Monday, September 19, 2016

Gravel Glossary: Fresh Powder


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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Grand Beach Postcard


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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Pit Stop: Crepe and Shake


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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tour of Alberta 2016 Preview


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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Sex, Lies, and Handlebar Tape


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

Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Velvet Street


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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Victorian Bikepacking



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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Connecticut Quick Stop


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

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