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!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Cape Epic - the craziest thing on Earth.

Riding a long way on a bike is tough if you want to do it fast.  You have to have endurance and strength - physically and mentally.  In a road bike race, there is lots of drafting to save energy and "coast" in the pack.  Climbing becomes a different story of course - drafting is of limited value to save a lot of energy.  Riding a mountain bike on rough terrain for hours is extra exhausting because the terrain puts harsh requirements on your body, and the drafting benefit is reduced.  Climbing hills on a mountain bike for hours at a time means it is all up to you with no real help from others.  You must stay with the stronger climbers just to get the draft on the downhills and flats if possible.

Cape Epic 2015 is about 50,000 feet of climbing in 700+ kilometers of length!!!

Watch the promo video:

I can't say that I have conquered any epic climbs in my cycling days yet, but I know that 50,000 feet in 8 days will not be on my agenda anytime soon.  I'm totally sane, and I am not in that good of shape (nor will I ever be).  I will blame that on my genetics.  Thanks mom and dad for making me the way I am and not allowing me to subject myself to anything that crazy.

For me, crazy starts to get real when my road rides get longer than 120 kilometers.  They are long enough for challenge and exercise, but my ass still feels like it is connected to my body and my man parts remain in commission for normal activities.  At about 140 kilometers or more, things start to really go numb or hurt.  Especially if we are trying to ride a fast pace.  What's funny is that a 40 km mountain bike ride is about the same as a 120 km road ride.  The thought of almost climbing up Everest twice on a bike in 8 days over 700+ km is unthinkable.

That being said, I admire these athletes so much.  Take the distance, the technicality, the climbing, the dust, and the risk of being eaten by lions - and you have a true challenge.  These are the best of the best in my mind.  Ride for 5 hours over a rough trail that ascends and descends a mountain or two and then go sleep in a tent on the ground.  No fancy buses or hotel rooms.  Just get in your sleeping bag and hope that the poisonous things are happier outside and that the carnivores were able to catch something earlier in the day.  Relaxing....  Do that 7 more times!  The prize for finishing should be knighthood, and if you win, maybe a small country just for you with servants and other fine things. Endurance athletes have different DNA than I do.  I am in awe of their talents, but not jealous.  Jealousy would imply that I want to be in their place.

I believe the closest I would ever get to Cape Epic is to take pictures to document the insanity.  (Call me Jared & Ashley Gruber - you are the best!  I'm sure you wish you had a third person to follow you guys around all the time.)

If you are not familiar with the race, the riders who lose their racing partners have to wear the Outcast Jersey if they wish to continue.  Maybe they should let them wear a normal jersey, but just strap a rotting piece of carrion on their back and send them out again.  It would make for a highly motivated faster ride and maybe better TV ratings?

The other detail I noticed when watching the footage on the internet of the last few races is the crazy helicopter pilots.  From the camera on the ground, it looked like the pilot was trying to give haircuts to some of the leading riders.  I guess the laws for flying low over people on the ground might be a little more relaxed in Africa?

Do yourself a favor.  Look up this race if you haven't heard of it and watch some of the coverage.  It will make your life seem easier, and the race you have coming up will seem that much more manageable.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Sunglasses and lens options - I actually know something about this.

I love cycling, bicycles, racing, and all that related stuff.  I have worked in a bike shop selling and counselling customers on bike choices.  I have gotten my hands dirty fixing my bikes and my friend's bikes.  However, there are lots of people out there who know a lot more about cycling than I do.  My background in eye care does give me a bit more information than some when it comes to (there are still others out there who know more than me ...).

I thought I might pass on my experience and knowledge in case anyone wants to hear my opinions on this topic.

First off, lens choice is very subjective thing.  What one person prefers as their lens of choice is not what another person would choose.  I have met people who wear one lens color for everything, and some who choose a different lens for every light condition and every activity.

In general, the most important advice is to protect your eyes from UV light.  UV is what ends up causing cataracts for most of us at some point in our lives.  As you're sitting out there on the bike for hours on a sunny (or cloudy) day the UV light is getting absorbed by your lenses (inside your eye) if your sunglasses aren't blocking it from getting there.  Luckily, most cyclists wear sun protection already.  Make sure they block 100% UV.  

Lens options come in all sorts of varieties.  This can include the lens color, lens coatings, polarization, and photochromics.  

Lens color facts / opinions:
  • Grey preserves the most color perception and blocks out the most light.  However, it is a neutral filter which means that it doesn't allow the most contrast.  It is best suited for bright days that just need the brightness turned down.  
  • Brown tints can block out a fair amount of brightness, but they are great at retaining contrast in cloudy conditions (provided that the overall light level isn't too low).  Green lenses tend to be similar to brown lenses in performance.
  • Orange lenses are great for ski conditions - generally cloudy with a high need for contrast awareness on a white/grey background, not the best for cycling.
  • Yellow lenses are the best for low light conditions like dawn or dusk.  They can even help at night time for some people because they allow light in a wavelength that approaches our peak sensitivity of 555 nm (think yellow-green, Cannondale-ish).  This means that nearly all of the light passing through the lens is at our peak sensitivity; hence, we see better.
  • Clear lenses are good for night riding and gloomy or rainy days if you don't like tints.  They protect your eyes from UV and bugs, but don't affect your perception too much.

By lens coatings, I am referring to mirror and other coatings on the lenses.  This would include coatings like Iridium from Oakley.  These are filters / mirrors that reflect certain wavelengths of light to help the eyes get "better" light (and also produce a certain look to the product).  A common mirror appears blue because it is blocking the blue wavelength.  Does it make a huge difference?  Not really sure, but they do look cool.

Polarization is important to the cyclist because it is great for blocking reflected light off of the wet roads.  It also blocks reflected light off of cars windows, snow, lakes / rivers, etc.  It is usually more comfortable to wear, but it does take some getting used to because it also makes certain displays and windows (with their coatings) look odd. 

Photochromics are lenses that get darker in brighter lights (and in colder conditions).  These are nice if you want one lens that changes for your conditions without you having to actually change the lens itself.  I think they are great for cycling sunglasses, but they do not make a huge difference to actual lens shade (ie, pink lens to dark pink lens - as witnessed in my Rudy Project "racing red" pair).

