Wednesday, December 18, 2013

camo for bike lanes?

Camouflaged bike lanes? What next?
Today I had to stop in at our rental house, so I parked nearby and rode downtown along 106 Street, ostensibly in the bike lane. 
What bike lane? It's there, but cleverly disguised as just more of the same old snow, ice and grit. So I rode in the vehicle lane most of the way. It was still a good ride. 
The distance is just under 7 km, and when I mapped out the route on Google Maps, it said it would take 28 minutes. Well, it took me exactly 28 minutes. Considering the road conditions, I thought that was not bad! The trip back to the house took only 24 minutes.

Drivers along 106 Street are so courteous. Several times I moved as far right as I could, thinking I'd let some cars pass me, but each time the cars continued to drive behind me. No one honked or yelled or waved their hands angrily at me. My bike is well-lit and I wore my reflective sash, and I felt safe and comfortable riding there. 
I didn't see many other cyclists. There was one fatbike rider, riding on the sidewalk. Huh? I don't get it -- why spend a minimum of $1700 on a sidewalk bike? And as I approached Saskatchewan Drive, I saw one other regular cyclist heading south. 

I'm working on this selfie thing. 
I figure as an English teacher I should not only know about new words but should actively use them. And, if the Pope can endorse selfies, they must be an okay thing, right? 
Obviously, I still need some practice!
arrival at work -- I tried the "night" setting on my phone camera -- clearly NOT the thing to do

It was rather cold: -15 with wind chill of -26. I wore my new L.L. Bean riding coat over three merino sweaters. On my legs: long underwear, skinny pants and my MEC Adanac tights. On my head: a wool cap lined with fleece and my helmet. Around my neck: a small fleece scarf inside the coat and my big long alpaca scarf on the outside, wrapped around twice. On my hands: wool gloves and my Olympic mittens. (There are new ones out now for the Sochi Olympics, but they don't look quite as warm.) On my feet: thin socks, Smartwool socks and my tall boots. I was warm enough, except for the times I had to stop and wait for the light to change -- then my feet got a little bit cold.
love these extra-warm mittens
Today was our last day of classes before the Christmas break. Tomorrow we have a Christmas party. For the last three days, I've had the students speak on various topics -- sometimes they choose; sometimes I assign the topic. After each student finishes speaking, the other students can ask questions. They enjoy this immensely and did a great job. It's fun to hear what they have to say and it's heartening to see how much progress they've made after just a few months. The end of a session -- and in this case, the end of a year of teaching -- always makes me reflect on how fortunate I am to have a job I love, as well as an awesome way to get to work, even when, "Baby, it's cold outside"!

slippin' and slidin'

That about sums up my bike ride today. 

Knowing that the forecast was for above-zero temperatures, I braved the icy roads this morning (Tuesday) and drove to my Park-and-Ride spot. There were some seriously icy patches on 16A but I stayed in the slow lane and it was okay. 
I passed this guy as I rode to work, both of us trying to keep our balance on the icy path

My bike ride was another story. Ice and more ice on shared pathways and sidewalks. I walked my bike more than once. I tried riding on the road a couple of times, but the thick slippery slush drove me back onto the sidewalk. 

To think I used to scorn people who ride their bikes on sidewalks! 

I did ride in the street at 121 Street/100 Avenue where there used to be a contra-flow bike lane, once upon a time, before the snow covered it up. That stretch wasn't too bad, but I had to ride out in the vehicle lane most of the time.

Funny thing is, no matter how bad the ice and snow, I still prefer riding my bike to driving. Of course, I would be thrilled if the city finally got their act together and got serious about winter road and trail maintenance, but even with things as they are, a person can have a pretty good start to their day riding a bike to work. What's to complain about in a world like that?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

how to start your day right

What about am icy bike ride?

Last night -- freezing rain. Today -- icy paths and sidewalks. 

Strangely enough, except for a constant sound like machine guns softly popping, it was a great ride on the trails. I left at 8:45 and rode to church -- almost 5K. The first part, downhill through a playground on a path of sheer ice, was pretty sketchy, but after that the roads and trails were in good shape for cycling. I didn't go very fast -- my average speed, including occasional walking, was just over 11 km/hour, but I'll betcha anything I enjoyed myself more than the people who went by car.

By the time I rode home at 10:30 or so, there was a balmy breeze and the temp was well above zero. 

I cannot tell a lie, I did wipe out once. The trail was so good that I felt overconfident and started riding a little fast for trail conditions -- especially since the trail twists and winds its way through the woods. As I rounded a bend at breakneck speed, my back tire slid out from under me and I ended up on the ground. No worries, though. No one saw me and I popped right back up and kept going. I did ride a little more cautiously after that. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

three cheers for the snowplow!

