Monday, September 18, 2017

Welcoming another bike (or two) to the fold...

Folding bikes, of course. 

Since my Dahon Vitesse, although beautiful and a dream to ride, is not suitable for taking on an airplane as a piece of regular checked luggage, I had to start again with my search. This time we decided to go the secondhand route, so we searched Kijiji. By this time, Hubby was convinced that folding bikes were a good idea, so we ended up buying two older Dahon bikes with the sixteen inch wheels. 

Mine, which I have christened "Kleine Fiets," is made of gleaming stainless steel and folds to an unbelievably small size. It came with its own softside carry case. Once I got used to the tiny wheels, it was surprisingly comfortable and fast. One problem, though -- the Sturmey Archer 3-speed internal hub isn't working quite right. I can't shift into the lowest gear. But for riding around town, without any significant hills, it was just fine with only the two gears. I tested it on a 10 km ride and even rode up the little -- but very steep -- hill on the trail behind our house. No problem!

From looking at photos online, we figure this is one of the very early Dahons, from the 1980s.

The other is also a Dahon, subtitled Piccolo, and it is considerably newer. It doesn't have the angled bar that is on the older model and it doesn't fold quite as compactly. Like the older one, it has the Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. I rode it over the same 10 km route, and found it pretty much the same as the other bike, except that I could shift into all three gears on this one.

So, we were pretty pleased with our finds. For less than $300, we had two folding bikes that rode well and could fit into standard suitcases.

London, here we come. 

But. Of course, there's a but. We decided to see whether we could get the gears fixed on the older bike. So, we rode to a DIY bike shop, which shall remain nameless. My understanding of this place was that there would be people there who would show us how to fix the bike. However, when I got there, the super-zealous guy said, "Wow, this is a beautiful bike!" He popped it up on a stand and started working on it. Next thing I knew, the gears were in worse shape than before. I thanked him, paid the minuscule fee and left. The bike was still rideable, but the gears were harder to shift than before and I still had only the two gears.

Oh well, I thought. It'll be OK. But then when we were trying to decide which suitcases to use, Hubby took the back rack and fenders off the Piccolo 9to make it smaller), and when he reassembled everything, something was wrong with the rear wheel. Oops!

Just proves the truth of one of my favourite sayings: if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Know when to fold 'em -- bikes, that is

Somewhere along the way, I developed a bit of an obsession with folding bikes. 

The first time I ever remember seeing one was in the late 1990s, when my next door neighbour Beverley, in Richmond, BC, came home from a garage sale with one. Thrilled with her find, she proudly showed me how it could fold in half and easily fit in their RV.  

I thought it was pretty cool, and because Beverley was older and at a different stage of life, I thought, “Yeah, maybe I’d like one of those someday,” and then promptly forgot about it.

Folding bikes came to my attention again when I visited London for the first time in April of 2015. I made extensive use of the cycle hire system, in which you pay 2 GBP for a 24-hour period and use a bike for half an hour at a time, as often as you want, at no extra charge. For me, this was simply marvelous, and I rode every day of my stay – to Buckingham Palace, to the British Museum, across Tower Bridge, to Trafalgar Square, to Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, and many more places. I did end up paying a little extra because twice I went over the half-hour limit, but even so, it was a super deal.

As I rode, I spotted people on folding bikes. Lots of people. I would see them exit the underground, break open their bikes and start riding. They rode fast, as fast as people on regular bikes. Many had panniers which presumably carried all they needed for a day at work. It was intriguing, and again, I thought that was pretty cool.

When I ended up beside a folding-bike rider at a red light, I asked him how he liked it. He replied that he loved it, adding that he used to use the cycle hire bikes, too, but when he would arrive at Paddington Station in the mornings, there would often be no bikes available, so he’d have to walk to the next cycle dock, hoping to find a bike. After a few times of doing this, he decided to buy a folder, and he was glad he did.

Once again, the thought crossed my mind: I’d like to own a folding bike someday.