I am a fan of companies that make good frames and have great lenses; especially with multiple lenses that can be easily switched out for based on the conditions.  Some brands / models come with several lenses. Rudy Project is great for this (I am surprised they aren't more popular). The Rudy fit is good, the nose pads are adjustable in most cases, and the temples are adjustable.

Rudy Project Noyz - optional lenses available

Smith Optics has a few pairs that also come with the interchangeable lenses - the Pivlok V2 is a great system, I wish they included a yellow or clear lens with each pair.

Smith Pivlock Overdrive - green mirrored lens, grey and brown lens included.

I have no first hand knowledge with many of the other brands, but I have worn Oakley a fair amount - not my favorite anymore, but good.  Maui Jim makes awesome lenses, but they lack the sport models that most cyclists would desire. 

The bottom line: get something that fits well, blocks out UV, and has multiple lenses that change out for the right light conditions, or buy a bunch of pairs with different lenses and keep the local eye care businesses afloat.  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Love for the bike people.

I think cycling and the world of bicycles contains a whole lot of interesting people; disproportionately so.  I come from the world of health care, where most people don't seem to be that creative or take the time to look outside of their own specialized world.  I know these are generalizations that should not be applied unfairly, but I am amazed each day when I read the cycling blogs written by professionals and amateurs alike.  Red Kite Prayer (RKP) is one of my favorites ... Padraig is a real gem of a writer and a professional; not to mention some of the other writers that write for RKP.  I am also keen to read things by Gary Fisher, hear about Tom Ritchey's exploits, or thoughts by Ben Serotta.

All of these people are famous in the world of cycling for a reason.  They are pioneers and passionate about the two wheel world, much like me.  I don't plan on being famous in the world of cycling, but I certainly enjoy writing and reading more about cycling and bicycles than most other subjects.  These famous bike people are either successful athletes turned business people or craftsmen turned athletes or some combination of the two.  The are a form of the modern renaissance person that has many talents.

In retrospect, I should have been a mechanical engineer.  It would have been more useful for being in the bike world and designing frames or components.  Although I am convinced that a job is just a job. I don't care if you are a carpenter, nurse, social worker, or doctor ... your days are very much the same one day to the next.  And as such, maybe if I was a bike engineer, I may have lost interest in it?  No ... probably not.

I am also impressed by the various creative individuals in the world of cycling that have funneled their passions to make a living based on their true love.  I think some of the smaller apparel companies are pretty impressive.  I like companies that focus their creativity to be different, but remain true to functionality and form (based on actually cycling experience?).  Stand outs for me include:

Handlebar Mustache

Twin Six


Rodeo Adventure Labs

Tenspeed Hero

Some of the current or past pro riders are also extremely interesting personalities.  As an example, consider Phil Gaimon - writer of books, racer of bicycles, and comedian of all sorts.  Evelyn Stevens - a wall street analyst who just decided to become a world class cyclist.  Michael Barry - a rare Canadian world tour rider who not only survived as a pro cyclist for a long time, but is also a fantastic writer (I hope he throws me a mini-blog post some day).  There are many others.  I am referring more to the current riders than the past.  The past is full of characters; both good and bad.  I think we need to bring back the "great" nicknames in full force.  "The Badger," "the Sheriff", or "the Cannibal," sound so much more descriptive and menacing than "El Pistolero" or "the Cowboy."  If Lance was called "the Boss," then that may very well be perfect.  By "boss" do we mean leader of the team / peleton or power thug? (

Creativity is the stuff that makes us move forward to invent, improve and instruct.  Most of us have some form of creative outlet that allows that part of our brain to express itself.  Some of us have made a living on it, and some just produce "art" of many forms just for our own good.  It's so cool to see the eclectic mix of personalities that build bikes, race bikes or just plain ride bikes.

I think the universal passion that people share about bikes is a little crazy and a lot cool.  How many non-bike people think its completely nuts to spend thousands on a bike?  Most.  How many people have friends that don't ride a bike that give you the weirdest look when you say you rode 100+ kilometers yesterday?  Most.  However, we all understand each other.  That's cool.  I'm glad I belong to a group that understands my spending and rides their bikes for hundreds of kilometers.

I love bike people: they are creative, tough, and adventurous.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Fat bike: Fad or Future?

Living in a cold and snowy climate, I can see the appeal of a bicycle that can plow through snow and keep us bike lovers active.  It is a source of depression for many of us when the snow comes and we have to hang up our bikes for 6 months.

I used to make my own studded tired before you could readily get your hands on them.  I would put them on my Fisher AL-1 (before it was Gary Fisher), and I would proceed to ride in the snow that wasn't too deep, but mainly on icy roads and sidewalks that had been cleared.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn't very much fun, the studded tires we made were crap, and sometimes it is just too cold to ride a bike here in Canada.

I will admit that the days when it isn't too cold and the sun is shining, I do feel a bit sad that there is no two wheel option for exercise.  I enjoy spinning on a trainer or going to a spin class, but one of the main reasons we like to ride is to be outside and enjoy nature.

Here in North America, outside of California, we have pretty good air quality (relatively speaking). All the more reason to stay out of our cars and ride our bikes, even in the winter when it is snowy and cold.  I met a guy who tried to ride year round last winter; he was definitely determined.  Now keep in mind, it can be as low as -40 deg C here and the snow can easily get to a foot deep over night.  He told me that one day it took him 3 hours to get to work because of deep snow ... his wife picked him up after work.  I bet everyone wishes they had a boss who understood that you are 3 hours late for work because you rode your bike in the fallout of a blizzard.

SO, if you want to ride mainly for fitness and fun and commuting when the weather permits, then I would definitely see the value in buying a fat bike for winter riding.  In fact, as many bike nuts are aware, the N+1 rule for how many bikes we should have is certainly applicable here.  My goal is to slowly build a garage full of bikes (without my wife noticing) that fills each of the different categories that are needed.  Perhaps, the fat bike will be next.

Now which fat bike?  I am not a rich man, not at least in the monetary sense.  So I may not call up Ericksen and order this beauty:

Ericksen Fatbike - Can you see me drooling?