I was determined to get out for a ride today. For one thing, the kickstand on my winter bike was loose and I wanted to have it tightened up. Also, I wanted to hit the mall for a few last-minute Christmas gifts.

So, I set off. The packed snow on our street and the next street along were pretty decent. I was cruising nicely and as I rounded a corner, I spotted a jackrabbit in his white winter coat. He ran along in front of me for a while and I was just contemplating getting my phone out to snap a pic when a big pick-up truck came along. Poor Old Bugs wasn't sure what to make of it. He sat down in the middle of the road -- in front of the truck -- and looked around trying to decide where to go. White everywhere probably makes it a little hard. He finally took off, the truck pulled into a driveway and I continued on my way. The next street I had to take was nothing but mush, so I walked the bike to the entrance to the multi-use trail system.

The trail was in great shape, and as I rode along, I watched a hawk fly across my path. Then I came to the place where two trails meet. Two little snowplows were stopped there and the drivers were standing around chatting. My destination required me to continue heading east. The trail to the north was nicely cleared, but going east was another story. "We're heading that way," one of the guys assured me, but of course that wasn't going to happen till they finished shooting the breeze. I guess I could have waited till they were ready to go and ridden behind the plow, but I didn't. I thought I might be able to ride on the trampled snow.
Photo taken after I dropped my camera!
I guess it was possible. But it was pretty slow going and I decided I could probably walk faster, so I walked to the next intersection. From there on, the trail was cleared and it was smooth sailing al the way to the bike shop. I did have to take the sidewalks a couple of times, but since there are not many pedestrians anyway, I didn't mind. 

Bike Shop Guy obligingly fixed my kickstand. He is such a nice guy. He's from the Philippines, so I was glad to hear his family and friends are all OK. He said the place where the typhoon hit is about 1000 km from his home.

The trails were cleared all the way for my return ride, so I was very pleased.
on the trail
Next stop, the mall, where I bought...
  •  a couple of books for Youngest Son, who is interested in chemistry and prepping, about equally. I am conservative enough to hope that one day his interest in the former will eclipse his interest in the latter, but when it comes to our offspring, we have to love 'em the way they are!

  • a hoody and a sweet bracelet for Daughter-in-Law
  • some cool lip gloss for Oldest Son's girlfriend. Love the packaging!

(Good thing no one in my family reads my blog!)

And of course some Lindt chocolate bars for stocking stuffers. Good old Miranda can carry quite a load, even with just one pannier. If I have an extra-big load, I add another.
Miranda - bearing gifts
The homeward trail was cleared, so it was another happy ride back to the old domicile.
Now, I know that I could have put the bike in the back of the van and driven to the bike shop and then to the mall, but why would I want to do that and miss all the fun of a winter bike ride?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

thwarted ride

This evening I had to go to the library for a meeting.

With 5-10 cm of snow in the offing, I had taken the bus to and from work. On the way home, the bus almost hit a truck that couldn't stop at an intersection and a few minutes later the bus driver had trouble making a left turn because the road was so icy. Witnessing this convinced me that it might be more pleasant to ride my bike to the library than to drive. 

It's about 3 km away. I made it there -- barely. The first part of my ride was great -- on a shared pathway which had been cleared recently and had only a thin layer of fresh snow. I was barreling along, happy as could be, until I hit a stretch of uncleared path. Uncleared is an understatement -- the snow was about 12 cm deep. I walked my bike to the intersection, crossed the street and rode a few meters on semi-cleared trail. Another section of deep snow and walking followed. Desperate, I turned onto a side street, thinking it might be easier riding there, but no. More walking was required. Finally I spied a stretch of cleared sidewalk and rode on that to the street the library is on. After crossing that street, I had to ride/walk past the police station and fire station -- both of which had uncleared sidewalks, obviously uncleared for a matter of days, not hours. 

As I approached the library parking lot, I saw that the road looked pretty decent, so I rode on that for the last 50 meters or so. 

It was pretty cold out, but I had dressed warmly and was quite comfortable until I tried to turn off my bike lights. I couldn't do it with my mittens on, so I removed them. A minute or two with bare hands was all I needed to turn off the lights -- and to end up with extremely cold hands. 

I felt so miserable that I texted Hubby and asked if he would PLEASE come and pick me up afterward. Without waiting for his reply, I went to my meeting.

By the time it was over, I felt ready to tackle the ride home, but it turned out Hubby was already there, waiting for me. I can't say I was exactly sad about that, although I have to wonder whether the ride back wouldn't have been kind of fun...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

a breath of fresh air

I've been taking the bus lately. There has been so much snow and sketchy weather that I just haven't felt comfortable driving to my Park-and-Ride spot.