The next winter, one morning as I rode my full-sized, studded-tired bike to work, I spotted a woman flying out of her yard in the Glenora neighbourhood -- on a folding bike. She sailed along over the ice and snow, that typical happy-bike-rider look on her face. Although I had previously felt rather special just for bicycle commuting throughout the winter, the sight of this woman riding in an Edmonton winter on her tiny-wheeled folder made me feel quite ordinary and boring. This time I felt more determined than ever: someday, I vowed, I too will own a folding bike.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017. I tentatively mentioned to Hubby that I was sort of, just a wee bit, interested in owning a folding bike. He likes cycling, too, but he doesn't quite get the n+1 rule, so I wasn't sure what he would say. But to my surprise, he was quite enthusiastic. I showed him the one I had in mind -- the Dahon Vitesse i7, with seven speeds and internal gearing (another thing I am a bit obsessed with, by the way.) He liked it, and it was on sale at Revolution Cycle, so he encouraged me to buy it online and we would pick it up the next day.

I love it! It is a dream to ride, and as mentioned in my post about Castor, it even rides nicely on gravel roads. BUT -- it turns out it is too big to take with us on an international flight. Bummer. I guess that means I have to try to find a different folding bike, right?

Riding near Castor

Never heard of Castor, Alberta? Me either, until a short while ago. Turns out it is a charming small town halfway between Macklin, Sask., and Red Deer.

A couple of weeks ago, Oldest Son wanted to ride from Macklin to Castor, so I decided to join him for part of the ride. I rode about 65 km before I felt too saddle-sore to continue. He is like the Energizer Bunny; he keeps going and going, but I find I need a break after about 60 K.

Hubby and I drove down to Castor on Friday evening and with a minimum of difficulty found the campground. It is right on the highway, but shielded by a row of trees and there is no sign, so we missed the turn the first time around.

After selecting our campsite, Hubby told me I should disappear for an hour or so. Why? He likes me to believe that setting up the tent trailer is a breeze, so if I am not around while he does it I will never know the truth. Something like that.

So I took out my Dahon Vitesse folding bike and went for a ride. The campground is situated south of the highway, so I started my tour of the town on the same side. The town soon ran out, however, and I ended up on a gravel country road.
 Curious to know how the 20" wheels on the folding bike would handle the gravel, I decided to forge ahead. It was just fine. I rode a kilometer or so along this road, before deciding it was a bit boring and turning around. I did manage to nicely spook some cattle that were grazing along the road. They were not concerned about the truck that went past, but when I came along, they took off.

Leaving this area behind, I crossed the highway and entered the main part of town. I was greeted by a sign with a beaver on it, and right next to it, the beaver itself.

I began by riding straight north, through the town and into the countryside. Here it was peaceful and quite beautiful, with gently rolling hills and patches of gold and green.

But I soon hit gravel again, and although I had proven that the Vitesse was up for the challenge, I definitely prefer smooth riding, so I turned around and headed into the town, which as I said before, is totally charming. One of the most charming sights to me -- bikes standing, unlocked, in many of the front yards. I didn't see anyone actually riding, but clearly people do ride, and not only that, they don't fear their bikes being stolen.

I rode past the historical hospital site, Our Lady of the Rosary, built in 1911, still in use as a continuing care centre.

And of course, there's the Cosmopolitan Hotel and the obligatory small prairie town Chinese restaurant, the Shangri-La.

And I love what they've done with the old Roman aqueduct.
Kidding aside, it really is a lovely little town. 
On Saturday, after a somewhat noisy night, we set off for Macklin, about 1 1/2 hr drive east. Incidentally, it is home to a giant bone, a symbol of the game of Bunnock, which was introduced to Canada by Russian/German immigrants. We saw the bone -- definitely over-rated!

Once there, we hopped on our bikes and rode west. It was a good ride -- lots of rolling hills and pretty scenery. 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

High points - literal and figurative

Riding up a hill in Sturgeon County and feeling on top of the world...

Riding to the library to drop off some books and seeing a full bike rack...

riding near Nordegg

 On August 12, together with my oldest son, I rode from Nordegg to Cline River. It was a perfect day - hot but cloudy enough that the sun wasn't too intense. I tried out my sunblock sleeves, a new purchase from MEC, and they did the trick in preventing sunburn.

I rode my MEC Mixed Tape bike -- 7-speed internal hub, and was quite impressed with how well it handled the hills. 

I actually began the day by riding about 30 km from our home to Highway 770 in the morning. Hubby picked me up and we drove down to the Goldeye Campground where we met Oldest Son.

Not only was it cloudy, but it was also hazy with smoke from a distant fire or two (yes, I am totally giving away my age!) When I got home and looked at the photos I'd taken, I was surprised at how much the smoke covered the mountains.

Lake Abraham is beautiful. Because it was a hot day, there were lots of people enjoying the cool water, but it is still so unspoiled and peaceful.

As we were riding, a male deer came out onto the road right in front of us. I wanted to get a pic, but someone drove by and honked to scare the deer away. This bear, however, was cooperative and didn't move! I wondered if the hat was all that remained of his latest victim.

our stopping point - the David Thompson Resort

This was the end of our ride -- the David Thompson Resort. I'm afraid Thompson's rest might be less than peaceful if he knows that this place is named after him, but maybe the fact that he is remembered is enough?

Friday, August 4, 2017

add some beauty to life

“I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people KNOW more... though I know that IS the noblest ambition... but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me... to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born.”

I didn't read the Anne of Green Gables series until I was an adult and pregnant with my second child. I loved those books, and as soon as I met Anne I recognized a kindred spirit. 

And when I read the above words, I had that feeling you get when you wish you would have said it first. 

Travelling by bike offers opportunities to stop along the way and add some joy and happiness to people's lives. Of course, this is not one-sided -- those people usually do exactly the same for me.

Because I commute to work, I cover approximately the same route at approximately the same time every day. As a result, I see some people quite regularly, walking, riding a bike, or waiting for a bus. Sometimes these people fail to appear and I experience a fleeting curiosity about what happened -- did they change jobs, move away from the area, start driving to work, take a holiday? The curiosity comes and goes and I quickly forget about them.

One person, however, stands out as a little different. This is an older lady whom I think of as Princess Grace. She reminds me of Grace Kelly. Her hair is in that classic, impeccable 1950s bob; she carries herself regally, and she wears the most beautiful scarves. 

A few years ago I would see her every day after work as she ventured out of her care home (I could see her call button around her neck) for a slow, painstakingly careful stroll to the end of the block and back. We always exchanged smiles and greetings. 

One day when I arrived at my parking spot and began unpacking my bike, she didn't appear. I dawdled a little, but in the end I had to load the bike into the back of the van and drive away. This time I experienced more than fleeting curiosity; I was slightly worried. Where was she? Was she sick? In the hospital? Perhaps even...

I told myself that this was ridiculous. First of all, I didn't even know her, not really. Secondly, she was probably just fine.  I would probably see her the next day -- maybe she just took her walk later than usual this one time. 

But, no, I didn't see her the next day. In fact, I didn't see her again for months, perhaps even a year. I thought of her from time to time. I even told my ESL class about her when we were studying modals of possibility (might, could, may.) The students, practicing these verbs, offered many possible explanations for her sudden disappearance. None was completely satisfactory.

I didn't forget her. I didn't think about her every day, but occasionally when I arrived at my parking spot, I would wonder...

And then one day, I took a slightly different route back to the van. Instead of riding on the main street, I took a side street, and there she was, wearing a lovely scarf (Hermes?) and walking as elegantly as ever. In astonishment, I stopped my bike and said hello. Her face lit up and she explained that she was taking longer walks now and she started a little earlier, so that by the time I arrived at my parking spot, she had already passed. We had a nice little chat and I rode to my van with a cheerful heart.

