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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Dusty 100 Report


The second annual Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge took place on Saturday out by Victoria Settlement in Smoky Lake County. Five intrepid challengers assembled at the start line at 9 am under cloudy skies, with a light wind blowing from the southwest. After the traditional bugle call (which attracted some local wildlife), the party rolled out heading east from Metis Crossing, beginning the 107-km counter-clockwise gravel loop. The group vibe was downright giddy: it wasn’t raining and the gravel was (mostly) firm. The air was humming with the positive energy brought out by the fellowship of the wheel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dusty 100: Route Details

The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge may turn out to be even more challengy than anticipated. The forecast is calling for some light rain on Saturday, so be prepared for some mud, rather than dust.

The event is a go, regardless of weather. My bugle is waterproof.

You can see a map of the route here:

GPX file is available here.

Cue sheets will be handed out at the start, 9 am. Until then, all ye brave gravel challengers!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge?

Why take The Dusty 100 Gravel Challenge on Saturday, May 28, out at Metis Crossing?

Because . . . you'll get to see this:


And this:


And quite possibly these: