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.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Old Bikes of New Haven



Here in New Haven, Connecticut, you can’t swing a cat without hitting an old bicycle these days. I’m in town for the International Cycling History Conference, an event devoted to celebrating the machines and culture of the early years of cycling, especially the 1860s to the early 1900s. 

This year’s conference, in fact, is being held to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first bike ride in America. In the spring of 1866, French transplant Pierre Lallement rode his prototype velocipede between Ansonia and Derby, CT, just outside of New Haven. As part of this year’s festivities, some old bike aficionados brought their wondrous old boneshakers, pennyfarthings, and safeties to display and even demonstrate on the New Haven Green last Saturday.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gravel Glossary: Packed Tarsands



What do you get when geyser meets gravel? This stuff, which I am calling packed tarsands, a suitably Albertan moniker for this kind of road surface. Although real tarsands are a naturally occurring phenomenon, this one is human-made. It's essentially a gravel road that's been sprayed with oil (the stuff is so cheap around here these days, why not use it as road spray?) and then packed down hard by traffic and baked in the sun  It makes for a remarkably smooth, dust-free (boo-hoo) surface. The only problem is the sun. On hot days, the oily gravel gets gooey; you can feel its stickiness on your tires, like you're riding through molasses. This particular gravel is unusual in that it has an unmistakable odour, a certain eau de tar. I'm not a fan of packed tarsands, any more than I am of those other Alberta tarsands. Perhaps one day the Europeans will lobby to boycott Alberta's real dirty oil.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Overnight Postcard: Joseph Lake


First, came the sand flies, clouds of the tiny bastards, rising up out of the grass to greet us as we began pitching camp. Then, only minutes later, a stray dog peed on my tent. Seriously. Centennial Park Campground on Lake Joseph, about 75 km southeast of Edmonton, “The Best Kept Secret in Leduc County” (or so says the sign), was not making a good first impression. Besides which, the designation “Lake’” seems a bit generous for what is really a slough, a shallow pond that can’t be at any point as deep as my bike is tall. But all that didn’t really matter. We’d escaped the frantic city that afternoon, our bikes packed with minimal camping gear, and soon enough we (that’s Val, Penn, me, and the sandflies) were watching a long, mellow orange sunset across the “lake,” glasses of whisky and cans of Pringles on the picnic table, the campfire crackling (and its smoke baffling the flies), with plans for new cycling adventures being hatched.