That was about two years ago.  Since then, I haven't seen her very often, but just this week I met up with her again. I stopped to say hello and she immediately smiled and said, "It's so nice to see you again." Of course, the feeling was mutual and I told her so. And I thought of Anne and her desire to add some beauty to the lives of others.

As we ride our bikes, taking life at a slower pace than so many people around us, we have the chance to do just that. 

Share your stories!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lilac Lane

One of my favourite spots north of town is what I call Lilac Lane -- farm fields planted with a border of lilacs. Last year I missed seeing the lilacs; you have to get the timing just right. But today I saw them in all their glory. 

It was a gorgeous day for a ride, so I headed up the Campsite Road hills and on over to Lilac Lane. Close to this spot is a semi-hidden range road that is like a little roller coaster. I love to ride up and down the hills until I reach the highest point, and then comes the reward -- I can turn around and ride down (with a few ups along the way) to the bottom. It's a great workout with a beautiful view. One day on this road I spotted a fox. Today a deer ran across the road a few hundred meters in front of me.

Today I also ventured onto an unpaved road. I was on my commuter bike, so the tires are a little fatter than the road bike tires, so I thought I'd give it a try. The road was not exactly gravel, but a sort of hard packed dirt and gravel mix, and the riding was fine. This was another pretty ride with a couple of decent climbs.

Get in the bike lane!

It had to happen sooner or later. When I ride to work on 102 Avenue (07:30ish), rather than crossing the street twice (a potentially dangerous activity for Edmontonians) and bumping along riding on the  shared pathway on the north side of the avenue, I usually take the lane and ride on the road. At this time of the day, as at other times of the day when I have ridden on this road, there is not much traffic. Little enough that one lane for the motor vehicles is sufficient, so why not ride my bike in the other lane? Makes sense to me.

But I felt deep down inside that I was being bad -- I mean, really, the city spent all that money and time to make that cute shared pathway on the north side and I'm not using it? Bad girl!

The person who yelled at me today agreed. He was in the one car that was heading west on 102 Avenue. There were no eastbound cars at that time. In other words, except for a single vehicle and my bike, the 4-lane road was empty. But this helpful fellow thought he should offer me some advice. "Get in the bike lane!" he screamed as he passed.

You know what? I'd be happy to get in the bike lane. Only one problem. There is no bike lane.

When the new bridge was being built, I heard rumours that after construction was finished there would be bike lanes on 102 Avenue. Needless to say, I was looking forward to them. But alas, construction is finished and what cyclists have is not bike lanes, but a shared pathway. On the wrong side of the road for my commute. 

Not only that, but the shared pathway has bumps. At every intersection, where the sidewalk material meets asphalt, there is a big bump. When it rains and during the spring thaw, these same spots boast large puddles. 

And one more thing: every intersection of the shared pathway has little yield signs directed at cyclists. This means that if there should be a collision between a cyclist and a motorist, there's a good chance the cyclist could be found at fault because she didn't yield. 

All these things combined mean that I prefer to ride on the road. No crossing the street unnecessarily, no bumps, no little yield signs. And oh yes, no need to ride around vehicles stopped across the crosswalks.

I will admit that in the winter the shared pathway was not so bad. The city usually kept it clear of snow. (Well, except for when we had big snowfalls.) It felt safer to ride separated from traffic even if it meant waiting to cross the street twice. 

But when there is no snow or ice on the ground? No question in my mind but that riding on the road is the way to go.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young, ah pleasant May! (Christina Rossetti)

This was Tuesday -- a perfect "bright and breezy" May day. The flowers along the shared pathway on 100 Avenue not only look, but smell, heavenly. It was 28 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky.

And then it was Wednesday. Of course the forecast had been posted a couple of days in advance: heavy rain and strong winds. And this time, the forecast was spot-on. The day began with rain and a brisk northerly wind. I drove into the city, to my usual parking spot, and after I'd parked the car, I briefly wondered if I should have driven a bit further in and parked, say, in Crestwood, or even Glenora. But I had already taken the keys out of the ignition and I didn't feel like starting the car again and re-entering the stream of traffic, so I stayed where I was.