Today I was going to take the bus. I actually went to the bus stop and paced back and forth a few times before deciding that I was ready for a breath of fresh air in the form of a bike ride. The roads didn't look too bad, so I walked back home, swept the snow off the car and got behind the wheel. It was kind of slow going into the city, but I had left early so I had lots of time.

As soon as I hopped on the bike, I knew I'd made the right choice. It felt so good to be riding again. I wasn't too cold -- even my feet were fine. I wore my new Olympic mittens, and turns out Son #3's ex-girlfriend wasn't lying when she told me they were warm enough for -15 C. My hands were toasty warm. Can't wait to try the mitts for cross-country skiing.
I wore my wool tights and my cross-country tights, and on top of those I wore my MEC Adanac tights. A merino turtleneck, a cashmere sweater and my pea coat were the perfect combo. A cashmere scarf around my neck, a toque on my head under my helmet, a pair of socks over my tights inside my tall boots, and I was not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Once I arrived at work, presto-change-o, I slipped into a wool skirt.

Saw the cyclist I see almost every morning on the 100 Avenue shared pathway. I wonder if he's missed me? 

Saw the pretty blue Christmas tree at LeMarchand Mansions. 

Rode through my share of oatmeal and on some nice hard-packed snow. Took lots of sidewalks (something I normally would die before doing.) 

Made it to work in about 1/2 hour. Not bad at all for winter.  
where does the sidewalk end and the road begin?
The ride home was also pretty decent. By that time it was snowing steadily and the accumulated snow on the streets and walks made for a challenging ride. But even so, I was so happy to be on the bike instead of sitting on the bus or in a car. I did have to drive home from the west end, but all in all it was a happy change from the past couple of weeks of taking the bus.
when I ride in winter I can check out how I'll look when my hair turns grey!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

bike lanes

I don't know Lorne Gunter at all, and he looks like a pretty nice guy, but I strongly suspect he and I are not kindred spirits. Could I ever be buddy-buddy with someone who writes articles like this? or this?

Well, no problem. He's not exactly banging on my door or filling my inbox with requests for my friendship. BUT -- he is writing headlines that state opinions as if they are facts, daring anyone to disagree with him.

I take up the gauntlet, or perhaps the cycling glove.

But, you may ask, what's a resident of Spruce Grove doing spouting off about bike lanes anyway? 

Is it a surprise to know that bike lanes in Edmonton are valued, not only by its residents, but also by those who live outside the city limits?

My interest in Edmonton bike lanes stems from a few factors: 

1) Monday through Thursday I work in downtown Edmonton. Instead of driving all the way to work, I typically drive into the west end, park my minivan, take my bike out of the back, and ride the rest of the way (about 7.5 - 14 km, depending on where I park and what route I take.) 

I love it that I can ride most of the way on shared pathways (between Callingwood and WEM, between 163 Street and 149 Street on 100 Avenue and through the River Valley) and marked on-road bike routes (76 Avenue, 142 Street and 102 Avenue.) I feel safe and enjoy riding. When I have to share the road with motor vehicles, I find drivers are courteous and respectful and unlike many urban cyclists, I have never been yelled or honked at. I have been doing this regularly, rain or shine, summer or winter, for about three years now. No complaints. 
after work Nov. 13, 2013

But when I heard that bike lanes had been painted on 95 Avenue, I was curious. Returning from work one day, I rode up out of the valley to 148 Street and instead of going through that sketchy intersection at 100 Avenue and 149 Street as I had always done previously, I rode on quiet, pleasant 148 Street all the way to 95 Avenue and took the bike lane west to 165 Street. That was it: I was an instant convert. Bike lanes rule!

2) My family and I own a house in the city. On 106 Street. Yes, THE 106 Street, home to those oh-so-controversial bike lanes. Right now we are renting the house to another family, but for several years it was home to various combinations of our four older sons and their friends, many of whom rode bikes frequently and were thrilled when the city made the bike lanes. True, the lanes are not all they could be. Sharing a bike lane with people dropping their kids off at school or daycare is not ideal. A bike lane in the door zone of parked cars is not conducive to comfort or safety. Potholes, ruts, gravel, bumpy pavement do not make for a pleasant ride. But, cyclists are generally flexible people, and for me at least, there is something about a designated lane for bikes that eases the mind. I've parked at our 106 Street house many times and ridden to work or to Whyte Avenue or to the Heritage Festival, and each time it has been a pretty good experience. So much so that sometimes I actually dream of a day when Hubby and I might move into the city, fix up that old house and live on a street with bike lanes. And I hate fixing up old houses! (Disclaimer -- our house is north of 51 Avenue and I have never used the bike lanes further south, so I can't comment on those.)

