golf courses.  It's a pretty flat course.  The sun was shining and the temperature was about -8 deg C (chilly with the wind that was blowing).  I felt a little cold, so I decided to start with a quick pace to warm up.  I thought that with my cycling season ending so well with some big climbs that didn't kill me and a generally active lifestyle, the body would easily respond. WHAM!  I hit a wall so fast and felt like death had quickly sucked the life out of me.  My fitness level may have been OK for cycling, but XC skiing is totally different!  Yes, I knew it, but I had conveniently forgotten this over the year.  I guess I forgot about my upper body fitness altogether during the summer. 


I challenge anybody who thinks XC skiing is for wussies to go give it a try - and I'm not talking about walking around with skis on in deep snow with the poles dragging behind you.  XC skiing is an amazing workout and it's a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the cold but sunny skies.  Nothing is more graceful and better for your fitness that skate skiing for an hour on a beautifully groomed trail. 

There's a local mountain bike / cyclocross racer who flies around one of the circuits here in the winter time on his skate skis.  He makes it look effortless, while I make it look more like a whale on the beach trying to push myself along with floppy pectoral fins.  And the worst part is when you start to tire out. Then the fast slippery skis and the tired body don't communicate as well for balance.  This usually leads to face plants and generally embarrassing situations where you can't get up.  Thankfully, it's that not popular of a sport yet so it's usually the birds laughing at me, or the bike racer.

We must embrace the winter if we live in a snowy climate.  If you don't XC ski, I highly suggest you try skate skiing (provided you have snow and limited self respect for the first few times).  Packages are available for very reasonable amounts and there are no lift tickets to pay for.  Also, an added benefit for the cyclist-turned-XC skier, you can use most of the same clothing.  Tight fitting clothing that makes you look fast even when you're standing still (or just a dork wearing tight clothes).   Helmets are probably not necessary.  Get out there!!

On a side note, still no suggestions for where I should move so I can sell my ski equipment on ebay or trade it for a surfboard.  Let me know.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

How do you people survive the trainer?

Living in an inhospitable place like northern Canada in the winter means that the trainer becomes your only option when you want to continue using your cycling legs.  In lots of places, the weather is bad and you might have to ride the trainer for a few weeks, and then you can return to outdoor riding even if its a bit cold.  Here, you might have to ride it for several months!

I've tried the videos, watched movies, pedaling next to a friend; all with the same result.  It sucks. I've found that spin classes are the best way to ride a bike indoors because the instructors are usually upbeat and motivated to make everyone have a good sweat.  But riding my bike is about so much more than just the exercise.  It's about the scenery, the fresh air, the rush of descending hills, and the hard climbs.  In a spin class, its about sweating your ass off and getting a good workout for 60 minutes.  Then you have to get in a freeeeeezing cold car and slide home.

When it comes to commitment and riding a trainer I just don't have it.  I recently read Phil Gaimon's book, Procycling on $10 a day, and marveled at the commitment the pros have to riding so much for 11 of the 12 months on the calender, including 4 or 5 hours on a trainer.  That would kill me or I would go insane.  I also know a guy who trained indoors for the Ironman in Hawaii.  He had to train for the bike portion on a trainer all winter, and his training had to be done starting at 4:00 am in the morning.  To prepare for a 112 mile bike ride at race pace that means he had to ride 3-4 hours in the cold dark basement of his house several days a week.  He also had to find time to swim and run (on a treadmill or an indoor track) to train for the 2.4 mile swim and the 26.2 mile run.  I admire it, but I also think it borders on crazy ... no offence.

Which brings me to my most recent revelation.  I need to move somewhere else.  I have been in the great white north for most of my 40 years.  But I've also had the chance to live in several of the southern states during the internship portion of graduate school, and visit many other locations around the world. I've always said that the really nice places are packed full of people for a reason, and Canada is empty because it's f@#*~%g frigid.  Don't get me wrong, I love my country and all of the wonderful things here; but, if we ever get a chance to annex some small territory that's much warmer, I'll move faster than Mark Cavendish can sprint.

I hate the trainer and love to be outdoors.  I would ride my bike 12 months of the year if I could. Yes, I know there are lots of other things to enjoy like XC and downhill skiing, windsurfing, fly fishing, etc.  However, I think I can find the perfect spot where I can do both almost all year round. If I do, I'm confident that my family will follow me, and be grateful that we don't have to wear parkas, snow boots, long underwear, gloves, hats and snow pants for half of the year.  No more snow tires, frozen windshield wipers, or shoveling snow.  And don't misunderstand me here, this isn't a grass is always greener scenario.  It is truly inhospitable when you can literally freeze your fingers, toes, or nose walking to the corner store to get milk.  It is unbearable when you have regular snow storms similar to the one experienced by Buffalo (we're just better prepared because it's normal).  It is not fun to freeze your ass off between November and April.

I think I would love going to the cold mountains to ski, but then enjoy going back to the temperate city to do everything else.  I'm going to need help with this.  I need anybody out there to send me your suggestions of where to live.  I promise it's between you and I in case you think everyone will follow me and ruin this great hidden gem.  Here are the requirements: weather to bike in year round, mountains to ski at, opening for a job - unfortunately, affordable cost of living, low crime rate, and some clean lakes and rivers nearby.  Easy, right?  Send me your ideas, please!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Kamloops - great city for riding bikes and drinking coffee

I have no intention of racing bikes at my age unless there is a bear chasing me or I join an over 35 club that has races to see who can get to the beer first.  However, that doesn't mean that I don't want to become a better cyclist all around and that includes climbing hills.  The city I live in is really very flat.  There are a few good hills that we use for climbing, but it usually becomes climbing intervals. The hills are small enough that the best climbers in the city are done in under 1 minute.  Intervals are great for climbing, but nothing compares to the actual hour long climbs up steep slopes where there is no real recovery.  Perhaps physiologically there may be some argument that there is little difference, but actually riding up a mountain or huge canyon climbs, certainly test your mental state differently.  When I ride interval hills, I know the top is coming and it spurs me on just to finish the interval, but when I can't see around the corner and the endless uphill, it tests the concentration much more.

I think of this today because I returned from a recent trip to Kamloops.  It's a city located in the heart of British Columbia.  Mild winters and hot summers.  Lakes, rivers, gorgeous views, small town feel with almost everything you could want in a city (except for the pulp mill which stinks a bit).  In fact, there are so many hills that I thought this would be great for my legs, but not so good for my carbon wheels and brake pads.  I would either buy a set of aluminum clinchers or get a disc version of a bike for all of the long hard breaking.

It is an outdoors city that has a massive expanse of hills surrounding and protruding from within it. There is no shortage of hills to climb on quiet roads that would give you 2000-3000 feet of vertical to climb all over the place with gradients from nearly flat to 12% (or more).  Not to mention, there is plenty of straight flatter roads for time trialing in the valley and mountain biking everywhere for every level.  It really could be a bike haven for athletes training for cycling of any discipline or multi-sports.

If you want a great city for cycling, head to Kamloops, and there are plenty of good coffee shops throughout the city.  I didn't make it to many of the bike shops in town, but I've read really good reviews on a few of them including Spoke 'N Motion.  And don't forget about the bike ranch ... how many cities have that?

And, if you like to put the boards on in the winter and ski, pretty easy to get to world class powder at Sun Peaks just 45 minutes away!