Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Up the Creek

Just before winter vanished last week, the Dusty crew had the good fortune to return to Whitemud Creek for a second fat bike exploration, following up on last winter’s initial foray. This time we met up at the parking lot of Snow Valley ski hill. As most folks tramped their way uphill, we dropped down into the  creek bed and headed south.

Conditions, as usual, were variable on the creek, constantly shifting from fresh powder to packed snow to bare ice to water and slush on top of ice.

We didn’t get far that day. Fat pace is slow going, but creek pace is of another order of slowness altogether. We sailed along at about 4.5 miles per hour. But that hardly matters. Creek riding is an adventure, a kind of winter walk on wheels.

This adventure includes some obstacles, as any good adventure will. The first treacherous section is the slush pit, a stretch of about 100 metres with a layer of slushy water on top of the ice. Riding over this takes some nerve. On a rational level, you know the ice is thick enough. But riding on water just feels not quite right, somehow. I ask myself, “What would Jesus-on-a-fat-bike do?” Ride on water, brother. Just keep the wheels moving.

The second challenge is the field of ice mounds—more like ice dunes, really. The crazy camber makes for some dodgy moments. My approach is to close my eyes, keep pedalling, and trust my studs.

On the way back downstream, I find 5 bucks sitting on the snow, Laurier’s blue face flapping in the breeze. I’m sure it belongs to the grumpy dude who just passed us going the opposite direction on the creek. We all said hello and the guy just looked away, perturbed, it seems, by our presence on his creek.

I pick up the fiver and tuck it in my pocket, an appropriate karmic tariff. Anyone who could be grumpy while out on a frozen creek on a sunny winter’s day deserves to lose 5 bucks.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Turd Window

One thing you can’t help but notice when winter off-road cycling is all the frozen turds. I guess it’s a matter of context. I’m sure there are just as many turds on the paths and trails at other times of the year; turds are just less conspicuous without the white background of snow. In spring, summer, or fall your typical turd blends in with the surroundings, neatly camouflaged amid the leaves, dirt, branches, and grass.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Baiyu Superbright Spoke Lights

Got me some cheap Chinese spoke lights for my crap commuter bike. I had been thinking for some time about the need to improve side visibiIity on my daily ride and concluded that some kind of wheel lighting was the way to go. So I ordered these on amazon for $13, shipping included. They arrived remarkably quickly, shipped from China complete with curiously worded “English” instructions, in time to make a little Christmas gift to myself. I see them as an experiment. I know they’re cheap, in every sense. But, hey, 13 bucks.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Gravel & Creek

Our first ride of 2017 was a winner, an auspicious undertaking that has me hopeful for the year ahead. I mapped out a route that combines gravel roads and a frozen creek west of St. Albert, between Meadowview Road and Highway 633, to be exact. Val, Penn, and I parked at Sandpiper Golf Course and rolled off into a fierce north wind, with the plan to ride straight gravel roads north and take the meandering creek back. (In hindsight, I see we probably should have done it the other way around, to account for that north wind. Next time, I’ll work that into the plan).

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pedal & Skate

Image result for frank patterson cycling artist

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

Illustration by Frank Patterson. Cycling magazine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Corners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers

Image result for tim hilton one more kilometre

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016


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