Incidentally, every time I've ridden on 106 Street, I've seen plenty of other cyclists using the bike lanes. In fact, on Nov. 12, a cold snowy day, I counted 10 others.

3) Edmonton has more to do than Spruce Grove. More festivals, more shopping, more restaurants, more concerts, more of almost everything. On top of that, three of our sons live in the city. As such, we go into Edmonton fairly often. In nice weather, I like to ride my bike into the city and meet Hubby somewhere. As a result, in addition to the bike lanes already mentioned, I've used the ones on 100 Avenue (downtown), 69 Avenue/ Wolf Willow, on Fox Drive and Stony Plain Road (bike/bus/taxi lanes), 76 Avenue (University area), 127 Street and north of the Yellowhead on 137 Avenue. Maybe more, but these are the ones that come to mind. I love bike lanes. Before I go anywhere in the city, I look at a map and find out where bike lanes are and plan my route accordingly.

I know that I'm only one person. I know that anywhere there are bike lanes you can see cyclists riding on the sidewalk, ignoring the on-road lanes. I know that some of the bike lanes are poorly designed. But I firmly believe that if we want to encourage people to use active transportation, we have to start somewhere. If we look only at the downsides and conclude dismally, "Edmontonians don't want bike lanes," nothing will change. 

On the other hand, if we forge ahead with bicycle infrastructure, constantly learning from our mistakes and making improvements as needed, diligently educating both motorists and cyclists, maybe one day our children will look back on the time when bike lanes were controversial and shake their heads in amazement.
June 2013

What to wear for a winter bike ride

Apparently the city of Calgary is progressive enough that the Herald features a blog about cycling. In a recent article, the author talked about how to dress for winter and the problem of overdressing, claiming that the real challenge of winter cycling is not being too cold but becoming hot and sweaty.

I've had those days, for sure. Like two weeks ago, during freezing rain, when my ride was mostly on ice and I had to walk a good part of the time. I walk fast, even when dragging a bike, and I was pretty tense, walking and riding on a virtual skating rink. I wore a leather jacket that day and arrived at work dismayed to find that my silk shirt was literally soaked with sweat. Fortunately I was wearing a cardigan as well, so I kept that on all day to cover up any nasty looking marks on the shirt.

Last week was moderately cold: mornings were about -10 to -15 C and afternoons were -5 or so. Ice was not a major problem so I was more relaxed. I also dressed appropriately and didn't have any problems with sweat.

What I wore:
  • Layer 1: silky cami (polyester fabric)
  • Layer 2: wool or cashmere pullover
  • Layer 3: wool or cashmere cardigan OR velveteen or wool blazer
  • Layer 4: wool-blend (75% wool) pea coat
  • on my legs: long underwear, regular pants, MEC Adanac cycling tights (the tights are good for x-c skiing, too)
  • on my hands: wool-angora-nylon blend gloves inside a cheap pair of mittens I bought years ago at Superstore -- this is by far the best combo I have found for my hands -- forget all those expensive cycling-specific mitts and gloves
  • on my feet: thin bamboo socks with wool socks over top, lamb-wool lined boots
  • cashmere scarf inside coat collar
  • white fleece scarf tied outside coat collar
  • fleece earband and bike helmet
  • and the star of the show: a reflective sash
It looks like a long list of clothing, but it is pretty much what I would wear for walking. Since I walk super fast, I would probably wear only one scarf if walking. 

The great thing about this outfit is that it consists of normal clothing. I don't need to change when I arrive at work. Sometimes I need to take off Layer #3. If I want to go out for a walk at lunch time, I have a suitable jacket. The last two winters and even this past fall, concerned about visibility, I have worn cycling-specific jackets. Not only do they tend to lead to that uncomfortable sweaty feeling (they are usually not particularly breathable, even the ones that claim that property) but they look kind of funny when worn for casual wear.

The other great thing? Wool and cashmere are not only warm, they are the ultimate in breathable. Even if you do sweat a little while wearing these materials, it's not a big deal -- they dry fairly quickly and don't smell. (At least I hope not!)

For shorter rides when it is around zero, I often wear a leather jacket with just one scarf that I can loosen if I get too warm. This seems to work pretty well, and the leather is easy to wipe clean.

I did buy a new coat recently and I want to try it for cycling. Maybe this coming week. I've been wearing it for walking the dog in the evenings and it seems perfect -- lightweight and warm but not sweaty. I'm thinking it will be good for the really cold days when I want something to cover my legs. I have a down coat in a similar style, but talk about sweat-inducing!