I think a more price conscience model may be in my future.  Perhaps, I will go to one of the Surly models like the Moonlander. Capable and less than half the price of the highest end fat bikes.

Surly Moonlander - craters would be easy to ride over. 

Another bike I would consider is the Ritchey Commando for no reason other than my greater respect for Tom Ritchey after watching a documentary about Team Rwanda Cycling - Rising from Ashes. What does a multimillionaire need to go to Africa for and start a cycling team?  Now that is a person who has used his money to do something for other people.  And I don't really know that much about him other than his obvious passion for cycling.  I also like a lot of his components for reliability, design, and reasonable cost.

Ritchey Commando - a fitting name for a fat bike.

Not sure which bike to collect next, but I realize if I'm not skiing XC or downhill, I sure would like to be on a bike enjoying the outdoors.  I like - they seem like they are serious about fat bikes in a not too serious way.  Check them out for lots of information on this category of two wheel fun.

On a side note: I'm glad the Tour of Beijing has been cancelled.  I'm surprised the riders don't have on gas masks or respirators for breathing in that air.  Scary isn't it?  One of the world's largest and most dense populations living in terrible air quality.  Hopefully, they make air quality a major focus for improving the lives of their population and the future generations.

All riders will be given a standard issue gas mask, maybe in team colors?
Lens options include clear, yellow, brown, or grey polarized.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Best Two Wheel Coffee Shops

What makes the best coffee shops?  Is it the coffee?  Is it the staff?  Is it the ambiance?  Is it he snacks or food that are available?

Well, of course it's all of the above.

From a cyclist's perspective, it also means you're welcome with your cleated shoes on and there is a secure place to park your bike where you don't have to be paranoid that it will be gone when you're done the cappuccino.  I was in a local coffee shop the other day, one of my favorites (Leva /, and a cyclist came in to get a coffee and head out to the patio.  The entire time, while the dude was at the counter, he was facing outside to see if anyone was going to steal his Trek.  He may have been overly worried, but also, the bike looked pretty new and he may have still been in the "new baby" phase.

Leva is a great cafe because it has great ambiance, great staff, a margherita pizza that is incredible, and the cappuccino is perfect.  The cafe itself looks great outside and in.  There is a huge patio that accommodates lots of coffee lovers and the whole cafe can open up for an indoor / outdoor experience.  Which unfortunately, usually only lasts a couple of months in Edmonton.  The patrons range from 2 yrs to 82 yrs, cyclists, students, professors and anyone else.  They also have a fantastic selection of beers if you're into that kind of thing ... which I am.

Another of my favorites is the Wild Earth Cafe ( in Laurier Heights in Edmonton.  A small, comfortable spot that is easy to access and it has one of the coolest benches you will ever see located right inside the door.  It is really more of a bakery than a coffee shop per se, but the staff is always friendly, the coffee is excellent, and they have never yelled at me about my shoes.

I think my favorite non-Edmonton cafe has to be the Denver Bicycle Cafe ( It seems to encompass all of the things that a cyclist wants.  It has bikes, coffee, and beer.  It has a beautiful interior.  They sell custom bikes, not off the rack pre-assembled cookie cutters like every other bike shop does (which is fine, someone has to).  They have a true passion for what they are doing.

The small business in general is not doing well.  Everyone is supporting the Starbucks, Costcos, Walmarts, etc instead of looking for something unique and individual or paying a little more and supporting the little guy.  The power of branding is amazing ... I am guilty of getting my Starbucks too, but if there is a small business option available, I'd take that anytime.  And the reason?  Not only does the money usually stay local, along with the jobs, but the passion of the owner usually shines through. And that's what makes a great coffee shop.  The passion shown by your barista for coffee, the baker who made the sweet treats, or the owner's love of being an independent business owner and having control of quality and customer service.  Next time you need bike stuff, go to your LBS.  Check the price online to make sure you aren't getting totally screwed, but they will usually come close to the price anyways (when you factor in shipping, duties, etc).  It's good for the local business (they need the support) and its good for you (expert advice, immediate delivery).

Someone once asked me: "why do you want to open a bicycle cafe, you're just buying yourself a job?  You'll never get rich!"  I realized I have a passion for a few things: bicycles, coffee, enjoying "my job" everyday, and getting to decide how I can give great customer service and meet interesting people.  Money is just a means to doing interesting things in life.  I know more than a few people who make loads of money, and they are neither happy nor doing anything interesting.  They spend more on bikes than I can, but they don't have time to ride them.  We only have so many hours in our life (about 700,000 for most of us), so make sure you do what you want to do.

So don't be too surprised if one day you see a "Two Wheels & Caffeine" on the corner.  Come in.  Don't expect a bike snob (or act like one yourself).  Expect a passionate bike guy who can talk about bikes all day or make you a great mochaccino.  I also appreciate a fine beer - there is no reason to exclude the finer things in life!  I may go off on a tangent about big mountain skiing or fly fishing.  The TV may be showing a bike race, a classic movie, or even SYTYCD.  You never know.  I plan on building custom bikes of ALL price ranges, not just the ones for my rich friends.  I promise great coffee and beer that should be savoured.

Now, I just have to convince my wife that I am allowed to change jobs ...

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The "new" stage race

OK, I imagine that someone has thought of this before and I'm not really coming up with something new here.  In fact, it may exist somewhere in the cycling world and I haven't heard about it yet. However, I have decided that if it is new, then I want credit for it.

The "new" stage race will be a leg of each discipline: road, mountain and cyclocross.  

The first stage would be the road event.  Perhaps it would have a circuit feel to allow for good crowd support and feel like the other stages.  It should allow the road geeks the ability to distance themselves from the peloton before they leave the pavement.  The team aspect to the road portion would be minimal as it really doesn't carry too much to other the stages. Maybe maximum 4 members for each team?  After the first stage, each rider's time will be recorded and placings will be determined with time bonuses, etc.

The second stage would be a mountain stage that is technical but not so much that the roadies are dead at the end of the day.  That wouldn't be fair.  Obviously the two disciplines (road and mountain) are so different that there would be an opportunity for the fat tire freaks to pull equal with the road specialists.  To make it equal to stage one, the race would be a challenging circuit that was X number of laps that was timed.