My ride downtown actually wasn't too bad until I hit the second shared pathway  -- the new one on 102 Avenue that the city is so proud of. At this point I usually just ride on the road. It is faster and I don't have to worry about those little yield signs and the bumping that occurs at each intersection. But because of the wind and occasional large puddles, I decided to use the pathway. That was a mistake. At each intersection, not only did I have to endure those bumps where the sidewalk meets the pavement, but I also had to ride through big deep puddles. Result: my shoes got wet. Even that might have been okay, however; but when I was crossing the bridge (yes, the one where cyclists are told to dismount) a car passed and splashed me royally. Now my shoes were not wet; they were sodden. I gave up trying to avoid puddles and simply tried to ride as fast as I could the rest of the way. (Fortunately I keep a pair of dry shoes at work.)

After work, I was offered a ride. "No, thanks," I said. "I don't mind riding in the rain."  Ah yes, but what about 100 km/hour winds?

I set off, wearing my still-soaking shoes from the morning. Again, I didn't worry about pointless things like avoiding puddles; I just pedaled like mad, trying to make the best time possible riding into the wind. When I saw the first downed branch, the thought crossed my mind -- I sure hope one of those doesn't come down on me. But by that time I was committed, so I kept going. 

When I reached 102 Avenue, I briefly considered taking a bus. But then I remembered the reaction of Edmonton bus drivers to the sight of a bicycle, and I decided I would rather bear the wrath of the storm than the wrath of a bus driver. I once again opted for the shared pathway and persevered, sparing but quick glances for an uprooted tree or two and multitudinous branches. 

As I approached the point where 102 Avenue meets Stony Plain Road, I saw the most disturbing sight yet -- a felled 4-meter tall evergreen, completely covering the sidewalk and lying on top of a power line. There was even a little box with some wires and stuff hanging out. I steered clear of that and continued on my way, fighting the crosswinds which were threatening to cast me into the traffic lanes. Fortunately, traffic was light, so I was able to make my way unhindered to the bridge that leads to 148 Street. From there, it is about 2.5 km to my parking spot, mostly on the flower-lined shared pathway, so I felt safe enough and finally arrived at my van, drenched but otherwise unharmed. 

A 7.8 km bike ride in a once-every-decade storm!

Incidentally, this time as I rode past the flowering trees, the line of poetry that came to mind was from a Shakespearean sonnet: "Rough winds doth shake the darling buds of May..."  Those buds were shaking big time!

I'm not sure that riding in that type of a storm was the smartest thing to do, but I don't regret it. My only regret is that I didn't have my GoPro operating.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Copenhagen Cyclists in the Spring

How Lorne Gunter gets to be a columnist for a major Edmonton newspaper is beyond me. I can only hope it's because he is willing to work for food. Oh wait, maybe it's his ability to overlook the obvious: He claims that on his recent visit to Copenhagen, he didn't see any cyclists in the bike lanes

To put it quite simply: I don't believe him. But wait, maybe that is a tad uncharitable. Maybe he is telling the truth. It's possible that he didn't go outside, since he thought the weather was so formidable. (We're talking 8 degrees Celsius -- that's PLUS 8, not minus 8.) Or maybe he just didn't look around him as he walked along with his jacket's hood obstructing his vision.  

In stating his claim, he is trying to prove a point, summarized in the last line of his op-ed: Spending millions on bicycle infrastructure cannot create a bike culture where Mother Nature rules against it.

Why do I think I know better than an esteemed columnist? I have visited Copenhagen not once, but twice.

The first time was in early March and the first thing I noticed was all the cyclists. I rented a bike and rode along with them, all over the city. It wasn't exactly warm -- about 3 to 5 degrees Celsius during my 3-day visit -- but the cyclists were definitely out there.

This statue of King Christian X was one of the sights I rode past. I also rode to the harbour to visit the Little Mermaid.