OK, so I just reread that article, and I see that the author thinks long johns are not normal clothes. This is where he and I diverge. In the winter my long johns cover my legs from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Thay are most definitely normal clothes. But even without long johns, if you pull on a pair of nylon pants (running pants are what I used the last two years; this year I bought the MEC tights) over your jeans, you will be warm and comfy and still look OK at the grocery store or your kid's school. In fact, despite how dumpy they look on the MEC web site, in real life the MEC tights look kind of stylish when worn with nice boots.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

other cyclists

When I pass other cyclists on the trails or shared sidewalks, I always say a cheerful good morning or hello, depending on the time of day. Some respond in like manner; others are less friendly.

I try to be charitable to all, but some fellow cyclists are clearly not kindred spirits. Like the guy who blew through the 100 Avenue/148 Street stop sign, requiring two vehicles without stop signs to yield to him. 

And the two guys, riding together, who came up behind me one day as I waited at a red light, only to go racing through the intersection.

And the two guys I saw on Tuesday who rode on the sidewalk of 100 Avenue (against traffic) and across the intersection at 109 Street, weaving their way among the pedestrians. I, walking my bike, managed to go faster than both of them, meanwhile complying with the law.

This morning I found myself behind a guy who obviously knew what he was doing. I first spotted him, dressed in red, just before I embarked on the diciest section of my commute: the stretch of 102 Avenue just past 142 Street. I glimpsed him heading confidently into the back alley just as I entered the nasty, unpleasant, almost unnavigable ruts and ridges of the service road in front. I walked my bike for the first part, then with determination managed to ride through the next section and onto the sidewalk, which is not in great shape either. 

Mr. Red obviously doesn't share my need for speed, because by the time I reached the MEC intersection I was almost on his tail. I decided to follow him and see which route he took. He rode on 102 Avenue, which on Monday had been covered in deep snow, but today was bladed clear. At a red light, I said good morning and told him I was following him to see where he went. I mentioned that I usually use the 100 Avenue bike lane. Then I saw his face and thought I recognized him as a guy who posts videos on Twitter. Without thinking, I blurted out, "Are you the guy who makes the videos?" Sure enough. 

He showed me his camera and we had a nice little chat, riding single file as far as the Railtown Trail, where I headed south and he continued east. He was pretty tickled that I appreciated his videos and I was happy to meet another like-minded commuter.

I love my winter bike ride!

It felt so good to get back on the bike this week. I Parked-and-Walked last Monday, but because of the heavy snow and my fear of driving in bad road conditions, I took the bus the rest of the week.
At 4:30 Sunday afternoon I looked at my bike and saw a flat tire. In my tire-tube box, I had tubes for every tire except the one that was flat, so I raced over to Canadian Tire (on foot) and bought a tube. Came back, changed the tube, used my new birthday bike pump to inflate it. Whew! Glad I saw the flat before the store closed! And thank you, CT, for carrying a wide selection of bike tubes even in the "off season."

Monday was a nice day and I resumed normal programming: drive into the west end, park my car and ride the last 7-8 km to downtown.

Nervous about the possibility of an icy descent into the ravine from Crestwood, I've been riding through the city instead of the River Valley. To say there was lots of snow would be an understatement.
I didn't think the roads and sidewalks could ever be worse than they were last winter, but guess what? Somehow the city workers have managed to outdo themselves:
try to ride through this to get onto the bridge!

a nice strip of ice on the other bridge

thank you, kind snow remover, for heaping the snow onto the sidewalk!
My Sherlock Holmes tendencies tell me that I am not the only winter bicycle commuter out there:
It always cheers me to see a multitude of tracks in the fresh snow. But it also raises the question: why does anyone doubt that people ride their bikes in the winter? 
How do they think those tracks get there?

Monday's ride, which involved a fair bit of walking anyway, ended abruptly at the 116 Street/100 Avenue intersection when my back rack came loose. I could tell that something was not right, so I stopped to check. The bolt holding the bracket in place had come apart and the rack was attached only by the wheel supports. 

I walked the remaining 9 blocks, carrying my pannier. 

Before beginning my walk, I had a fun encounter with a cute little guy on his way to school. He stopped, studied my bike and the recalcitrant rack, and said: "That's not going to stay on." I agreed. He studied my pannier. "Is that a backpack?" he asked in a bright, optimistic voice. I told him no, but at that moment I wished it was. He nodded sagely and continued to watch as I unhitched the pannier, assured him I didn't have far to go and started on my way. How sweet to have someone commiserate in my time of distress. I see a great future for that kid.

After work I stopped in at MEC and asked for emergency help. 

"You need a new rack," the bike shop guy told me. I was ready to do whatever would get me back on the road, so I told him to go ahead. "We can't do it today. We're booked up until next week."

My disappointed face must have had an impact, because he took another look.