The final stage would be the lung buster.  A fixed number of laps on a cyclocross bike of a course that would allow both disciplines a chance to shine - some flat out speed and steady climbs mixed with a few gnarly climbs and scary descents.  Normally a timed event, but that would be tough to keep the placing square as far as I can figure.

Here are some the things I think are good about this idea:
  • You need to have at least 3 bikes.  I love bikes.
  • You can wear spandex 3 days in a row - you don't even have to change.
  • It lets everyone hang out together like cycling best buds (roadies, off-roadies, pscyo-Xer's)
  • Everyone could have a coffee together in the morning and a beer together at night.

Now, that is an intense look.

Drawbacks to this idea:
  • Ryder Hesjedal would win every race if it went to a pro discipline (or is that a positive?)
  • Lance would come out of retirement and blame Oprah for his downfall.
  • Bike shops would be overwhelmed by demand for all the bikes.
  • Jens would tell the legs to "shut up" and would take second place behind Ryder after he also comes out of retirement.
  • The women's division would be ruled by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (or is that also a positive?)

So if you want to help me start this discipline, I am looking for a marketing genius with deep pocket to get this off the ground.  I think the public will get behind it ... or not.  But I think the coffee, beer and racing thing seems to work out most times.  Just look at NASCAR, minus the coffee.  

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Redbike Redcross

Cyclocross marks the end of the cycling season, and it's supposed to be fun but hard as hell.  The Redbike Redcross did not disappoint, except for the good weather and lack of mud and sand.  Joking aside, it was a beautiful day to race and a competitive field.

First lap, first climb
Cyclocross attracts all kinds - the roadies, the mountain bikers, and the cross specific riders who are in love with the unique mix.  Not only did we see an eclectic mix of racers, but where else will you have jumpy castle next to the speakers blaring hard core rap?  My 11 year old definitely learned a few new phrases ... "Dad, why does that motherf@#$%r want to b#%*h slap his ho?"  I told him the key phrase we have all used since it's introduction: "ear muffs."

Just like this shot ...
I enjoyed the jeering from the crowd.  It was a special kind of love from the fans.  "You can't blame your bike anymore, it's brand new."

One of the "Hardcore" riders
One fan yelled: "you got a guy on your wheel, keep going!"  The same fan then yelled to the very next rider: "you're right on his wheel, you can take him!"  He was very supportive to everyone.

Jumping the obstacles.
There's something addictive about watching athletes up close and personal push themselves to their limit on each and every lap of the cyclocross course.  There is the adrenaline of racing your peers, the challenge of not barfing up a lung, and the technical side of descending a a grassy hill or picking up your bike and running over obstacles while you're nearly seeing double from exhaustion.

Picturesque setting for the race.  Don't think too many racers noticed the lake.

If you get a chance to go out and watch a cross race, I suggest you do it.  It is a great sport to test your endurance and challenge your bike skills.  Redbike did a great job putting on the race and the venue (Hermitage Park) was perfect.   Hopefully there will be more spectators at the next race on September 27th.

The next race in the Edmonton area is the:  Jim Horner Grand Prix of Cyclo-cross on Saturday September 27, 2014 run by Juventus Cycling Club.  Races start at 10:00am.  Go to for a complete list of races.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Cycling in Jasper National Park

Riding your bike in the mountains certainly gives you great surroundings to focus on even if you are punishing yourself up a climb.

As we headed out this past weekend to ride some of the climbs around Jasper, we were met with beautiful blue skies and perfect vistas to admire.  My riding partner commented that he hadn't ridden in a while and the climb would be tough.  After climbing for a bit, he said he thought about turning around but it was just too beautiful not to climb up the mountain to see the views and enjoy the day. He did a great job putting the pain out of his mind and getting up to the top.

Great roads, blue skies, and the perfect backdrop

We could hear the Elk rutting in the distance all around us.  It's the time of year when they are in a frisky mood and are willing to compete for the best mate.  We're happy that we didn't run into any excited animals.  We did however, see some very excited riders coming down off the Marmot climb encouraging us with their excited hoots and hollers as they bombed down the mountain at 70+ km/h. We were climbing a grade of 11-12 % at the time and their excitement gave us extra energy and it also made us look forward to going the other direction soon.

As I was crawling my way up the mountain, it made me think of the pro riders who fly up these grades and make it look easy.  I thought: I need to train more, lose about 10-15 more pounds, drink less beer, and maybe train some more.  Unfortunately, this silly thing called work keeps getting in the way of training and keeps me wanting to drink more beer.  Not to mention everything else that interferes with life and prevents us from doing all the things we want to spend more time on.

Patricia Lake - small climb.  Worth it for the view. 

Thinking of the pro riders flying up the climbs also made me think about the Tour of Alberta.  The Marmot road climb is a category 2 climb from what I've read, but at the end of a long road stage, it would be a decent summit finish.  It is about 12 km long and an average grade of 5.5% with max gradients of 18% (according to Strava and my Garmin).  The stage could start at Maligne Lake and go to Marmot basin for the finish ... that would be epic.  Not to mention, there is some great terrain around Banff for a stage as well.  There would be plenty of hotels and restaurants to accommodate the teams and media as well.

All alone on the roads near Pyramid Lake.

When we arrived at the top, I felt like I had achieved a pretty good climb with pretty good energy left over.  My mind went to that place where you ask yourself ... should I try the Mt. Edith Cavell climb today as well?  It is another 12ish km climb with an average grade of about 4% right at the bottom of the Marmot climb.  My legs and lungs then had a conversation with my brain, and said it would have to be another day unless a motor was going to be involved.

Top of the Marmot climb.

It was an incredibly busy weekend in Jasper and there were lots of people in town, but the mountain roads were super quiet.  It felt like we had the mountain to ourselves which is always a treat.  My riding partner made the observation that we really should do this more often, and I agreed wholeheartedly.  If you are heading to Canada for any riding, make sure you see Jasper National Park on your bike.  Not only are the roads for miles, but there is mountain bike terrain to make any rider happy.  Epic day long rides, short trail rides, or gnarly technical stuff to challenge the pros.  You get so much more out of the experience when you hear the animal sounds, feel the wind, smell the crisp mountain air, and see the peaks rising around you.  It is a magical place.