The second time I visited Copenhagen was in late April. Again, Mother Nature was doing her best to discourage outdoor activity. It was about 8 degrees, and it was windy and raining rather enthusiastically, which made it feel even colder. But the local cyclists were undaunted. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, the bike lanes were busy, and even in between they were well used.

Not only were there plenty of cyclists out and about, I was struck by the way they were dressed. Some of the women had bare legs or just thin nylons. Some of the riders had bare hands, although most wore what I would consider thin and inadequate gloves. Many had nothing on their heads. Of course, most of them were probably just riding a short distance to work, not spending the whole day riding around, as I was, but still...

So, a word of warning -- just because you read it in the Sun, you shouldn't necessarily believe it. 

Above photo: My rental bike from the Wakeup Hotel in Copenhagen. At first, I was nervous about parking my bike because I thought I might lose it among all the other bikes (hundreds) that were parked nearby. Fortunately, this bike has some identifying marks -- a bright green "wakeup" stamped on the frame, a green "503" on the back fender, and bright orange front forks.

The photos below were all taken on my trips to Copenhagen.

March 5, 2015 - 5 degrees Celsius. You just can't keep those Copenhagen cyclists off the streets!

Oh yes, one more thing... Gunther also discusses Amsterdam. I've been there, too, three or four times, and yes, the first time I inadvertently stepped into a bike lane and received hard stares from passing cyclists. But guess what? That happened to me in Vancouver's Stanley Park, too. As Dr. Suess might say: In cars or on bikes; in the rain, in the snow; people are people wherever you go. A bike lane is for bikes, after all. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Back to work

It was with a sinking heart that I looked at the forecast for Monday, January 9th -- the first day of our winter session. 

Minus 30 windchill. Three to seven centimeters of snow. 

I considered taking the bus instead of my usual park and ride (my bike) commute, but the bus from Spruce Grove to Edmonton isn't exactly a dream come true either, so I chose the bike.

I parked in Crestwood and rode to work without a great deal of difficulty. I must admit, I did use sidewalks in places. If the city ever decides to do proper snow removal, sidewalk riding in winter will not be necessary, but until then I will just have to squash down those feelings of shame and ride with confidence on the sidewalks. I have a speech all ready to go in case I get stopped by a cop with nothing better to do than bother people riding bikes on the sidewalk.

As I said, the morning ride was not bad. I wore gore-tex mitts that I "borrowed" from my third son, along with wool gloves, and I didn't even need hand warmers. 

102 Avenue Multi-use Trail a.k.a. "bike path"

The ride back to the car after work was another story. Normally it takes me less than half an hour, but this time it took almost an hour. I had to walk my bike a good part of the way, through ankle-deep loose snow. (see photo on left)

I was just thankful I had parked in Crestwood and not Glenwood, where I park when the weather is good.

This bridge is troubled waters, so to speak, for cyclists and pedestrians

Tuesday I took the bus, figuring the streets and shared pathways would probably not be cleared yet. 

Wednesday, I rode again. And again, the ride to work was pretty decent. I tried 102 Avenue, and except for the piles of loose snow here and there along the way, that was okay. And a tailwind of 30-50 km/hour is always nice. It was also quite a bit warmer than the previous two days. Ah, but on the way home, that same lovely tailwind was a headwind. And by that time, there was drifted snow in places, making that ride colder and a little less pleasant.

As always, though, I arrived at the car feeling good about the ride.

Thursday, we were back to minus 30 -- or more. Some of the reports said minus 35 to 40. I parked in Glenora, near the ravine this time, feeling uncertain about the cold and the drifted snow. This was a good decision. I used handwarmers inside the mittens, but by the time I got to work, my thumbs were feeling it. I wore my balaclava and my big warm scarf, so my face was OK, but I don't know how it would have been to ride much farther. This time the wind was from the east, so I had the headwind riding to work and a bit of a tailwind most of the way back to the car. And thus ends another week on the bike. 

With warmer days in the forecast and increasing hours of daylight, I'm anticipating some good rides ahead. Now, if only the city would decide to maintain the roads... Maybe someday.