"Well, maybe I can fix this," he said. I smiled pleadingly. He examined it more closely. "Yeah, sure, I can fix this," he continued. I smiled happily.

He fixed it. He didn't charge me. I was happy and would have whistled all the way back to the car except that I can't whistle.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

back to work, back to commuting

Our second Fall Session started on Tuesday, November 12th. I had to drop in at our rental property that day, so I parked near Southgate and rode to and from work via the 106 Street bike lane, the High Level Bridge and the Railtown path. This is a nice easy route and I sort of wish I could use it every day. Drivers on 106 seem to have come to terms with the fact that the route is a cycling artery and they are generally courteous and tolerant. I also love seeing all the other cyclists -- today I saw at least 10 others. I was the only woman, though. As far as I am concerned, there are only two downsides to this route: crossing 82 Ave (Whyte Ave) and the amount of snow, ice and gravel that have already accumulated in the bike lanes. The road itself is in good shape, though, and because it is a designated bike route, I feel quite comfortable taking a lane if needed.

On Wednesday, I started on the 100 Avenue shared pathway and took 102 Avenue, Jasper, the 121 Street/100 Avenue bike lane, then 100 Avenue  to 109 Street. It was a pretty dicey ride, thanks to freezing rain. The 100 Avenue shared pathway was a sheet of ice. Early on I encountered a shaken-up young male pedestrian who, upon seeing me, warned: "Be careful. I just fell back there." Duly cautioned, I gingerly proceeded on my way, and sure enough -- I too slid to the ground. Because I was riding so slowly, it was a slide rather than a fall, and Miranda and I emerged unscathed, but after that I walked the bike all the way to 149 Street. I then rode on the streets through Crestwood, walked across the pedestrian bridge (another sheet of ice) and joined the vehicular traffic on Stony Plain Road. That was fine, but after 142 Street I decided to try the service road: big mistake! Yet another sheet of ice. I walked the bike until 137 Street, after which I rode in the vehicle lane. 

After one more short session of walking, on 125 Street, it was relatively smooth sailing all the way to 109 Street. 

It was raining/snowing the whole time, so I arrived at work with wet hair. My beautiful silk shirt was also a little sweat-soaked, not so much from effort, but from being tense for a good part of the commute. Still, I would rather be tense negotiating icy bike paths than sitting behind the wheel of a car. 

Incidentally, my speed for that ride was about 10 km/hour, and it took me 43 minutes to go 7.5 km! I saw only one other person on a bike that morning.
Miranda - after work on Wednesday

The next day I took a different route. Avoiding the shared pathway, which I suspect will remain in its hazardously icy state from now until April, I rode on Stony Plain Road. For quite a few blocks, there is a bike/bus/taxi lane, so that is nice. Stupidly, however, I tried that service road again; again it was sheer ice and I had to walk the bike. Another section to avoid for the rest of the winter. Everything else was OK, and my ride was much faster and more comfortable than on Tuesday.
our back deck - Nov 16

Now, as I sit contemplating the 20 25 30 cm of snow we have received since yesterday evening, I am wondering about next week. If the roads are still bad on Monday morning, I will take the bus into the city. 

If I drive, I plan to park in Crestwood and walk to work, checking out the conditions for cycling. I'll go to work on the city streets and return through the River Valley so I can check out both routes, and I figure I'll be prepared to resume riding on Tuesday. 

A merino balaclava is on my "Things to Buy" list.

Friday, November 8, 2013

a snowy ride

This morning I decided to take winterized Miranda out for a ride, partly just for fun, but also to get myself ready for riding to work next week. I rode mostly on the trails, but also on one main street and a few residential streets.
I rode on pretty much every type of surface: wet pavement, dry pavement, snow and ice covered pavement. But the most fun part of my ride was when I decided to go off-roading on this completely snow-covered trail:
There were some scary moments when I thought I was going to fall, but I made it all the way without a tumble. And it was a blast!

Now I think I have an inkling of why people like mountain biking so much. The challenge of handling the bike on treacherous ground and the thrill of success are pretty awesome. 

After returning from my ride, I quickly made a batch of brownies and packed up the lasagne I'd made earlier to take to lunch at a friend's house in the city. I parked in my usual spot, stuffed my pannier with the goodies and rode Miranda a couple of kilometers to her house, where four of us enjoyed a tasty meal, good conversation and lots of laughter.

dressed for winter

Miranda, my GT Tempest, is now dressed for winter. Front and back fenders, new hand grips, a nifty back rack with a spring loaded holder, rear and front lights and fat, knobby 'Table Top' tires. 