It would be criminal of me not to mention Snow Dome Coffee Bar in Jasper as well.  Yes, you can wash your smelly clothes and shower there because it is also a multi-disciplinary business, but the coffee and baking are second to none.  Do not miss it!!

Tell me where I should go ride in North America.  What are your favorite places to ride?  What do you think about the Tour of Alberta heading into the National Parks?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Tour of Alberta 2014

It is a real treat to watch the pros ride by at 50 km/h or more.  I stood at the curb and felt the wind blow by as these pros fought through wind and rain and grim.  They climbed the hills of Edmonton with tons of ferocity and descended fearlessly.  

For those of you who have watched the pros on TV, you need to see them in person.  It is amazing to see how fast you can make a bike go with your tires only centimeters from the rider in front of you.  I have done this many times, but it still gives me a bit of sphincter lock.  It doesn't matter to these guys if it's going uphill at 30 km/h or downhill at 70 km/h.  On TV, it is great, especially with the commentary from Phil and Paul.  But in person, the energy is pretty incredible.  The determination in their faces to keep racing is beyond compare and the level of professionalism is inspiring.  It must take a huge amount of professionalism to ride through the crap conditions day after day, get up off the tarmac after a fall and catch back up to the peloton when you're bleeding everywhere, or even when you have to answer really dumb questions after you just came in 2nd place by 1 second.  

A few notes about this year's tour.  Dumoulin was awesome here in Alberta and should have won the tour title; his amazing performance was only exceeded by the way he handled winning the white jersey instead of the yellow jersey.  Also, hats off to Tim Johnson, not only is he a cycling star, but he has a bright future in TV broadcasting.  Great job on colour commentary!  Ryan Anderson, the Red Jersey winner for best Canadian, was amazing.  He looks like a future winner.  The dirt sections referred to as Canadian Pave are nothing more than an interesting twist to the terrain.  If it was truly dangerous, the pros would slow down ... just like they do if a descent in the mountains is slick.  The brave will prevail!

Climbing at the Tour Of Alberta

Overall, the Tour was a huge success from my viewpoint.  The stages were interesting and challenging - the pros can handle anything including "Canadian Pave." The field was talented with lots of young, up-and-coming riders and diverse teams.  The events were family and fan friendly.  

Belkin Procycling Team has a  new fan.

Not much could be improved.  If we can somehow manage to get a tour stage to traverse one or several of our mountains, that would be perfect.  I would suggest a few climbs in Jasper National Park (more on that soon).  We have some huge mountains here in Alberta ... we should include them.  I know the National Parks are always a touchy subject, but it would be awesome for a professional bike race and have very little impact on the Parks.  It might even attract some of the best climbers, increase the clout of the race, attract more teams, and bring bigger sponsors to make it an economic super success. 

I hope to see you next year Tour of Alberta!


Monday, 1 September 2014

Build the next bike yourself.

When I was in graduate school, I took up fly fishing.  I liked it quite a bit and it felt like something I would do for a long time and keep for life as a hobby.  So, I went to a fly shop in Portland and bought everything I thought I needed to build a 4 weight fly rod.  After learning a lot about fly rod building, I finally used that rod to actually catch a nice rainbow trout in a beautiful mountain stream on a perfect day.  It was the best fish I've caught so far.  The rod is terrible compared to some Sage and Orvis rods I've used, but I built that sucker from scratch, and it caught some fish too.

How many of you have built a bike from the ground up?

I've tooled around with a plethora of replacement parts for all of my most loved bikes - always trying to get just the right feel, size or even weight.  I have only built one bike so far from nothing to complete.  My cyclocross ride is an Ibis Hakkalugi non-disc version.

Ibis Hakkalugi - cyclocross season is coming!

I was selling bikes at my favorite LBS when I decided to build the Hakkalugi.  The frame was a good deal because I got the employee discount.  I used the SRAM Rival components, 3T stem, Dedacciai handlebar, Easton seatpost, TRP brakes, old Easton clincher wheels.  Nothing exceptional, but a lot of fun to ride.

There's something to be said for riding a bike that you built with parts you chose from the beginning. I know every part, every adjustment, and every small detail of why the bike rides the way it does or feels the way it does.  I take full responsibility if something is out of alignment or not working the way I want it to.  That being said, I love riding this bike.  It fits perfectly and feels like a million bucks.  It handles the way I want it to.  The brakes are smooth and powerful.  The reach on the bar / stem is exactly where I want it.  The gearing is crisp and accurate.  The only problem is the rider, never as strong as he should be...

I learned a fair amount about a few things. Mainly to do with brakes (short pull mini brakes to go with road levers - the first set of cantilevers were also pretty weak, making the Ibis "hand-job" unsatisfying).  Also, SRAM Rival is a huge step down from Force in my mind - not even close. Force to Red = small step.  Thick bar tape is also nice for the 'cross bike.  Seems to absorb some of the vibrations over roots, rocks and holes as you cruise over everything as fast as you can.

I also learned that your LBS is your best friend some times.  In my case, the shop I had been working at, went broke just a month after I had left (pretty sure it wasn't my fault).  I was taking my sweet time building the bike and needed advice on certain things, as well as a few tools to make sure things were installed correctly.  I ended up going to another shop and getting the help I needed.

In the end, it was both rewarding and educational to build this bike.  This won't be the last one I build, and I'm sure the next one will be even better.  I have learned which parts feel the best to me and have the fit characteristics that suit me best.  I really like SRAM components (yes loud, but exact), 3T, Ritchey, and some of Specialized's parts.  The next build will be a road bike.  Probably aero, probably OEM Carbon, and maybe painted with a name sake that is related to this blog. Although, the aforementioned theft of my mountain bike may change some of these things.

I encourage everyone who has any interest in bikes to build your own.  You will learn a ton about the mechanics of your bike and know how to fix it when necessary.  You can customize things just the way you want them.  You can source out parts from different suppliers to save money.  You can be proud of the bike you build and probably enjoy riding it more.  If you do it just right, you may be able to land that special trout as well!

Let me see your builds.  Any advice for people building their own bikes?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Titanium artistry or carbon engineering?