This afternoon (Thursday) I picked her up from the bike shop and rode her home, and I was pleased. No problems at all on bumpy ice, smoother ice, mud, 3-cm deep snow. Bare pavement was fine, too. I even rode up the small, steep, snow-and-ice-covered hill that leads out of the woods into our neighbourhood. I tried this yesterday on Youngest Son's bike and ended up walking, but Miranda sailed on up. (Of course, I'm sure it helps that the bike fits me properly, unlike YS's bike.) 

Bike Shop Guy was also pretty pleased with what they had done. "That's a sweet old bike," were his words. He added that the old GT bikes were really good quality, unlike the newer ones.

He also thinks it's great that I have so many "cool" bikes. By cool, he must mean older, plain, inexpensive, serviceable bikes.

I am a bit shy, or I would have told him that I think of myself as The People's Cyclist. An ordinary person who rides as much as she can and encourages others to do likewise.

Cycling, in my opinion, should be accessible to everyone. It should be done where you are, with what you have. No need to spend big bucks for the latest high-tech bike. No need for special clothing. No need to go to a special place to ride. Of course, all those things are fine (and I anticipate some day shelling out $3,000 for a Specialized Ruby road bike) but the main thing is -- Just Start Riding! 

It makes my day when someone  tells me that I inspired them to start cycling. Three of my students have caught the bug. One of my neighbours, whose husband frequently comments on my riding, started riding this summer. Son #4 has always loved to drive, but since I found an old Rocky Mountain hybrid bike at a thrift shop ($35) and fixed it up for him (new tube, $6 + new tire, free from our shed + a good scrubbing and lubing) he has been riding to work, even now that there's snow on the ground. All the result of an ordinary person riding her bike with extraordinary enthusiasm!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

first ride of winter

Although it's much too soon, it's inevitable -- SNOW! My winter bike is still at the bike shop undergoing some surgery, but I was dying to get out for a ride today, so I used Youngest Son's mountain bike. 

It's not the most comfy ride, but it worked. I had to use the old one-foot-on-the-ground-pushing-the-bike-along trick on some of the smoother ice patches, but all in all it was a pretty decent first winter ride. I rode about 5 km on the trails through the woods, enjoying the sound of birds singing in the trees and the sight of sunlight and shadows.

It started out kind of cold, but by the time I got back, it was warmer and I decided to take Maggie out for a walk. She loves this cold, but not too cold, weather and skips along happily. She was especially happy when we saw a fox on the trail behind our house. It stood for a while, staring at us, then trotted off into the woods.

Last night I also sweet-talked Hubby into trying to fit my clipless pedals onto the stationary bike. It worked, and it was easy, so I am all set for indoor winter workouts. Around here, at least for me, riding outdoors in winter isn't a predictable workout. I simply can't maintain a consistent speed on ice and snow. This type of riding is more of an exercise in balance, dexterity, ingenuity -- and just plain survival.

Exercise... or not? (Part 2)

In my last post, I asserted that a daily commute can indeed be good exercise, to the point of preparing a person for a much harder endeavour.

BUT -- if you perform the same exercise over and over again, your body will become accustomed to the workout and it will be less effective. If you don't care about that and just want to maintain fitness, this is probably not a big deal. Keep riding as always; at least you are doing something, right? 

For me, challenge in the form of changing up my routine is important. It makes the daily commute more interesting, but it also allows me to use my commute as training time. My ride on the Icefields Parkway was the start of an addiction to road cycling. On weekends I love to ride longer and harder routes -- 60-100 km per day, with plenty of climbing -- and I take advantage of my commute to keep in shape for this. 