I am still up in the air when it comes to Carbon vs. Steel / Titanium.  I've never actually ridden a titanium bike, but I have ridden aluminum, steel and lots of carbon.  I love my carbon bikes.  They seem to move over the road with ease and quiet all the little bumps that would drive me crazy on my aluminum frame or the old steel bike I had.  That being said, there is definitely some mystique to the handcrafted boutique frames, especially built by the artisans of titanium. I really should go out and ride a titanium bike made by a professional.  I just haven't had the time.

My experience working in a bike shop was limited.  We sold two types of bikes - like many shops - the high end carbon and the low end aluminum (and some steel).  We sold mainly mountain bikes and a few carbon road bikes in the form of LaPierre and Orbea.  Didn't ride them much either, and didn't care for the Orbea at all - felt dead to me and uncomfortable.  I currently ride a Cervelo road bike and I love it.  It has several thousand kilometres on it now and its starting to show its age - creaky here and chipped paint there.  Not many stock parts on it anymore, most parts have been switched out along the way.

Which brings me to my interest in Titanium.  I've read and heard that the frame will last forever with limited changes in performance over its lifetime and will be light, strong and comfortable all at the same time.  Not to mention, my father was a welder and I learned to appreciate the fine art of running a beautiful welding bead and the proper finishing after.  I love bikes almost as much as I love to ride.  To own a masterpiece by Firefly, Seven, Eriksen, Independent Fabrication, or a few others would be like buying a painting you will never get tired of looking at.  The cost is prohibitive for most though - $3000 or more for just the frame and then you end up at over double that, easily if you install worthy components and a wheel set that matches.

Firefly beauty.

The artistry of the boutique titanium frame is totally opposite to that of most carbon bicycles.  The titanium craftsmen work in a small shop with a fine eye for detail and finish.  They take a non-rare metal and use their training to work with the "difficult" material to create a tool for us cyclists.  Most carbon on the other hand is made in Taiwan or China, hundreds at a time, by workers who probably make bikes half the day and golf club shafts the other half.  Just kidding.  But the point is fair.  The artistry is lost.  The real art for carbon bikes comes in the paint job - like Ritte.  A company that has created a brand out of a great story and a great paint job.  Colnago, Cervelo, Pinarello, Bianchi, BMC, Specialized etc. have a brand, millions investing in marketing, and race teams to sell their products.

Some argue its all in the engineering.  I agree with this partly.  There should be a premium on expertise and knowledge.  Certain high end carbon bikes feel much better to me than others.  So if they are all made in the same factory, it must be the design, not the production.  The cost of the frame for most companies is probably $100-200 dollars to produce!!  So the other $3000-5000 dollars is engineering and PROFIT?  It seems absurd that we pay this much for carbon bike frames.  At least if I buy a hand-crafted titanium bike built by a small shop, I pay the small business owner to continue being an artist and open his doors to more customers.  I can see exactly what I'm getting for materials and I know who is fabricating my bicycle.  Just as many of you know, look on and see the "fake" or "real" Colnago C60 or the Cervelo R5 for a few hundred dollars.  THEY ARE MADE IN THE SAME FACTORIES.  Is it quality testing that differentiates the products?  Is it factory seconds because the paint job is flawed?  I don't know.  I do know that I don't trust big companies.  I've worked in them.  It is all about the marketing and perception, and ultimately, profit.

The Cervelo R5

Maybe an R5?

Everyday I think about ordering one of those Hong Fu FM166 disc brake road models and testing the quality of the product myself.  It might be $400-600?  Or I could order the Colnago C59 disc for $5000?  I'm not sure which model the FM166 actually is, but I know there is a smarter bike nerd than me out there who probably knows.  But there is also the part of me that wants to support the Firefly's of the world.  Even if the two bikes perform exactly the same for me, the artisans of the world deserve my support!  I don't race, I just like to ride fast and enjoy the experience.  I don't need Contador or Cavendish's bike because I'm never going to ride like them, but the idea of paying 1000% mark-up kind of makes me puke in my mouth a bit (yes, I realize it's not just bikes).

Someone write me back and tell how they like their FM166.

What do you think of carbon? titanium? OEM carbon frames?

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

What the cyclist needs to know about caffeine

This was written by PacificHealth Laboratories - its a very good over view of why caffeine is a helpful (legal) drug cyclist and endurance athletes.  

Caffeine is naturally occurring chemical compound that functions in the body mainly as a mild nervous system stimulant. It has been shown to enhance performance in sprints, in all-out efforts lasting 4-5 minutes, and in longer performance tests.

Performance And Caffeine

It appears caffeine enhances performance in shorter events through four interrelated neuromuscular effects:
  1. Lowering the threshold for muscle recruitment.
  2. Altering excitation contraction coupling.
  3. Facilitating nerve impulse transmission. 
  4. Increasing ion transport within muscles. 
In longer events, caffeine delays fatigue by reducing the athlete’s perception of effort. It increases the concentration of hormone-like substances in the brain called ß-endorphins during exercise. The endorphins affect mood state, reduce perception of pain, and create a sense of well-being.
Caffeine has also been found to delay fatigue during exercise by blocking adenosine receptors on fat cells. As a result, caffeine increases the level of free fatty acids in the bloodstream and thereby increases fat burning during exercise. This latter effect of caffeine used to be considered the major mechanism by which is enhanced endurance performance, but it is not known to be a minor factor. In fact, for those who normally maintain a high-carbohydrate diet it is virtually a non-factor.
A number of studies have shown significant performance increases in various endurance disciplines following caffeine ingestion. In one study, elite runners improved their time in a treadmill run to exhaustion by 1.9% with caffeine. Caffeine boosted time to exhaustion in a cycling test by 15 minutes in another study. And in a study involving swimmers, caffeine was found to enhance performance in maximal-effort swims of up to 25 minutes’ duration.

Caffeine Is A Diuretic

Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it increases urine production, which could theoretically exacerbate dehydration during exercise. However, exercise negates this effect if caffeine. In a recent scientific review, researchers from the University of Connecticut wrote, “Dietitians, exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, and other sports medicine personnel commonly recommend that exercising adults and athletes refrain from caffeine use because it is a diuretic, and it may exacerbate dehydration and hyperthermia. This review, contrary to popular beliefs, proposes that caffeine consumption does not result in the following: (a) water-electrolyte imbalances or hyperthermia and (b) reduced exercise-heat tolerance.”

Caffeine Usage

Caffeine is commonly used by endurance athletes 30 to 60 minutes before races to enhance competitive performance. The ergogenic effect of caffeine is dose-dependent. The maximum effect is seen with doses of 5 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For a 150-lb runner this translates to roughly 340-400 mg, or the amount of caffeine you’d get in 14 to 17 ounces of drip brewed coffee. The minimum amount of caffeine the average runner must consume for a measurable ergogenic effect is about 2 mg per kilogram of body weight.
It makes less sense to use caffeine as a daily workout performance enhancer, for two reasons. First, workouts are seldom maximal efforts. Second, the ergogenic effects of caffeine consumption decrease with habituation. For this reason, if you are a regular coffee drinker, you should cease coffee consumption four to six days before participating in a race.
In moderation, caffeine consumption does not cause any health problems. In fact, a daily cup of joe is good for you. The health benefits of coffee come from its caffeine content and its unique blend of antioxidants. According to Harvard Medical School, “Studies show that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don't drink it. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease.”
However, heavy caffeine use can cause or exacerbate problems ranging from headache to insomnia, and it is possible to become physically dependent on the drug. Caffeine is especially harmful when used as a means to stimulate artificial wakefulness or energy in those suffering from conditions such as chronic fatigue. So if you do like caffeine, limit yourself to one mug of coffee or green tea in the morning. Those who rely on regular “caffeine injections” throughout the day are well advised to cut back.

Caffeine and Sports Drinks

An alternative to taking a single large dose of caffeine prior to racing is to consume a caffeinated sports drink throughout races. In a recent study, conducted at the University of Birmingham in England, looked at the effect of caffeine on exogenous carbohydrate oxidation (i.e. the rate at which carbs consumed in a supplement are burned) during exercise. Cyclists received either a 6% glucose solution, a 6% glucose solution plus caffeine, or plain water during a two-hour indoor cycling test. Researchers used indirect calorimetry to measure the amounts and proportions of fat and carbohydrate oxidized during the test.
They found that the rate of exogenous carbohydrate oxidation was 26% higher in the cyclists receiving carbs with caffeine than in those receiving carbs without caffeine. The study’s authors concluded that caffeine may have increased the rate of glucose absorption in the intestine, providing fuel to the working muscles more quickly. The likely effect on performance is the ability to work harder for a longer period of time without becoming fatigued.
Another recent study looked at the effects of consuming a caffeinated sports drink on performance in a warm environment. Sixteen highly trained cyclists completed three trials. Subjects cycled for 135 min, alternating between 60% and 75% VO2max every 15 min for the first 120 min, followed by a 15-min performance ride. In one trial they consumed flavored water; in another, a conventional carbohydrate sports drink; and in another, a caffeinated sports drink.
The cyclists completed 15% to 23% more work during the caffeine trial than the other two trials. Ratings of perceived exertion were lower with caffeinated sports drink than with the placebo and the conventional sports drink. After cycling, maximal strength loss was found to be two-thirds less for the caffeinated drink than for the other beverages.
This new research suggests that using a caffeinated sports drink such as Accelerade with Caffeine may be the best way to go in races.

What did I learn from this?  Drink caffeine in your sports drinks, but do not have too much especially if you haven't done it before.  It can make you feel terrible and give you a terrible gut ache.  Also, the pre-ride coffee in the morning is probably something I should start.  I'll wake up an hour earlier so I can go "shoot the shit" at the cafe, and take in some much needed caffeine before my rides.

Which sports drinks do you guys like best?  Why?  Is a nice strong espresso enough for most of you to get that extra energy?     

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The loss of a good friend.

I stepped out the front door a few days ago, walked to my vehicle parked on the driveway, and then noticed my garage was open.  My first horrifying thought ... I hope nothing happened to my bikes (aka my good friends).  And you know that scene in a horror movie where the actor grabs their cheeks and screams as the camera comes close and focuses in on their true horror.  That was me.

I realized immediately that something was missing ... my mountain bike.  It had been there the night before right beside my wife's good friend.  Her bike wasn't taken.  The thief obviously knew which one was worth more.  I immediately wondered if I had left the garage open or if someone had broken into the house or something else.  I made my report to the police and was given some unnerving news, it was something else most likely.  Apparently, a different thief had been caught with a devious remote control that he was using to open garages by breaking their codes.  He had broken into 17 garages and taken various items.  The police officer told me that it was getting more and more common.  I am guessing that someone saw my bike and knew it would be worth something.  The only good news from this, was they didn't take the other two expensive bikes I had parked in the garage (no longer there Mr. Thief in case you're reading this!).

The last time I saw my good friend.

The frustrating part to swallow about this situation is the potential of using my insurance.  I didn't realize that there was a cap of $2000 for reimbursement of stolen bikes, a $1000 deductible, and an immediate increase of 23% in my home insurance premium if I make a claim.  In the end, I might as well just buy a bike and move on.  Too bad I don't have another $5000+ lying around for a new bike.  

So a few pieces of advice.  First, keep your bikes in the house.  They are a form of art and should be shown off in the living room.  Secondly, check your insurance for the appropriate coverage if you have a bike worth more than $3000.  And finally, make sure you are at peace with the bikes you love.  You never know when they might leave you suddenly.  I wasn't ready to let my Ibis Mojo go.  

But, from every rain shower there is a rainbow right?  My rainbow is that I might end up shopping for a new bike when I have the money.  SOOO many questions ... 29er or 27.5?  XC or All-mountain?  Full carbon or save a few bucks and go with carbon/alloy?  Single or double chain ring?  SRAM or Shimano?  Big company or boutique frame?  I don't think I'm ready yet - still grieving.  However, there's always hope that my good friend will come back.  I know it would be a miracle, but you have to believe!

If anyone out there sees my bike for sale ... please let me know.  I'm looking for a good deal.  I'm sure it would be less the second time I buy it?

What's the best mountain bike out there right now?  Best company?  Best service for warranty?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Cycling attire for the newcomer.