Here some things you can do to make a daily commute more of a workout
. (In warm weather, you will work up a sweat, so always bring a change of clothing and the stuff needed to make yourself presentable at work!) 
  1. Change your route. Whereas I used to ride the same route everyday, following a relatively flat course on city streets, I now usually ride through the River Valley. This extends my commute to about 10 km each way. There are no lights or stop signs, so I can ride at a steady speed. Sometimes I take a different route. We have a rental house on the south side of the city, near Southgate, so when I have business there, I park in that area and ride on the 106 Street bike route and across the High Level Bridge. Occasionally I park farther from my destination. Second Son lives about 13 km from downtown, so when the weather is especially pleasant, I like to park near his home and enjoy a longer ride.  When it comes to cycling, variety means changes in terrain which lead to changes in riding style and effort. 
    View from High Level Bridge Streetcar
  2. Add hills. As I descend into the valley, I know that what goes down must come up. Yes, my daily commute involves hills. I have a choice of two. In the bright light of early fall, late spring and summer, I generally choose the steeper hill, but once it is dark in the mornings, I opt for the long gradual climb, which has a shared pathway for cyclists and pedestrians. I feel safer riding here than sharing the narrow road with cars and buses. Both climbs are decently hard, and I up the ante by varying my approach. Sometimes I ride in a low gear, spinning as fast as I can. Other times I ride in a high gear for as long as I can, downshifting only as it becomes absolutely necessary. On days when I start my ride half-asleep and feeling anything but energetic, I assure myself that it's okay if I take it easy on the upcoming hill, but somehow by the time I get there, I am always ready to give it my best. The climb out of the valley at the end of the workday is long and steady, culminating in a short steep section. Often there is a headwind, which adds to the challenge. Sometimes I'm tired after a long day teaching (I stand all day), but the satisfaction I feel when I reach the top of the hill is energizing.
    the river valley, early October
  3. Chase down other commuters. That's right; I am the skinny middle-aged woman who tries to pass all the guys on the trail. If I see a rider ahead of me, I pedal as fast as I can, trying to overtake. My favourite overtaking occurs after I've been passed on a downhill stretch. I am a braker: I don't go fast downhill. As a result, I am frequently passed by the daring young men on their flying trapezes bicycles. On the flat section, however, look out. The middle-aged woman comes into her own and cranks those pedals until she overtakes said young men. And when I overtake, I make sure it's for good, which means I have to work extra hard to maintain the lead. Even if I don't succeed in overtaking, a good workout is guaranteed.
  4. Try to maintain a high cadence and a good speed. I can feel it when I'm slacking off. Sometimes I don't care, but usually if I notice that I'm taking it easy, I push myself a little harder.
  5. Stand up from time to time. As suggested in this article, sometimes I remain seated as I climb the big hill; other times I try to stay out of the saddle the entire time. Sometimes I do a little of each.
The final word? To maximize the workout potential of a daily commute, add variety. Take a look at the route and see what can be done to make the most of the time spent riding. Your body will thank you for it!

Exercise... or not?

en route to Lake Louise... looking back after a bit of a climb
I've asked myself this question regarding my daily commute: is it exercise? Well, of course, it's exercise, I know that. But does it qualify as a workout? From time to time I think about this, and after reading this post on the Let's Go Ride a Bike blog, I thought about it some more.

This lovely lady lives in Chicago, a city I love. (How's that for alliteration?) I lived in Chicago for about 4 1/2 years. I met my husband there. I ate many a piece of Giordano's pizza and a few Number Ones at Mr. J's. I rode the El daily and walked and cycled along the lake shore. I even swam in Lake Michigan. I never set out chairs to mark my parking spot in the winter, but that was only because I had an assigned parking spot in my apartment's driveway. (I didn't really drive in Chicago, anyway -- maybe twice, but we did have a car.) All in all, it's quite fun to read about this woman's cycling adventures in the Windy City.

But back to the question at hand: is daily bicycle commuting really exercise? 
My short answer is: it depends

I've seen a few cycle commuters who proceed at a very leisurely pace; I daresay I could walk faster than they ride. I do walk fast (7.5+ km/hour), but that doesn't mean they are not riding slowly. For these people, I can answer the question with a confident NO. Perhaps what they're doing is better than sitting on a bus or behind a steering wheel, but if you ride like this, don't expect dramatic results when it comes to weight loss or improved fitness.

Most of us don't ride like this, however. I started riding my bike to work late in the winter of 2010. My commute was 7.5 km each way on city streets, punctuated with traffic lights and stop signs. In those early days, I rode a refurbished mountain bike and carried a moderately heavy backpack. I didn't exactly race to work, but like most commuters, I rode at a steady speed and didn't slack. 

After riding every day for six or seven months, in mid-September, I decided to join Oldest Son and Youngest Son cycling the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise -- a distance of about 230 km through the mountains. The plan was to divide the ride over two days. I was slightly apprehensive. I knew I was in decent shape -- in addition to riding every day, Hubby and I also took the dog for a walk every evening, and I had a regular routine of ab exercises and lifting light weights. But this ride would be like nothing I'd ever attempted. I had never ridden more than 20-25 km in a single day. 

cloudy skies -- we had a bit of rain on the second day
Well, I had a very pleasant surprise. Not only did I complete the ride, it was not even all that hard. Yes, there were two or three difficult climbs, but I kept pedaling and downshifting, and didn't have to walk my bike once. The gorgeous scenery and the sense of accomplishment helped to alleviate any pain I might have felt.

I wasn't even particularly tired at the end of the ride. The worst part came on the second day when I couldn't figure out what clothing to wear -- I started out too cold, rapidly became too hot, then was too cold again. It took a while, but once I figured out the proper combination of layers, I was comfy and happy. So, yes, I think I can safely say that my bicycle commute served as training for a much longer and much more challenging ride.

I was especially proud of myself that I stayed in a hostel -- no electricity, no running water!