When I first started riding bikes a lot, I was pretty reluctant to look like a cyclist with the tight jersey and the tight shorts.  I wondered why anyone would want to dress like that and if all of the aerodynamics were really important.  Of course, I am referring primarily to road biking in this conversation, because mountain biking is a different world.  Many mountain bike racers also wear the spandex costume, but most recreational riders stick to baggy shorts and shirts.

The skin tight costume is something to embrace.  It is both a specifically designed tool for doing the sport and a feedback tool for how in shape you are.  The less wind resistance you need to fight from loose clothing, the faster and longer you can go.  This applies to anyone who is riding for any kind of distance at any pace.  Not to mention, there are 3 very convenient pockets in the back of your jersey for snacks, phones, tools, or extra clothing.  The shorts are also a godsend because they have PADDING (more on that next).  The other function of the clothing is the "fat test."  There is no hiding your fat in these outfits!  I have started to take an early season selfies just to take the fat test.  It is never to be shown to anyone, just filed away for motivation - and wow, this year was pretty motivating.  Apparently, it was a really cold winter here and I decided to pack it away as insulation.  Next year, less insulation = better climbing!! (mental note).

The spandex shorts can be a touchy topic.  There really is only one choice for most riders (men anyways) - the Bib Short.  They stay in place and don't show your plumber's trademark.  In addition, they should have a comfortable chamois for your private parts (VERY important for longer rides), a radio pocket for your iPod (because race radios are not something most of us will ever have to worry about) and compression and aerodynamics for better performance. I have tested many Bib Shorts - at least 10 different brands.  None of them are perfect yet.  I'm still searching and reading reviews ... none of those reviews really seem to help. The other two options for the bottom are regular cycling shorts (preferable by many women for nature breaks), and shorts that are intended for sports like sitting in a lawn chair.  I will never wear plain shorts for riding unless it's a short ride to the store and back.  Why subject your precious jewels to that kind of punishment?  And why would I want to show my crack to every cyclist I pass?  I'm pretty sure they don't want or need to see that.  Bib shorts.  End of discussion.

When it comes to cycling outfits - there are two main approaches: reserved and quiet OR outlandish and commercial.  This year, the trends are definitely toward the more reserved, unless you choose to support your favorite pro team and dress the part. 

Option 1: Rapha Classic Jersey

Option 2: Hi-vis, Pro Team Jersey

Of course there are other choices from companies like Capo, Castelli, Assos, and lots of boutique brands that offer cool kits.  Just try that Google thing.

Bib shorts on the other hand should be black, and only black, for a few reasons.  First of all, white Bib shorts are terrible - they show way too much detail if you know what I mean.  And any color other than black doesn't hide dirt.  As Canadian cycling legend, Alex Steida, told us one day as he held up his hands after changing a flat quickly for someone in the group, "where would I wipe these if my shorts weren't black?"  Good point.  No baby wipes in my jersey on most rides.

Finally, a few key points.  Make sure you look good out there and stay visible.  Wear a helmet and gloves, or you're an idiot.  Take the fat test in the spring.  If you fail the test, try to lose some fat, it's good for you.  Apparently long socks are in, so go spend some money.  Cycling shoes DO make a huge difference.  No underwear inside your cycling shorts.  And, don't forget the chamois cream from Assos or DZ Nuts for long rides!

Which cycling apparel companies do you like?  Who makes the best Bib shorts? 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Banff Gran Fondo

I have had the opportunity to ride a few Gran Fondos in Canada and the one that stands out the most to me is the RBC Banff Gran Fondo.  The ride was limited to 1,500 cyclists in 2013 which is small compared to many Gran Fondos out there.  You could call it an intimate gathering.

The Canadian Rockies are a majestic place.  They are quite a bit different than the mountainous areas to the south of us in the U.S.A.  Banff national park is 6,641 km² (more than double the size of Yosemite) and contains really only two towns that are quite small.  Development in the park is extremely limited, which is quite different to places like Colorado.  Driving I-70 from Denver to Vail, you will see development everywhere.  In Banff National Park, by contrast, you will see the town of Banff, Lake Louise and a few rest stops and other visitor centres.  It is a wild place that looks a lot like land with paved trails in the outback.  In 2012, the Gran Fondo was cut short due to few large critters that wanted to watch the Gran Fondo up close.  Nobody wanted to risk a bear attack that year, so it was shortened.  

Riding in a huge national park without traffic on closed roads is a treat.  You get to enjoy the scenery and ride the pace you want.  The 144 km course has terrain that is not overly challenging, but there are a few climbs thrown in there to test you.  Guaranteed you will see wildlife - in 2013 we were almost stopped by a herd of Big Horned sheep that wanted to rest on the road and chew on the weeds in the ditch.  There are multiple waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and peaks which rise up around you to over 10,000 feet.  The fourteeners are huge in Colorado for height comparison, but they don't seem as high in relation.  I'm not sure if it's the base elevation or the rugged appearance of the Canadian Rockies, but they are amazing.

The rider support is fantastic at the Banff Gran Fondo as well.  The rest stops have all the water and fluids, facilities, food, mechanical help, first aid, and massage that anyone could need.  There are mechanics following the riders helping out as needed.  In fact, the first year I rode the Gran Fondo, I had a terrible mechanical on the climb out of the town in the first 10 km.  I had taken my bike to a shop for adjustments on my rear derailleur because I just couldn't seem to get it just right.  I didn't get a chance to test ride it before the big ride and it caused a massive chain suck on the first climb when I tried to shift.  It took me and 3 mechanics 20 minutes to get that chain out from between the spokes and the rear cog (understandably, they did not have all of the proper tools in their backpacks).  They also quickly adjusted the limit screws so it wouldn't happen again.  I thought the ride was over after only a few kilometers.  Thanks again guys!

If you are thinking of a Gran Fondo and want a truly unique experience, this would be a great choice.  Not only to you get to ride in one of the world's most beautiful places, but you will do it on closed roads with awesome support.  I also have a feeling that one day, Parks Canada will no longer allow this magical ride to happen.  There is always the question of what impact the ride has, and Canada holds it's national parks in a sacred place close to it's heart.

Do you have a favorite Gran Fondo?  Any opinions on what impact these rides have on the National parks?